Ten Serge Gainsbourg Pieces Inspired by Classical Music

Jane Birkin sang Gainsbourg with the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra in April 2017. A natural pairing for music inspired by classical music.

“I like great music. I make small music. A minor art. So, I borrow” 

– Serge Gainsbourg

From a very young age, Serge Gainsbourg had a very close relationship with classical music that he used throughout his career. Some of his songs make use of  great classical music standards, this can be seen both in songs sung by him and those he wrote for others. We have selected 10 of these songs for you. 

Poupée de cire, poupée de son / Piano Sonata N° 1 (Beethoven)

Gainsbourg was inspired by the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata  n° 1 when writing this famous song, performed by France Gall at the 1965 Eurovision. Go to 00:28 of the sonata to hear what he borrowed. 

Charlotte for Ever / Andantino (Aram Khatchatourian)

From the very first notes of Aram Khachaturian’s Andantino the foundations for the 1986 father/daughter duo are clear. 

Baby Alone in Babylone / Symphony n° 3 (Johannes Brahms)

 Symphony n°3 by Johannes Brahms inspired Baby Alone in Babylone which was performed by the singer's ultimate muse Jane Birkin.

Dépression au-dessus du jardin / Etude n° 9, op. 10 (Chopin)

Notes from Chopin’s Etude n° 9, op. 10 in F minor accompany the voice of Jane Birkin, or that of Catherine Deneuve, depending on the version, in Dépression au-dessus du jardin. Gainsbourg used an instrumental version of this track in the soundtrack of his film Charlotte for Ever, released in 1986. 

Jane B. / Prélude n°4, op.28 (Chopin)

Jane B., written by Gainsbourg, for the first Jane Birkin album released, in 1969, ingeniously borrows from Frédéric Chopin’s Prelude n° 4, op. 28

Lemon Incest / Etude n°3, op.10 ( Chopin)

This link is a little more difficult to make out. Lemon Incest came out in 1984, a passionate anthem between Gainsbourg and his daughter Charlotte, it draws on the melody of Study n° 3 op.10 composed by Frédéric Chopin.

Initials B.B. / Symphony n°9, 1st movement (Dvorak)

“After our separation, in distress, he wrote me this vibrant tribute - Initials B.B. – which remains the most beautiful declaration of love that any man has ever made me,” Brigitte Bardot explained in 2011. To create this piece, Gainsbourg borrowed music from the first movement of Anton Dvorak’s 9th Symphony. Go to 4:25 of the symphony to hear the inspiration. 

Lost song / Solveig's Song (Grieg)

This song, written once again for Jane Birkin, is based off the orchestration and melody of Solveig’s Song

Ma Lou Marilou / Piano Sonata N° 23, Op. 57 (Beethoven)

Here, the tune sung by Gainsbourg mirrors the melody of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata N° 23, Op. 57

Requiem pour un con / Symphony No. 9, fourth movement (Dvorak)

And saving the least obvious for last! This piece performed by Gainsbourg in the 1968 film Le Pacha takes inspiration from the last movement of Anton Dvorák’s ninth symphony

Can you work out how? No idea? Ok, we’ll tell you… The melody sung by Gainsbourg uses the first notes of the finale of the Dvorák symphony. 

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