On Music: Major-General's Song


Some of you loyal readers may recall Ransom's cool post many moons ago about memorizing the periodic table.

It was your comments in this post (see, we DO read them) that first introduced me to Tom Lehrer's brilliant parody "The Elements." Recently, a guy called Mike Stanfill animated the song with flash technology and if you don't do anything else productive today, you absolutely must follow this link here and give it a look. Once you've seen it, come on back, because I want to drop a little trivia about the music Lehrer used.

If you don't recognize the tune already, it's from the 1879 opera The Pirates of Penzance, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. (aka Gilbert & Sullivan). The full name of the song Lehrer lifted is called "I am the very model of a modern Major-General" tho it's often just called "Major-General's Song" and is probably the most famous song Gilbert & Sullivan ever wrote. It's been used in dozens of send-ups, pastiches, satires and parodies (most recently in an episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip).

Here's an excerpt:

More "Major-General's Song" trivia after the jump"¦

Some cool things you might not know regarding the original lyric:

In the line

Then I can hum a fugue of which I've heard the music's din afore,
And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore.

Gilbert and Sullivan are poking fun at their own opera, H.M.S. Pinafore.

Also, the lyric

I know the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes!

May have been part of what inspired Stephen Sondheim in 2004, to write an entire musical based on Aristophanes' The Frogs. Many consider Sondheim the modern-day Gilbert and Sullivan all rolled into one.

Check out past ON MUSIC posts here.