[piano] the one thing that seriously irked me about Lady Gaga’s “Marry The Night” music video

Initially, I was very impressed by Lady Gaga’s opening monologue and her acting in Marry The Night. Crikey. Get that lady into some sort of movie. I was extremely into it until I heard the beginning of the first movement of Beethoven’s piano sonata, Pathetique, at 4.02s.

Then I just groaned out loud and was furiously cursing.

I absolutely hate it when pop and classical music mix. Okay, strike that, when pop and cheesy classical music mix. Pathetique is probably one of the most overplayed Beethoven piano sonata except for Moonlight (Alicia Keys, I’m looking at you!).

Then I got really peeved at 5.43s where they show someone hunched over the piano, apparently playing the long chromatic scale into the allegro part of the first movement. The chromatic scale is one long movement down the keyboard, but the person who is ‘playing’ goes down the keyboard once and then goes back up an octave or two, and proceeds to glissando. Stop right there. That’s the first mistake.

The second mistake– if you listen to the track itself carefully, it is not a glissando of white keys as is shown in the music video, it is a chromatic scale, i.e. the pianist is playing the white and black keys in order going down. If you have no idea what I just said, plunk down next to a piano and just glissando on all the white keys (here is a video that shows you how), and then play a chromatic scale (here is a video that shows you how). Or just whip out your tablet / smartphone and play it on one of those free piano apps. Then listen carefully to the video. Of course, some people cannot tell the difference, but that just testifies to how good the pianist is; his or her fingers move seamlessly like water, so it just feels like one effortless glide where it really is a mechanical hammering using the first, second, and third fingers on the right hand.

Whatever. So, I was waiting for Lady Gaga to name the pianist who played it (end credits?). I think it is implied that Lady Gaga played it herself; she is a pretty good pianist, after all. However, ‘pretty good’ does not stretch you far when comparing to Argerich, Brendel, Cliburn. All over YouTube, on Pathetique videos from all different professional pianists, the top comments are some variation of “thumbs up if you knew about Pathetique before Lady Gaga ruined it.” I am a little hesitant to say I am of the same line. I absolutely despise when people cut around and mash around specifically written instructions in classical music to fit what they want. When you play Beethoven’s sonata, you are representing Beethoven first and foremost, not yourself. Yet, we come to a crossroads here, Lady Gaga is using the music to promote her own music, but I still cannot shake the idea that she owes some responsibility to Beethoven.

The last time something comparable happened, I was watching Nodame Cantabile, The Movie, Part II, and Nodame was playing Chopin’s Piano Concerto and Ravel’s Piano Concerto, and as soon as she played the opening chords, I knew immediately they were Li Yundi‘s playing. It took me half an hour Googling to confirm, but alas nowhere was tacked Li Yundi’s name or even an acknowledgement of his playing. I was beyond irritated and even irrationally commented to my friend with whom I was watching the movie, that they should just push aside Nodame and put Li Yundi up there in the movie because it is his recording.

I get so frustrated that people can consume so much sketchy pop music and then turn their backs on classical music. Stop most 16-year-olds on the street and I bet they will not be able to name 10 people involved in classical music beyond Yo-Yo Ma, and even then, they probably cannot say why exactly Mr. Ma is such a great cellist, or even confirm they have listened to one of his recordings. I have no doubt that everyone in the Western world has heard at least Mr. Ma’s overplayed recordings of Bach.

Classical music is boring! It is all lullabies! It is all cerebral-sounding like Bach!

Have you ever heard a Shostakovich trio (precursor of heavy metal), the New World Symphony’s final movement? Have you ever heard Beethoven at his grumpiest?

Well, I guess I could say Pathetique’s first movement is rather grumpy. So, I while I do bemoan Lady Gaga’s artistic license with the sonata (she toned down the grump major time), I am rather delighted she is introducing others to Beethoven for the first time. However, when they listen to Pathetique, they will hopefully turn the right direction, and ignore Glenn Gould’s interpretation.

I mean it. Do not listen to Gould’s interpretation at first (why this is, I can save for another post). Here are some good ones:

Happy listening! (I especially love Ashkenazy and Kempff.)


17 thoughts on “[piano] the one thing that seriously irked me about Lady Gaga’s “Marry The Night” music video

  1. “I get so frustrated that people can consume so much sketchy pop music and then turn their backs on classical music. Stop most 16-year-olds on the street and I bet they will not be able to name 10 people involved in classical music beyond Yo-Yo Ma, and even then, they probably cannot say why exactly Mr. Ma is such a great cellist, or even confirm they have listened to one of his recordings. I have no doubt that everyone in the Western world has heard at least Mr. Ma’s overplayed recordings of Bach.”

    Michelle, everyone has their own tastes. I can’t say much about classical music but I do feel that you’re being a little… condescending. I’m a 16-year-old who can’t name 10 people involved in classical music beyond Yo-Yo Ma, and I apologize for that, but I have my own taste in music – it may not be as “good” or “refined” as yours, but I don’t think I’m hurting anyone (besides possibly myself, which I don’t mind) by listening to Lady Gaga instead of Bach.

    • -.- yes, maybe a bit. I was pointing to people who actively ignore classical music and think it is terrible.. in a way, I refuse to believe that everyone can universally dislike ‘classical music’. It’s like hipsters saying they dislike all of mainstream pop. I refuse to believe they don’t have at least one Rihanna/Katy Perry/Lady Gaga/Beyonce/etc. song they like. It’s not a matter of it being good or refined, it’s a matter of being open about other music out there and not automatically thinking classical music is for old people. I may live in a bubble nowadays, but there are people out there who think like that or only think that classical music is for relaxation, and that is what frustrates me.

      I also think that is a bad quality of how classical music is portrayed nowadays. If someone likes it, then they are kind of seen as very upper-crust and sort of snooty.. while genres of pop and hip-hop lend you some street cred. I mean really, telling someone you like Bach lends a largely different feel than telling someone you like Lady Gaga.. and it kills me to say that in fact, Bach was largely the “Lady Gaga” of his day =.=

      Of course, I am not upbraiding people for listening to pop over classical music, but at the same time, I am really bemoaning how classical music gets represented to the masses nowadays, and how most people seem to view it (“Classical music is boring! It is all lullabies! It is all cerebral-sounding like Bach!”) and how it suddenly becomes relevant if only a pop performer plays a snippet of it. I am not saying that it is the 16 year old’s fault that they don’t know any classical music, or even saying that the 16 year old SHOULD fill this missing hole in their music listening.. it is just a fact, and that is what it is. I don’t know what can be done to remedy that, but I feel sad that this should be the case when classical music also has a lot to offer like the pop genre.

      thank you for your thoughts as always!

    • one more thing, I do not consider in any way my music taste to be “good” or “refined”.. point in case, I listen to kpop. If I was more refined, I would have dumped it years ago and started listening to a lot of 80s glam rock and modern indie rock by now T___T


      • Ah, okay, I see what you mean. It’s funny because I was thinking the opposite thing – that many people see pop music as pointless trash and classical music as the only good type of music, so I suppose we can meet midway and say both have their individual qualities. I agree that people should be open to different kinds of music, including classical music.

        As for the good and refined thing, I wasn’t referring to you specifically, I meant that people often view classical music as more legitimate than K-Pop and Pop, and thus more “good” and “refined”… which you’ve proven by saying that if you had wanted to refine your taste, you would’ve dumped K-Pop a long time ago. Then again, “Lucifer” or “Ring Ding Dong” don’t exactly sound sophisticated.

  2. omg, i hate the stereotype that classical music=lullabies and boringness. mainstream(?) pple need to listen to any piece thats marked “allegro” or higher or has gazillions of ornaments if they want to be impressed. (which sucks cuz there are plenty of great slow pieces that sound oh-so endearing)
    you know the one thing thats really dumb? ive been playing the piano for a long time too, but i cant name ten *living* musicians. certainly, i can name *dead* ones off the top of my head that are not beethoven, mozart, chopin, bach, and bach’s many kids.
    kabalevsky, hadyn, rachmaninoff, hanon, mendelsson, handel, scarlatti, teleman, vivaldi, schubert, clementi, debussy, bartok… aaand i cant remember anymore :(
    which is lame cuz i know for certain ive played pieces from composers who are still alive just rly old :(

    • hmm I can’t name many living composers (Einaudi, Ades, Glass, Crumb, Cowell), but there are lots of classical musicians.. pianists: 1. Martha Argerich 2. Li Yundi 3. Maurizio Pollini 4. Alfred Brendel 5. Leif Oves Andsnes 6. Jean Yves Thibaudet (played for the movie Pride and Prejudice!) 7. Boris Berezovsky (i.e. the guy who sweats a lot) 8. Daniel Barenboim 9. Vladimir Ashkenazy 10. Arcadi Volodos ^^ there are lots of other musicians especially violinists (Bell, Mutter, Midori, Perlman) and conductors (Mehta, Ozawa, Levine) that are really well known..

      haha really? I haven’t played much modern repertoire.. the most modern I’ve played are from 1940s.. I was going to play a Crumb (you pluck inside the piano) but then settled back into comfortable WWII era.. ^^ where it’s not so completely dissonant.


  3. While the second movement of Pathétique may be overplayed, very few will have ever heard the first movement. I am a pianist of 11 years contemplating music school and I had not heard of the first movement until flipping through my urtext of Beethoven sonatas. You are out of line calling the Grave section “cheesy”, it is far from it.

    Daniel Barenboim’s recording is my favorite, yet then again I do enjoy that of Vladimir Horowitz. You do raise a valid point in saying that the pianists deserve more respect for their recordings. It’s obvious they took a recording and cut out the middle section too, it is quite poorly done if you listen closely to where they jump to the end.

    As far as her acting goes I find her commentary quite boring and her voice very emotionless. Also the lines where she is talking to the nurse are painful to watch, they seem very fake. I cannot see her doing any serious acting side from the “artistic”, insane, mentally unstable female. It’s become somewhat of an image for her and really the only role she can play.

    • Pathetique in pop culture:
      “It appears in the movie Star Trek: Insurrection, in a scene in which the computer starts playing it but Picard rejects it in favor of a mambo.
      The second movement was used in the River Phoenix film Running on Empty
      The second movement was used as the theme music for the Coen Brothers’ film noir The Man Who Wasn’t There.
      The second movement also appears in a Peanuts television special, played by the character Schroeder.
      Billy Joel used the main theme of the second movement as the chorus of his song This Night which appears on his An Innocent Man album.
      It was used by Silvio Rodriguez in his song Oh Melancolia.
      KISS employed that same theme in the chorus of their song “Great Expectations” from the Destroyer album.
      Banya has a cover of the song called “Beethoven Virus” featured in the panel-based dance game Pump it Up.
      Karl Haas used the second movement as the theme song for a popular radio show he hosted.
      The opening of the first movement is played in an episode of the sitcom Seinfeld, when Jerry is attending the recital of George’s girlfriend.
      The third movement rondo’s opening theme is a dance track in the popular video game Dance Dance Revolution.
      The opening movement is featured in an episode of M*A*S*H where Dr. Winchester doubts the musical abilities of a USO performer.”

      I believe it is plenty cheesy! I don’t mean it is cheesy in the conventional sense, but meaning that it is one of the overplayed. I can’t answer for individual experiences, but like Beethoven’s ninth, in the general, it’s something that everyone will have had sometime in their life. I don’t think the actual piece is cheesy, it’s extremely passionate and fun, but the way it has been overused has rendered it cheesy-sounding while used in the midst of pop culture.

      Apparently, Lady Gaga played it herself. I haven’t heard any recording in which it’s played that way.

      I think that’s actually part of it, Lady Gaga’s acting is uncomfortable and raw.

      thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • no, I don’t. That’s the problem. I tried Googling it, but there’s nothing, so I assume she played it.. unless she’s being really mean and not crediting the actual pianist.. I always thought she was a stickler for giving artistic credit where it’s due, so..


  4. I’m a 16 year old pianist who is obsessed with Liszt and Beethoven and Bach, and by nature do not enjoy, at all, contemporary pop-music; and I have to confess that I think your attitude towards Gaga’s use of the Op.13 is very close-minded and unfair. It is coming across as condescending, and with this, you’re not really helping the stereotype that classical musicians are elitist. I am almost glad to see Beethoven being used in such a context; it is artistically appopriate, it’s not just there for no reason, or to be simply “pointless classical crossover in pop;” which I think is what you’re trying to get at with this article. I would not associate myself as a fan of Gaga at all, so I’m being biased or anything like that. I noticed the Glissando inplace of the Chromatic when I watched the video, too, but I guess that the shot is purely for art’s sake, not pianistic accuracy – how much less powerful would it look to watch her do a chromatic scale half naked, as opposed to the way in which she does this glissando. While I agree with many of the points you’ve made in this post, I think you’re being a bit unfair towards Gaga and the video’s producers.

    Also, I think Gould’s Op.13 recording is one of the best… although Brautigam’s recording is really quite something, too. ;)

    • XD well, I admit it, I am rather elitist in that sort of respect.. I like having representations faithful to the music.. well, people may argue the “artistically appropriate” part.

      ahaha, I see we diverge.. I find that to listen to Gould, one must listen to more conservative recordings so you can better understand Gould. Otherwise you get roped into thinking Gould is a god. I’ll give Brautigam a listen!

      thanks for your thoughts (:

  5. Pingback: classical music is stuffy? pshaw! classical recs for fans of pop/rock/electro/… | the innocent lam

  6. I have to disagree. Isn’t it a good thing to have old mix with new for sake of exposing the young to the old? Sometimes they do mix well together. I am a composer myself, and personally applaud Lady Gaga for using Beethoven in her work. Though I agree about Glenn Gould. No emotion.

  7. I, too, was trying to find out if she played it herself. I don’t think it’s cheesy at all and here’s why: she very likely learned that “overplayed” Beethoven as a teenager and maybe she’s in love with that particular Sonata. Maybe it was the perfect way to express the way she felt when she got dropped from her first label.

    The reason these pieces are so timeless is that each generation comes to them and can identify. These works become their own. This is one of the many reasons I love classical music. The greatest works can’t ever be truly performed the same way twice. Yes, it’s absolutely Beethoven, but it’s Stefani Germanotta’s Beethoven. And I like it the way I like Chick Corea’s Mozart. Mozart, yes, but purely Chick.

  8. I knew Pathetique LONG before I knew this video existed. I’ve never purposely listened to a Lady Gaga song in my life. The dance song is F** PERFECT for my current taste in same so… like… eh… I agreed to listen because I put my friend through too much video game music. At least she didn’t touch Bach or I woulda been like !@#$%^&*()

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