Are Pop Songs Influenced by Classical Music?



Classical music is not the most music genre compared to pop music. But yet many of today’s popular songs are influenced by classical music. After all, classical music created by Mozart and Beethoven stood the test of time and still has many admirers. If pop musicians want timelessness to be a part of their creation, where else to get inspiration but listen to the masterpieces from the classical era?


From Baroque to the Classical Era


Classical music evolved into four musical eras. Most notably, the change was seen from the ornate Baroque sounds to classical pieces. The dramatic shift was seen in the change from the highly polyphonic Baroque sound to the more streamlined measured sound in the classical period. The classical musicians looked to the Greeks for inspiration and developed a long-lasting musical genre.


Music evolution often borrows from the last music era to create something new. The gradual movement from classical to modern music could be seen in Igor Stravinsky’s composition, ‘The Rite of Spring”. In the composition, Stravinsky turned to the music of classical composers for inspiration. He used classical forms and new ideas to create his own compositional advancement. His work, “The Pulcinella Suite” is a good example of the evolution from classical to modern music.


How Classical Influenced Pop Music


One of the key influences classical music has on today’s pop music is the chorus. The chorus is the repeated section in most songs and was first seen during the classical music era. A vast majority of pop songs contain the chorus and it is the typical part of the song we are most familiar with.


Today’s pop music is based on a handful of chord progressions and sequences discovered during the classical period. Several well-known songs such as Muse’s “Plug in Baby”, Barry Manilow’s “Could it be Magic”, Queen’s “It’s a Hard Life” and The Beatles’ “Because” is heavily influenced by classical compositions.


Progressive Rock and Classical Music


Classical music influence is clearly evident in the progressive rock movement that grew in the 1970s. Bands like Genesis, Pink Floyd and Yes did what Stravinsky did. They took what they could use from classical music and updated it to make it their own. They followed the formulaic approach to songwriting where a verse and chorus approach was the standard, making it workable and easily digestible by the public.


Progressive rock bands created studio albums that linked the songs by musical ideas. One notable example is The Genesis’ album titled, “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”, which is a 94-minute iconic concept album.


Other bands like Sky, have taken a more direct approach. Their first album “Sky” in 1979 had one single “Dies Irae” which is strongly influenced by Verdi. Their second album contained a similar vein where two of the singles have strong hints of “Toccata”, and “Vivaldi”.


Further influences of classical in 20th-century music


The closer you look, the more you can discover influences by classical composers in the works of well-known pop musicians. In his 1983 album, “An Innocent Man”, Billy Joel used the main theme of the second movement of Beethoven’s “Pathetique Sonata (Op. 13) in his song, “This Night”. The melody and chords are an exact copy.


Chopin’s “Prelude in C Minor (Op. 28) was used as an introduction in Barry Manilow’s song “Could it be Magic”. Sting borrowed Prokofiev’s “Lieutenant Kije” in his song “Russians” while Lana Del Rey blatantly borrowed from the Romeo and Juliet theme by Nino Rota.


The links between classical and pop music are undeniable. Music influences from previous eras flow into the next one creating new sounds, yet harbouring old song structures. With music constantly evolving, we can look forward to new sounds more exciting than in the last era.


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