What actually are all these songs on the Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes toy?

It’s not just the Greatest Hits of the Classical Era—there are some seriously deep cuts.
Megan L. Lavengood
video demo of the Take Along Tunes toy

For the uninitiated, the Take Along Tunes toy plays a series of excerpts from Classical- and Baroque-era (mostly) orchestral works while flashing colored lights; its purpose is to distract and occupy your baby while you’re forcing them to do something they don’t particularly enjoy (in our case, diaper changes). As musical toys go, it’s really not annoying, because the tunes are pleasant and the excerpts are long enough not to drive you up the wall with repetitiveness.

While there are some obvious, Greatest-Hits-of-the-Classical-Era-type selections (William Tell, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik), some other excerpts stumped me.

Step 1: Google.

Screenshot from the blog post listing the pieces. The tunes played by the toy are listed below  Serenade No. 13 in G, “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” K525, 1st movement, Mozart Nocturne No. 6, K239, 1st movement, Mozart Piano Sonata in A, K331, 3rd movement, Mozart Waltz in GB Op. 70, No.1, Chopin The Four Seasons, Spring, 1st movement, Vivaldi The Four Seasons, Summer, 1st and 3rd movements, Vivaldi William Tell Overture, “Lone Ranger”, Rossini
supposedly a list of tunes for the toy.

I tried simply searching the internet for a list of songs, and I was able to find a review of the toy that appeared to have answered this question for me. A number of these were correct—all the Mozart selections, the Chopin, the Rossini, and Vivaldi “Spring”—but I listened to all of “Summer” and didn’t hear anything from the toy, and about four tracks were left unidentified.

Have a listen to these mystery tracks and feel yourself being transported to your last drop-the-needle test.

mystery tune a. Described by one friend as having mode mixture that seems like “a Brahms or Dvořák thing, or like Berlioz”; by another as reminiscent of a trombone excerpt from Damnation of FAust.
mystery tune b. Very short and repetitive so hard to pin down the era. Nice Romanesca though.
Mystery Tune c. That bass line plus that nonstop melody is giving major baroque vibes.
mystery tune d. Described by a friend as “bad Handel.” Another person said the cadences on beat 3 in 3/4 time “suggests an early date, early in the 18th century.”

I then tried entering the unidentified melodies into things like Shazam and ThemeFinder.org, to no avail.

Thus began my wild goose chase.

Step 2: Musicology Twitter.

Clearly I needed to tap a bigger network, so it was time to bring in Twitter.

I was encouraged when, after less than 20 minutes, a hero identified two of the four tracks as some real deep cuts.

MArk JAnello, Music Theory Prof at Peabody and Music Twitter Hero, identifying mystery tracks b and c (= #4 and #5 in the tweet).

(at the risk of exposing an embarrassing lack of knowledge about a composer I once considered writing my dissertation on…)

wtf is a Goldberg canon!?

Apparently they were only discovered in 1975. Weird choice for a baby toy, right? Here’s an edition of the Goldberg canons on IMSLP—the toy plays #5 with some small alterations.

Vivaldi wrote so much stuff that I’m not surprised I couldn’t identify this violin concerto. We are very far out of my wheelhouse with this one.

But no one was able to tackle Mystery Tracks A and D yet.

Step 3: Ask nerdy friends.

As a result of being a music professor and obtaining a PhD in music geekery, I know a lot of people who seem to know everything about Classical music. I contacted some of my most savvy friends from CUNY—no IDs, although one friend suggested that D was “bad Handel” and that A had mode mixture that was “a Brahms or Dvořák thing, or like Berlioz.”

Then I even my former professor Bill Rothstein, who I suspect has a photographic memory and seems to be able to sit down at the piano and immediately play any piece you mention from memory—still nothing!

At this point I started to fear that I’d never know the answer to this mystery.

Step 4: Back to Twitter.

I went back to Twitter to beg and plead for my followers’ help. I even tried appealing to people’s egos by mentioning they’d be out-guessing Bill Rothstein if they knew any of the answers. Yet no one answered my calls. Inspired by the suggestion that Mystery Tune D was “bad Handel,” I decided to tag in Handel scholar Greg Decker. In a surprise twist ending, though, it was Mystery Tune A that Greg was able to identify!

Greg Decker, Music Theory Professor at Bowling Green and Beethoven “Contredanse” identifier.

Music Theory Twitter begged Greg to work his magic on Mystery Tune D as well. He did admit it “could be Handel” but said he was too busy for the time being to go on a scavenger hunt. (I mean, come on, though, what could be more important?)

But another surprise came when the final piece was identified by a theory professor whose expertise came not from their extensive schooling, but instead from their extensive family.

Toby Rush, music theory professor at Dayton and super dad.

So it turns out “bad Handel” and “early 18th-c.” were both pretty good inferences.

The Complete List of Songs in the Take Along Tunes toy

Here is the actual list of pieces featured in the Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes toy and a Spotify playlist I’ve assembled for your (and my) listening pleasure.

ComposerPiece and IMSLP link
Ludwig van Beethoven12 Contradanses, WoO 14, No. 6
Wolfgang MozartSerenade in D major, K. 239, mvt. I
Frédéric ChopinWaltz, Op. 70, No. 1
Johann Sebastian Bach14 Canons, BWV 1087, No. 5
Antonio VivaldiViolin Concerto in E, Op. 3, No. 12
Gioachino RossiniOverture from William Tell
Wolfgang MozartPiano Sonata in A major, K. 331, mvt. III
Antonio VivaldiViolin Concerto in E, “Spring”, mvt. I
Georg Philipp TelemannOuverture-Suite TWV 55:C3, mvt. VI
Wolfgang MozartEine kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525, mvt. I

 

3 thoughts on “What actually are all these songs on the Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes toy?

  1. For those who may not be familiar, the early center of the Baby Einstein brand — which was HUGE when my older kids were babies back in the early 2000s — was a series of DVDs (or VHS tapes!) featuring long close-ups of colorful toys being shown or operated by the hands of off-screen adults against a white backdrop, accompanied by classical music arranged for cheerful synths. We didn’t hold any stock in the “Mozart makes you kids smarter” myth, but these videos were a godsend for exhausted parents, allowing us to have a few minutes of sanity while the kid was transfixed by the colors and sounds. (I’ll admit, the fact that it was classical music instead Dora asking questions to an awkwardly silent fourth wall made us feel a tiny bit better.)

    The Telemann came from the Baby Neptune DVD, one that focused on water, and though it was more than 15 years ago I remember that one being my second oldest kids’ favorite, particularly when we had to hold him still to sit through asthma treatments.

    Megan, as a timbre scholar you’ll likely appreciate this: I am 100% positive that if you had played the original orchestral version for me, I would vaguely recognize it but not be able to place it. But upon hearing the synth arrangement programmed into the toy, I was instantly transported to my sofa in Greeley, holding a squirmy 2-year-old in one hand and a hissing nebulizer in the other!

    (And thanks for the “super dad” compliment… high praise indeed!)

    1. To be fair I don’t really know much about your parenting, but you seem pretty cool over the internet, and you have somehow managed six kids while I am up all night with anxiety over one baby, so I just assume you have superpowers.

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