Film music might really be the classical music of today, because for centuries before movies were invented, many composers created popular music to accompany plays. Felix Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (the source of the famous “Wedding March”), several of Ludwig van Beethoven’s overtures, and Richard Strauss’s Le bourgeois gentilhomme were all written for plays.
Richard Strauss’s opera Ariadne auf Naxos was originally intended to be performed immediately after Molière’s comedic play Le bourgeois gentilhomme was staged with Strauss’s music, but this made for a nearly six-hour ordeal. To avoid completely rewriting his opera while separating the two works, Strauss added a prologue to Ariadne to explain that comedy actors appear in the opera because they were hired to perform before an opera company at a grand party, but the meal took too long and now they have to perform together. Perhaps it was Strauss casually poking fun at the situation.
Le bourgeois gentilhomme is unique among Richard Strauss’s music because it imitates and even borrows from the French Baroque style of Jean-Baptiste Lully, who wrote music for the play’s premiere performance at the court of Louis XIV in 1670.
Molière’s comedic play Le bourgeois gentilhomme even has some wit about its title. It translates roughly as “The Middle-Class Gentleman,” and at that time in France, “gentlemen” had to be of aristocratic birth, so the social mobility suggested is an oxymoron (such as “jumbo shrimp”).
Both Igor Stravinsky’s Pulcinella and Richard Strauss’s Le bourgeois gentilhomme are written partly in a style of music from 200 years before their creation, but the composers had widely different experiences. Where Strauss found “scarcely anything that I can use, except a certain musty odor,” Stravinsky was delighted that it was “my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my late work became possible.”
Pulcinella owes its existence to the lure of friendship renewed. After their acclaimed Firebird and Petrushka and the groundbreaking Rite of Spring, the ballet master Serge Diaghilev had fallen out with Igor Stravinsky, but won the composer back over after the stack of 18th-century scores featuring Pulcinella he provided for inspiration—which Stravinsky originally thought quaint and old-fashioned—ended up starting a sea change in Stravinsky’s musical style.
Like Igor Stravinsky’s score, the scenery for the first performance of Pulcinella combined classic and modern styles, featuring designs by Pablo Picasso that depicted Neapolitan street scenes in a Cubist perspective.
The middle movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 is featured in the final scene and end credits of the Best Picture Oscar-winning film Amadeus.
Eight of Garrick Ohlsson’s 16 performances with the CSO at Ravinia have been with James Conlon as conductor, including a marathon performance of three Mozart concertos in one night in 2007.