Fantasia: A Program for Kids

by abbygoettler

Last week in class we began discussing the concept of program music, a musical composition in which a piece is designed to mimic a narrative and evoke a specific idea or setting. In class we studied the famous example Symphonie Fantastique, composed by Hector Berlioz. Although this term is commonly applied to pieces from the Romantic period, there are examples of program music everywhere around us, even though we may not notice them.

While doing a bit of research this week, I came across many examples of program music in movie soundtracks or theme songs. One of the examples that jumped out at me most was Walt Disney’s film Fantasia 2000. This film consists of a series of animations set to many famous pieces of program music, such as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance.

This fist clip I’ve posted below is the first segment of the 2000 film. It is most relevant to our class because it features Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. This clip consists of a series of abstract images that one conjures when listening to the symphony. The combination of lightness and darkness along with the movements of these images mimic what one might imagine while sitting in a concert hall. While watching this film, which images do you think are the most effective in setting the tone of this piece?

This second clip is set to the The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas, based on Goethe’s poem, “ Der Zauberlehrling.” This is probably one of the better known clips from Fantasia during which Mickey Mouse appears as an apprentice who tests his sorcerer’s magic. I must admit that as a young child, I was never able to watch this part of the movie without closing my eyes or leaving the room. For some reason, “The Socerer’s Apprentice” was always the “scariest” part, and I think I finally understand why that was. How does the music emphasize the narrative and conjure these magical images?

After watching these clips, I’m starting to believe I understand the concept of program music much better. Although it seems, given the examples we studied in class, that program music is overly complex or too “fantastic” to fully comprehend, it seems that it is much simpler than I had originally conceived. So simple, in fact, that it is even meant for children!