If you were paying attention at the tail end of last year (and there’s no particular reason why you should have been) then you’ll know that I like cartoons, and Tom & Jerry in particular. I’ll regularly watch a couple of their animated shorts with my son last thing before we pack him off to bed, while my daughter sits at our feet massaging a carefully concealed piece of banana into her hair. It would be a cruel assignment, but if anyone were to force me to pick my favourite Tom & Jerry cartoon then I would probably plump for The Cat Concerto; you’ll likely know the one, where Tom attempts to play a piano recital in front of a concert audience while Jerry, apparently a resident of the piano, at first tries to sleep through the performance but in the end decides to play merry hell with Tom, as is his wont.
It is not only a beautiful piece of animation – winning the 1946 Oscar for Best Short Subject: Cartoon – but I think the music featured in the cartoon is fantastic, and so I wanted to find out what it is. Wikipedia was its usual helpful self, informing me that the piece of music in question is Hungarian Rhapsody #2 by Franz Liszt; but it also told me something more. Under the heading “Controversy” Wikipedia reveals the intriguing story that in the same year The Cat Concerto was produced, Warner Bros released a Bugs Bunny short, Rhapsody Rabbit, that – wait for it – features the central protagonist trying to play Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody #2 in front of a concert audience while a mouse inside the piano causes all sorts of mayhem. Both cartoons were nominated for an Oscar in the same category, and understandably there were claims of plagiarism; but who copied whom, or whether it was all just a bizarre coincidence (the same piece of music having also been used in numerous other cartoons) has never been resolved. Instinctively I would assume that if anyone copied anyone it would be Warner Bros that copied MGM, what with a mouse already being an established part of the latter’s star double act, but Peter Gimpel, son of the pianist who played on the Bugs Bunny cartoon, offers a plausible alternative in this fascinating article.
It is unlikely that we will ever know the truth for sure, and due to current terrestrial broadcasting policy we will probably never get the chance to watch either cartoon on telly; but thanks again to the wonder of YouTube there are a number of copies of the cartoons held on their servers, and I present them to you today, as a sort of 29th of February gift. If this blog is still here in four years time I may do something similar then, if I think on, and if you’re good. Which cartoon is the better? Well for me it is a clear win for Tom & Jerry, but I am probably a bit biased, so why not take a look and decide for yourself?
The Cat Concerto