I can’t quite remember when it was — I must have been four or five years old! — but there was definitely a moment in my childhood when, for reasons that I cannot now recall, I played a 33rpm Pinky and Perky record at 16rpm (yes, we actually had a radiogram that went that slow!). Moments later, and our house echoed to the cry:
“Mummy, why do Pinky and Perky sound like people if you play them slower…?”
Of course, I know perfectly well that countless thousands of the folks reading this posting in distant corners of the world won’t have even the faintest idea what I’m talking about; so here, courtesy of the interweb, is a film clip:
I hope you all enjoyed that — because, as it happens, it’s got nothing to do with anything.
Well, maybe it has, a bit. Because here’s a clip that purports to contain the voices of some singing mice, and doesn’t sound all that different, vocally speaking:
This track is famous as a song heard in that remarkably touching animal-centred film — and major force for vegetarianism — Babe (1995); but, since we’re talking about memory here, I’m going to point out that the song itself is something I actually remember hearing fully 17 years before that film came out — when Top of the Pops was on in our living room, sometime back in 1978. Of course, in those days, the song sounded more like this…
In fact, to my jaundiced and ageing yet still serviceable ear, the 1995 version on the Babe soundtrack sounds like exactly what you’d get if you took the 1978 single — sung by Yvonne Keeley and Scott Fitzgerald — and forced it up to a murine F sharp major…
Naturally, none of this can have been in anyone’s mind during that TOTP broadcast, all the way back in 1978. What dominated my perceptions at that point in time — and I really do remember this very clearly! — were three things. First, I was annoyed at the desperate senselessness of the ramshackle lyrics (and I still am: I hate hearing them, remembering them, or thinking about them).
Secondly, I was irritated (and more than a little disgusted) at the fact that all the song did was repeat the same damn thing over and over and over again: the sheer creative indolence of so much commercial pop music was quite apparent to me even as a schoolboy.
And, thirdly, I was appalled that the music itself had simply been lifted, copied, stolen, from someone else’s composition without the slightest evident embarrassment: if anyone in the pop world knew what had happened, they very obviously didn’t care.
As for the precise nature of this theft, let me explain it all as concisely as possible — by simply presenting a minute or so of music in the following coded clip:
Yes, there we have it: the money-spinning corporate product that entered the pop-musical marketplace in 1978 in the form of three minutes of sickly sweet, verbally incoherent and musically repetitive love-song was in fact a single thematic idea pillaged from a symphony written in 1886.
(If you want to focus on the rhythmic side of things at this point, you’ll also notice that something rather unfortunate happened to the theme’s structure as it was dragged from the world of art and into the warehouse of exploitable schlock: the original tune is laid out as an arrestingly unusual alternation of 9/4 and 6/4 — i.e. each of its four limbs consists of 5 groups of 3 notes, with the tune itself starting on the second note of the first group. [Go on: have a go with that last clip and see if you can count it all the way through without tripping up!] In the song, on the other hand, this has been changed somewhat, so that what we hear is … oh, who cares…)
This work itself — the Symphony No. 3 by the long-lived, versatile, incredible productive and scandalously under-rated Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) — is a piece that I seem to have known and loved my entire musical life; in fact, I can’t think of many symphonies that are more easily or more straightforwardly lovable. It is, therefore, absolutely inevitable that I’m going to include a few more clips for anyone who wants to explore it further — especially since it may take a few tries for people to rinse the awful taste of that song out of their mouths…
First, here is the very opening of this movement (our tune comes from just after the start of the finale) in the performance you’ve just sampled. As you’ll see, there is a reason that the symphony has the subtitle ‘avec orgue’!
If that opening grabs your attention, you might want to give the whole finale a go — in which case I recommend this gutsy and full-on performance by a terrifically good youth orchestra from Venezuela: the ‘Orquesta Sinfonica Juvenil de Caracas’:
And, if you then want to try the whole symphony — yes, all 35 minutes and more! — I’ll finish this posting with a worthwhile performance of the entire thing…
Before I do, however, I’d like to draw readers’ attention to another of those many indications — which are all around us, and easily observable to anyone who wants to see them — of just what kind of screwed-up society we are when it comes to the way our ‘classical’ repertoire is viewed by a majority of the population. Just think, if you will, of all the friends, acquaintances and family members you have — people you love and respect and cherish! — to whom one and the same tune is perfectly unobjectionable when heard as a song on a pop show or in a movie … but complete anathema when presented as a theme in a symphony. I myself have friends — and some of my favourite people are among them! — to whom the very idea that they might listen to the symphony clips in this posting is totally unthinkable: they’ll click on the first three panels happily enough … but when it comes to the ones that look like they might have an orchestra attached, they’ll make do with simply reading my text, and not go near the music that it’s all about. I’ve said it before; and I’ll say it again: “Boy, are we in a mess…!”
Anyway, here — for anyone who’s actually prepared to give it a go! — is that performance of the entire Symphony No. 3 by Saint-Saëns, as apparently recorded and uploaded by someone from a televised Prom concert.
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