"Frolic" is a song composed by Luciano Michelini, an Italian composer. It was created in 1974 for the film, La bellissima estate, where it was used to represent the character of the barone rosso. "Frolic" is better known as the theme from the American sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm. It was chosen by the series' creator, Larry David, who had heard the music in a bank advertisement four years prior. Apart from that, "Frolic" has been used as backing music for several advertisements, and a rap by Snoop Dogg.
"Frolic" takes inspiration from circus music and the bossa nova. The piece features a combination of tuba, mandolin, banjo and piano, as well as several instruments used for effects. This combination of instruments has been frequently commented on due to its unusual nature.
La bellissima estate
Luciano Michelini is an Italian composer, born in 1945. Michelini originally composed "Frolic" for the 1974 film, La bellissima estate. When used in the film, the song was called "Il barone rosso". It was created by Michelini to represent the barone rosso (red baron), a comedic character played by Lino Toffolo who entertains a group of children. Following La bellissima estate, "Frolic" was included in a music library (Universal Production Music) and was used sparingly in advertisements and Italian television, such as Le Iene.
"Frolic" has been used as background music for multiple advertisements. In 2008, "Frolic" was used in a political campaign by the Republican congressman Lee Terry. In the advert, which is entitled "Jim Esch Doesn't Care About Us", mocked the Democrat candidate challenging Terry. The whimsical nature of "Frolic", coupled with other images of idleness was used to imply that Esch would not be a proactive candidate. "Frolic" was also featured in a 1990s advertisement created by a Californian bank and various European adverts.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
"Frolic" is used as the opening and closing theme song to Curb Your Enthusiasm, an American television series created by Larry David. However, the song is not listed in the show's credits. Curb Your Enthusiasm regularly uses Italian classical pieces for incidental music, with some songs originating from the same music library as "Frolic". These other songs include "The Puzzle" and "Amusement", both of which were composed by Franco Micalizzi.
David came across the song being used in the advert for the Californian bank. He decided to use the song for Curb Your Enthusiasm to serve as relief from the show's often exaggerated themes. David first hired a composer to recreate the song he had heard in the advert, but due to issues with quality, the synthesised recording was not used. The production team decided to go and find the original song instead. Michelini was contacted for his permission to use the song in 2000, although David had seen the bank advertisement nearly four years prior.[a] Michelini gave his permission and gave HBO the rights to "Frolic".
In "The Five-Foot Fence" (season 11, episode 1), "Frolic" is a part of the episode's plot. As part of the plot, Michelini has a guest appearance conducting a live orchestra at a concert. David, alongside Albert Brooks, attends the concert at the episode's end. The orchestra then plays "Frolic", signalling the end of the episode.
Structure and music
"Frolic" is commonly seen as being connected to circus music. This connotation comes from the rhythms and instruments (specifically tuba and mandolin) used in the song by Michelini. Additional inspiration comes from the bossa nova, which can be heard in the harmony of the song.
The song uses an unusual combination of instruments: a tuba, mandolin, piano and banjo. The tuba, which has connotations of humour and the circus, features heavily in the song's texture. Other instruments are used in the piece as effects, including slide whistle and bass drum.
The song's melody is played on a mandolin and features a downward-moving chromatic line atop various seventh chords, which also move downwards. The harmony used in "Frolic" reflects the whimsical nature of the music; according to Paul Christiansen, a musicologist specialising in music for advertisements:
[...] the melody and harmony just "spin their wheels" – that is, there is no discernible melodic or harmonic progression.
Reception and legacy
The song proved successful with audiences due to its synergy with Curb Your Enthusiasm's themes and comedic nature. According to Rob LeDonne, an American writer, "Frolic" is a classic theme song and "has firmly planted itself in the pantheon of television theme song history". Steven Rasch, an editor of the ninth series of Curb Your Enthusiasm, commented on the song's usage in the show as light relief. He stated:
Music is our tool to bring the mood back up and cue the audience to laugh [...] It's this enjoyable circus track that has good energy and counterbalances the sour humor in the show.
"Frolic" is regularly included on various lists of "the best television theme songs", usually achieving somewhat high placings:
- Rotten Tomatoes: "The 21 Best TV Theme Songs of the Past 21 Years" – No. 8
- Entertainment Weekly: "The 25 best TV theme songs of the 21st century" – No. 8
- Paste: "The 50 Best TV Theme Songs of All Time" – No. 22
"Frolic" has been used as a meme to highlight awkward or embarrassing scenarios. In these memes, the song is played over short video clips, such as those of Steve Harvey announcing the wrong winner of Miss Universe 2015 or La La Land being mistakenly given the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2017. Michelini has acknowledged the song's usage in this capacity, stating that the meme "works in his favor".
The song's popularity is such that it was used as a ringtone by Steven Spielberg, who stated that the song "makes [him] smile". It has been used by Dustin Ballard in his mashup project There I Ruined It, where it was combined with Metallica's "Enter Sandman". "Frolic" was used as the backing for a rap by Snoop Dogg named "Crip Your Enthusiasm". The track appeared on his album, BODR.
Notes, references and sources
- David has stated also that this happened two years prior
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- Christiansen 2021, p. 635.
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