The Ride of the Valkyries is perhaps one of the most powerful pieces of music ever composed. So moving, that it is still used in films, notably war films, till this very day, where it probably has the exact same effect, the same gravitas that it did back when it was first full orchestrated in 1856.
Apocalypse Now, that masterpiece of cinema, featured it in its initial scene. Adolf Hitler is said to have been fascinated by the piece and Wagner’s music in general. It was played at his rallies to rouse up the people.
The Valkyries, of course, are some of the female mythical creatures from Norse folklore that choose, during battle, who of the soldiers may live and who may die. Imagine the effect it would have on soldiers who know of the mythology as well.
Most Americans know the tune. Not, however, as the imposing piece of music it is. But as part of the Looney Tunes cartoon song “Kill the Wabbit!” sung by the hunter Elmer Fudd, who has it in for Bugs Bunny. “Kill the Wabbit!” is sung to the tune of Wagner’s piece de resistance.
This is similar to how, upon the mention of the word Homer, most Americans would think not of the Greek poet who wrote the Illiad and Odyssey but Homer Simpson.
With the proliferation of American pop culture across the globe, there are now people in their forties, everywhere in the world (except perhaps Italy) to whom the names Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michaelangelo don’t represent Renaissance painters but…..
This is a phenomenon referred to by some as Pop Cultural Osmosis.
Pop culture compendium www.tvtropes.org describes it as: “Classics, almost by definition, are works that are considered to be of high quality, are influential on later works, and are widely known. However, one will often find that only scholars and enthusiasts have first-hand knowledge of the material in question, and that the masses know it either only by title or by homages, parodies, direct references and allusions found in more populist works.”
Consider the following tune (online readers only)
It is, of course, the Indian Titan Watches theme music to anyone from our part of the world.
None but the erudite (the writer isn’t one of them but found out through a coincidence) that this is from Mozart’s Symphony 25.
I was reminded of pop-cultural osmosis when Girish Karnad, one of the grand old men of Indian performing arts passed away recently.
“Colossus of Indian Theatre dies,” read the BBC headline.
Karnad was quite an imposing figure. A prolific playright in his native Konkona, in Kannad and in English, he was also a director and an actor. He dabbled in the arsty parallel cinema scene as well, not to mention television.
The Rhodes Scholar, who studied mathematics at Oxford, also became President of the Oxford Students Union there.
A public intellectual par excellence, he was committed to the ideal of a secular India and famously took on VS Naipaul at a public event, having taken exception to what he thought were the latter’s mischaracterization of Indian history, in particular the role of Muslims in it.
Local newspapers, however, with their eyes on the demographics that they wanted to reach out to, covered his death a little differently. “Salman Khan’s Tiger Zinda Hai co-star Girish Karnad passes away.”
Tiger Zinda Hai, of course, was a mediocre, mindless vehicle of a movie for Bhai to flex his muscles and for the producers to rake in the money that his millions of zombie-like fans would shell out.
This headline for Karnad. Sacrilegious.