Buckle up, Ether Gamers, because this week, we’re going on a road trip. It’s a show all about music and the automobile, a show filled with all kinds of car puns that we’re calling “Hit The Road.”
Put your pedal to the metal with this automotive playlist:
- Musical preludes and the Honda Prelude – Johann Sebastian Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier was an unprecedented work that explored all 24 major and minor keys within one composition, only made possible by new tuning systems in the 18th century that allowed for all keys to be played without any intervals sounding out of tune. The reason it's showing up in this car playlist is that, in this piece, Bach wrote 24 preludes, a simple genre of music that also served as the namesake for the car known as the Honda Prelude. The Honda Prelude was a sporty, compact two-door coupe in production between 1978 and 2001. It wasn’t the only music-themed Honda car either: they also produced the Honda Accord, Honda Quintet, Honda Concerto, Honda Jazz, and Honda Ballade. In the Well-Tempered Clavier, Bach follows each prelude with a fugue—and there’s even a car named after that musical genre! The Nissan Fuga is their luxury sedan, but it’s only sold in Japan.
- Sonata, Accent, Cadenza, and other musical car models – Musical terms have been quite an inspiration for car manufacturers, and it's not just Honda. While Honda named their coupe after the Prelude genre, a few years later their competitor Hyundai named their midsize sedan after the Sonata genre. Musical sonatas, generally speaking, have been around for about 300 years as solo instrumental works often with piano accompaniment, like this famous violin sonata by César Franck. The Hyundai Sonata, on the other hand, has only been around for about 30 years. Hyundai also sells a sedan called the Hyundai Accent, another musical term. The car-maker Kia has even more musical cars, including the Kia Cadenza, Kia Rondo, and Kia Forte. The musical trend has caught on with other manufacturers, including the Buick Encore, the Toyota Duet, the Nissan Note, and the Ford Tempo.
- Holst's "Saturn" and GM's "Saturn" – The Saturn automobile and the movement of the same name from Holst’s epic Planets suite have more in common than you might think. When Holst first started composing The Planets, he did not intend to closely associate each movement with our solar system. The work was inspired by Holst’s interest in astrology rather than astronomy and was originally only titled Seven Pieces for Orchestra. By the time he completed his favorite movement of the suite, Saturn, he had realized the potential popularity of the work and renamed it The Planets. Similarly, when General Motors began developing a compact car to compete with imports from Japan and Europe in 1982, its codename was "Project Saturn." There had initially been no intention to turn the codename into a brand, but when the concept vehicle showed huge promise, GM decided to market it under a newly-created subsidiary company called Saturn LLC.
- John Adams, Short Ride In A Fast Machine and El Dorado – American composer John Adams described his popular 1986 orchestral fanfare Short Ride in a Fast Machine as a depiction of what happens when you take an ill-advised thrill ride in a fancy sports car. However, over the last three decades, Adams may have had occasion to regret the title of this piece. Twice it has been removed from the BBC Proms concert—once immediately after the death of Princess Diana, and again after the September 11th attacks—because the work’s title related too closely to tragic events. Short Ride In A Fast Machine wasn’t Adams’s only car-related orchestral piece, although the other one is a little more tongue-in-cheek. His 1991 orchestral piece called El Dorado is mostly a reference to the mythical golden city, an idyllic place sought out by Western explorers. But in the piece, Adams cheekily notes that man’s desire for material goods, like the Cadillac Eldorado luxury car, has destroyed most of our idyllic landscapes.
- Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait and Henry Leland's "Lincoln Motor Company" – We’ve all probably heard the stereotype that Americans love big cars and long road trips. The western frontier and vast prairies evoked by Copland’s music are now also the sites of America’s longest highways where motorists can push their luxury vehicles to the limit. Some of the biggest and most classic American luxury cars were produced by company rivals Cadillac and Lincoln. The design of the 1970 Lincoln Continental, for example, was so broad and squarish that it became affectionately known as the "Land Yacht." Henry M. Leland, the founder of the Lincoln Motor Company, died about a decade before Aaron Copland finished his Lincoln Portrait, but both men memorialized their favorite president in their life’s work. Upon receiving a commission to write a piece on an eminent American of his choice, Copland felt no one else matched the accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln. Similarly, as a staunch supporter of progressive politics, Leland decided to name his car company after the first president he voted for.
- Fritz "Kreisler" and Walter "Chrysler" – The virtuoso violinist Fritz Kreisler wrote dozens of works, but for many of them, he deliberately misattributed them to little-remembered, long-dead composers like Luigi Boccherini, Nicola Porpora, or as in the case of this piece Liebesfreud, 19th-century composer Joseph Lanner. It’s not entirely clear why he did this, but it could have been for insurance—in case the public didn’t like his music, he could always hide behind that dead composer. The reason we chose him for our car show was not for his unusual practice of hidden identity, but rather because Kreisler is a homophone of “Chrysler,” one of the Big Three American auto manufacturers. Fun fact: Fritz Kreisler and the car company founder Walter Chrysler, no relation, were born exactly two months apart from each other in 1875. The Ether Game Brain Trust came up with dozens of similar car/music puns while brainstorming this show, including “Yugo” Wolf, “Volvo” Pärt, Thomas Luis de “Crown Victoria,” Walter “Piston,” Mercedes Benz-amin Britten, “Nissan” Dorma, the “Delorean” mode, and of course, the “Suzuki” method.
- Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (the composer, not the car manufacturer) – This Intermezzo is mostly known as a concert piece for orchestra, but it was originally an interlude in the third act of the opera The Jewels of the Madonna by Italian composer Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari. Born Ermanno Wolf, the composer later added Ferrari to his name to honor his mother, Emilia Ferrari. It is unlikely that Ermanno was directly related to the famous Italian motorcar racer and entrepreneur, Enzo Ferrari, but the opera composer and the sportscar company do share important milestones in the same year. In 1953, The Jewels of the Madonna was finally premiered in Italy. Its critique of the Catholic Church and on-stage orgy scene had kept it off the Italian stage for forty years. That same year, a Ferrari race car won the world championship at the Grand Prix in Monaco for the 3rd year in a row, cementing Ferrari’s reputation as a high-end sports car manufacturer.
- Frederick Converse's Ford celebration Flivver Ten Million – Before Aaron Copland’s name became synonymous with the ‘American sound’ in classical music, the mantle was held by composers like Frederick Converse. Unlike Copland, Converse’s compositions show mostly late-Romantic European influences, but like the Lincoln Portrait that we heard earlier, Converse’s music almost always deals with American subjects. It is no surprise then that his most programmatic work is inspired by a momentous event in Converse’s life: the rise of the American automobile. Flivver Ten Million is a sort of tongue-in-cheek musical epic about the success of the “Model T” Ford. In fact, the whole title of the piece is Flivver Ten Million: A Joyous Epic inspired by the Familiar Legend “The Tenth Million Ford is Now Serving Its Owner.” The term “Flivver” was American slang for a cheap automobile and was appropriated by the Henry Ford Company for its iconic affordable car.
- Ronny & The Daytona's "G.T.O.," Pontiac approved – Car culture and rock ‘n’ roll music overlapped quite a bit in the 1950s and 60s. There were dozens of rock ‘n’ roll hits about drag races and hot rods, like The Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coupe,” Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline,” Jan and Dean’s “Dead Man’s Curve,” and Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88” (a song that many consider to be the first-ever rock ‘n’ roll song). The one-hit-wonder Ronny & The Daytonas, a group of Nashville session musicians, had a hit in 1964 with “G.T.O.,” a love letter to the original muscle car, the Pontiac GTO. The song even hit the Billboard Top 10 and boosted sales of the car. The Pontiac GTO was the brainchild of General Motors’ young engineer John DeLorean, who was a hotshot in Detroit before crashing and burning with his own car company in the 1980s. The name “GTO” already had some cache among car enthusiasts in the 1960s. It was borrowed from the name of the Ferrari racecar known as the Gran Turismo Omologato, or “GTO” for short.