If you're like some Cracked readers, you own an extensive collection of classical music that you listen to during one of your daily top hat parties or afternoon pipe appraisal sessions. This article isn't for you.
For the rest of you, while you may not be that familiar with all classical music, surely some pieces have reached you after becoming absorbed by pop culture. Some are used in movies, or TV shows, or really intense Super Bowl promos, but the point is, they're everywhere today. You can hum them on cue, you get them stuck in your head, and you have entirely mistaken ideas regarding their meanings. They almost certainly include:
6"Here Comes the Bride" (aka "Bridal Chorus" by Wagner)
Why You Know It:
The title "Bridal Chorus" might not stick in your head, but surely "Here Comes the Bride" does, unless you've never been to a wedding or seen one on television or have been completely removed from pop culture for your entire life. It's been played by everything from pipe organs to a full kazoo orchestra as the bride walks down the aisle. When you hear it, you know the bride is on her way, probably all dressed in white, and that a wonderful, loving wedding is about to take place.
Followed by a few hours in whichever motel is closest to the church.
The Original Context:
The tune comes from the opera Lohengrin, where the "Bridal Chorus" is actually sung to the heroine Elsa and her new husband, Lohengrin, by her handmaidens after the wedding, not before! Hah! That's a pretty wacky misunderstanding. People have been getting that wrong for years! Oh, and after that song, Lohengrin murders the fuck out of five wedding guests before ditching Elsa.
So yeah. World War II makes a little more sense now.
Lohengrin is not a happy opera, as you probably could have guessed from all that murdering Lohengrin did. The marriage lasts all of two songs, after which Lohengrin abandons Elsa, and opera being opera, Elsa dies of grief. So the organ music you hear at a wedding is less celebratory and more like an ominous, foreshadowy, shit's-bout-to-go-down sort of thing. They might as well play the theme from Jaws.
It's pretty much not a wedding until someone pulls a sword.
5The "Hallelujah Chorus" from Messiah by Handel
Why You Know It:
Like the "Wedding March," the associations of the "Hallelujah Chorus" are now the stuff of pop culture legend. It's that grand, epic, joyful song where what sounds like an assload of people scream-sing "HALLELUJAH" at the top of their lungs. It's used in joyful religious movies, it's used hyperbolically whenever something good happens in silly movies or cartoons, and you may have even hummed it to yourself after some minor personal victory. Hell, turn on your TV right now -- Oscar Mayer has been using it in a commercial for sliced turkey, and you can probably catch it right this second.
If this product takes off, Thanksgiving 2011 could see as much as a 40 percent drop in holiday-related knife fights.
Most people, of course, know that it's actually about Jesus (not turkey). It's probably Christmas music, or maybe Easter, right?
The Original Context:
Well, no, not exactly. The "Hallelujah Chorus" is all about Jesus -- it comes from Messiah, a choral work entirely about Jesus Christ -- but the "Hallelujah Chorus" is pretty much the soundtrack for his second visit to Earth.
It's the end of the world as Jesus knows it, and he feels like reigning from a monstrous black cloud while we all collapse below in various states of undress.
There's a very explicit timeline to Messiah. Every piece of music is about part of Christ's life, from start to finish to ... after finish. The "Hallelujah Chorus" draws its lyrics from the Book of Revelations, widely acknowledged as the "Shit Goes Crazy" portion of the Bible. We're all cheering and scream-singing while Jesus ends the world around us. Hell, the section of the show after this song plays is called "The Aftermath."
Which is apparently when Jesus gets stabbed in the neck by Seattle's Space Needle.
It is said that when he'd completed "Hallelujah," Handel was found crying and clutching the music. When his assistant asked what was wrong, Handel held up the score and said, "I thought I saw the face of God." Yeah. That'd scare the shit out of us, too.
In fairness, Handel was kind of a drama queen.