“In the old times, when it was still of some use to wish for the thing one wanted, there lived a king whose daughters were all handsome, but the youngest was so beautiful that the sun himself, who has seen so much, wondered at her beauty each time he shone over her.”
-The Frog Prince
In many stories, there are stock characters: the evil stepmother, the beautiful queen, the creepy vampire, the clever detective (and of course, the butler did it!) … There may always be variations, and characters may not always be explicitly transparent as stock characters, but they’re still persistent. They can be persistent in classical music, too! (You can check out How to Actually Enjoy Classical Music (For Book Lovers) on how classical music can tell stories.)
So how might a Beautiful Princess come across in music, for example?
Well, let’s start by brainstorming the adjectives frequently used to describe your prototypical Princess:
- Gifted with a beautiful singing voice
Maybe not the last one explicitly, but the others could easily be used to describe particular sections of music. So it only makes sense that if you can ascribe the words “beautiful,” “graceful,” “peaceful,” and “lyrical” to the music at a certain point, you can take the creative liberty to imagine a Beautiful Princess in the music.
The general rule of thumb, then, is that if the adjectives you would use to describe a prototypical character can also be used to describe the music, it can be considered as invoking that stock character.
What music have you heard that sounds like a stock character? Please feel free to share links or discuss in the comments!
You might also like: Classical Music Stories, a blog series that connects music to your favorite books and characters.
As always, thanks for reading!
2 thoughts on “Stock Characters You Can Hear in Classical Music”
I always thought “Peter and the Wolf” did an amazing job of representing characters as music. Perhaps the french horn could be a good stock instrument for “big bad wolf”?
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Ooh, I’m very intrigued by this idea! You’re definitely on to something. The French horn is used a lot of the time as a signal for hunting in music, but I believe it’s normally considered to represent the hunter instead of the huntED… So that makes it super interesting that it’s used to signal the wolf in this case! This really opens up a whole new layer of meaning for the “big bad wolf” theme in that piece that I never noticed before…