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How did Disney teach me to understand Classical Music?

por | Mar 1, 2021 | 0 Comentarios

¿Versión en Español?

I’ve always felt weird. People say things work in a specific way. For some strange reason, in my case, things work differently. I still remember when someone said, in a class, that classical music made them sleep. I thought to myself, “How can they sleep when there is so much going on in that kind style of composition? It can’t be boring”

Worse, when someone said that classical music was made for study and relaxation, I thought “What? Can they really relax with the images that Rachmaninov presents to you? Are they really going to relax with La bella molinera? I can’t see myself going to sleep peacefully thinking about a young man’s suicide in the river with the heartbreaking final piece.”

This is a sad song. For some people, this might be a boring or relaxing tune. For me is completely overwhelming.

But this quirk of mine goes further. A lot of people say that drugs are necessary to understand The Doors or that psychedelic pieces are just too long for them. That’s where I ask myself: Is there something wrong with me? Maybe, or maybe it was just that as a kid I was very clear about the message of Fantasia, my favorite Disney movie. Even as an adult I can still feel that it is truly a work of art. 


Have you ever thought about how different the Arts are from each other? Painting uses images to communicate its message; literature, letters; music, sounds. Each art has evolved and found its own ways of organizing its raw material to generate different reactions in the public. However, they have never been entirely separate. From the Poetry per se, whitch was born linked to music in the form of song, to the great union of the arts in multimedia representations, such as opera or cinema, artists like to mix different media.

Beyond that, there is an even deeper relationship: inspiration. This ranges from the crudest: making films whose protagonists are musicians (The Legend of 1900, to give an example), or songs that talk about painters Vincent by Don Mclean or books such as From Whom the bell tolls.

Such examples go further, when talking about music in literature, or elaborating songs about paintings, not only is touched upon as a theme, but the very structure of the art created takes structure details from the art that serves as inspiration. Thus we have novels or texts about musicians such as Cortazar’s El perseguidor, whose structure and philosophical approach are based on a way of interpreting the world as if it were music.

At this point, we find that the relationship can become extremely interesting when we want to transport structural details of sound to words or make a poem with sound movements similar to those of a symphony, to give a few examples. There is a revitalization of the genre itself. And this is what makes this film a work of art, since it uses the same principles of intermediality, of transporting musical elements to the cinematographic. 

This musical structure is the copy of the prosodic structure of the poem is imitating

The structure and the inspiration

One of the advantages of the Disney+ hype is that it seems that you will be able to have access to this movie and see it in all its splendor based on the details that I am going to share with you below.

First, we have to talk about inspiration, because Disney, the historical character, was always known for being a highly cultured man and was concerned about giving artistic treatment and cultural diffusion to many of its products. See the Podcast I recorded with my sister to go deeper into this (Just in spanish).

Similarly, the film Fantasia was born from the inspiration of watching “A color box”, an advertisement that used Jazz music as inspiration to experiment with color and line, which changed and moved following the rhythmic patterns of the music. In other words, they used intermediality, translating the language of sound into the language of color and animated line.

Walt Disney decided to do the same with a short film that eventually became a beautiful peace of art.

Some details to understand 

The process of translation from musical to animated language in this feature film is based on two fundamental principles:

  1. The music has dynamic sonic movement that incites physical bodily movement (like when you listen to a song and move to the beat to dance).
  2. Music tells a story.

From the didactic point of view, we find how the narrator, at the beginning of the film, explains with an animated line the dynamic behavior of the sound with respect to each instrument. The way it moves depends on the rhythm, the intensity (volume) and the tessitura (if it is a low or high-pitched instrument). This small segment, when I was a child, did nothing but put me in front of the TV and I understood that the behaviors of the sound were going to have an impact on the animated movement of the film, I was already sensitized. 

In Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring we can see how every detail has a correlate and an intentionality that links the animated movement and the musical movement: when there are smooth movements, there are high-pitched instruments with fast rhythms and diminished intensity; when the dinosaurs fight, the drama of the scene and the representation of death is in line with the intentionality of the music. 

In this episode of Malcolm, we can see the relationship between movement and sound and action in a comical way.

In this piece the second principle is also understood: the music tells a story. However, a couple of clarifications are in order. The Rite of Spring is a piece in which Stravinsky presents us a pagan ritual with a human sacrifice. For obvious reasons, they were not going to put a naked woman dancing to death for a child audience. What they decided to do was to take that primordial atmosphere of the style of the piece and talk about the creation of life on earth, the birth of the dinosaur kingdom and its extinction.

This change seemed incredible to me, because they broke two birds with one stone: art diffusion and scientific diffusion. Unfortunately, the work, in order to accurately tell the details of the creation, to make the image of the lava, the first animals and the battle of the dinosaurs and for it to have a linear narrative coherence, they had to greatly modify Stravinsky’s work, to the extent of intercalating some movements, highlighting certain notes, repeating certain movements. I think this was more than necessary, because this was still a process of cinematographic rewriting such as any other adaptation of books or theater to cinema.

This is the representation of the ritual

Sensibility and imagination

After watching this movie, which I loved to watch over and over again, I feel that it became very clear to me that to enjoy the music I had to pay attention to two important points: what the movement means (the dramatic force, the slowness or speed have a special meaning in the piece) and that instrumental music tells a story, only you have to close your eyes, you have to imagine the action based on the clues of the type of musical inflections that are there, because there are the narrative turns or descriptions that we would have in a linguistic narration. 

All of this helped me to listen to long-playing or classical songs and, rather than getting bored, I would gawk trying to find the story they were telling me, sensitive to every little change there was, as that implied a new dramatic element. 

A long-playing song is not necessary better than others (it could be bad). But a lot of them create a completely atmosphere and experience like this King Crimson tune

I think that by understanding music from this logic, when I heard people saying that classical music relaxes or is boring, it surprised me. How do they get bored if they are telling a whole story? How are you going to relax if there are demons, witches and dinosaurs fighting in those stories? I am infinitely grateful to this movie for teaching me to find so much music that is there for you to get lost in its instrumentation. Watch the film and pay close attention to how the animation translates these principles into each of its pieces.  

YakamÍ Machado

YakamÍ Machado

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