Classical Music in Film

October 2, 2007 at 01:46 AM · I looked around in the archives for a discussion on this topic and didn't see anything similar; my apologies if this has already been discussed.

In your opinion, what is the best use of a well-known classical piece in a film?

I posted this question, along with a few notable instances I could thik of, on my personal blog at I'd enjoy hearing other peoples' thoughts, either here on the discussion forum or in the comments on my blog. Maybe I'll gain some new ideas for must-see films to add to my netflix queue!

Replies (29)

October 2, 2007 at 02:54 AM · There is a world of classical music in early films. One notable is "They Shall Have Music" starring Heifetz. Another more obscure example is the life of Theodore Spiering, who straddled his concert career strictly classical in Europe, and his endeavors in creating music for film.

I think it would be near impossible to qualify 'good, better, best' in this case, because classical music was so profoundly used in films--especially before 1950.

October 2, 2007 at 03:03 AM · I guess it depends on how you would define "best". If by best you mean a classical piece used in such a way that it becomes familiar to a whole new audience of people or best in the sense that the music used served to dramatically further the plot of the film, that sort of thing. I personally enjoyed hearing the theme of the last movement of Saint-Saens symphony #3 used in the movie "Babe". I still have middle school kids who recognize that theme even though they only know it as the "Babe" music. Growing up I watched the "Smurfs" on t.v. How surprised I was the first time I listened to the Liszt Piano Concerto and shouted out loud "that's the Gargamel theme"! In this sense the use of these pieces brought them to the attention of a demographic that might not have ever heard those pieces on their own. The Fantasia movies and Sleeping Beauty from the Walt Disney Company were great for this as well. The movie "Somewhere in Time" used the "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" quite well throughout the movie to further the love theme of the plot. I'm sure many people left the movie wanting to buy the soundtrack because of the great music. I'm sure I will think of more examples but I think those are fairly good uses of classical music within a film.

October 2, 2007 at 03:49 AM · 2001: A Space Odyssey's use of Also Spake Zarasthustra (I think that's the right piece / spelling).

That's about the epitome of soundtracks - it's almost as if the piece was written for that film, just decades in advance.

To a lesser extent, Flight of the Valkyries in Apocalypse Now.

October 2, 2007 at 04:04 AM · I give a hearty second to Jami's stuff. Also add Adagio and Platoon. 2001 probably caps it though, including the Johann II employed.

October 2, 2007 at 04:05 AM · Greetings,

I think it translates closer to `Thus Spake Zarathustra` for what it`s worth.

The Mahler Adagietto and Death in Venice is painful and much in need of prunes,



October 2, 2007 at 06:19 AM · toscha seidel, certainly one of the greatest violinists ever to live, recorded for many movie sound tracks... some of the titles include Intermezzo and Around the World in 80 Days

October 2, 2007 at 11:14 AM · "tous les matins du monde" (for various viola de gamba pieces played in it), and "le joueur de violon" (for bach chaconne)are my all time favorite movies for the way they used the music with the picture.

and i second space odyssey, fantasia and the smurfs.

October 2, 2007 at 08:54 PM · I think my favorite is the slow movement of Beethoven "Ghost" trio in the French movie "Colonel Chabert." The movie is based on a short story by Balzac, where the main character (Gerard Depardieu... bien sur!) returns home to France after being taken for dead by his whole circle, including his wife (who has subsequently remarried). It's a really well-done movie -- one of my faves... esp. for the great use of the Beethoven!

October 2, 2007 at 09:00 PM · I guess the best is the Schubert trio 2 movement in "Berry lyndon" by kubrick

watch the scene of the kiss with marisa berenson: awesome!!


October 3, 2007 at 06:06 PM · I saw a movie Sherlock Holmes played by Basil Rathbone I never forgot. It is not a mystery, but is about the fictional man himself and his brilliance and drug addiction . In the movie, Holmes is an opium addict, and after taking opium he plays, La Folia in a opium induce hallucination. He is really out of it, in the movie, but he is so brilliant it is unbelievable. Then you learn Holmes is really a genius who chose to be a detective, and gave up a brilliant career as a musician, writer, scientist et. al....He decided to be a detective to fight Dr. Moriority.

This is a very obscure, but the context of the song is so great and so woven in with the character you have to love it. He is completely drugged out laying on a sofa playing and of course through the magic of Hollywood he can lay down and play perfectly. Dr. Watson we learn watches over the brilliant Holmes, but also monitors his addiction. This movie plays on the "artist as tortured soul", and shows Holmes as unlucky in love as well, possessed by demons which he exorcises with drugs and fighting his rival. Very obsure, but very fun to watch.

October 3, 2007 at 06:17 PM · "The Red Shoes" has many snippets of famous ballets, and includes an original score "The Red Shoes Ballet" by Brian Easdale.

Another film that I enjoyed this summer, thanks to my on-line DVD rental company, is "Merry Christmas" or "Joyeux Noel". This is not only a terrific movie, but features a lot of singing. I think it is one of the best movies I have ever seen. Highly recommended. Have hankies handy. Added bonus: the French officer is pretty nice to look at...

And speaking of "Babe", I like the parts where the mice sing!

October 3, 2007 at 08:32 PM · Some music becomes 'classical' after it has featured in a film; for example the score of The Piano by Nyman.

October 3, 2007 at 09:06 PM · i like how they use zigeunerweisen in the Pixar short film "one man band".

October 3, 2007 at 10:06 PM · Just to mention a current usage showing on PBS now is Ken Burns' film on World War II in which William Walton's Death of Falstaff is used in any number of heart rending sequences and is itself part of the music used in the British film based on Shakespeare's Henry V that starred Sir Laurence Olivier.

October 4, 2007 at 02:10 PM · Now I have lots of ideas for movies I need to rent!

Lots of people have mentioned "Babe," and I like all of the music in that movie... but I particularly like the use of Pizzicati from Delibes' ballet Sylvia when Babe and Ferdinand are sneaking into the house to steal the alarm clock. It makes the perfect soundtrack!

October 4, 2007 at 06:26 PM · The film Monsieur Hire uses a theme from I believe the final movement of the Brahms G minor piano quartet quite a bit.

The vampire flick The Hunger with David Bowie and Susan Sarandon uses a very nice version of the famous duet from Delibes' Lakme.

I didn't notice if anyone mentioned the use of Barber's Adagio for Strings in Platoon, but that's up there, too.

Edit--I also have been looking for the remake Unfaithfully Yours with Dudley Moore, which uses Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony quite effectively, as well as the violin concerto, and a humorous violin battle using Csardas.

October 4, 2007 at 07:15 PM · "Witches of Eastwick" cello seduction scene.

All of Kubrick's "2001"

"Moonstruck" excerpts from "La Boheme"

Horrible use of classical music: "Moulin Rouge" with a Can-Can that, astonishingly enough, is made even more trite and silly than Offenbach's original could ever hope to manage.

October 5, 2007 at 05:43 AM · I dunno. Classical composers created music for entertaining the masses. This included music to accompany plays and such.

Though the media have changed over the centuries (film, digital, etc.) since the masters of old were in practice, today's composers are still, in principle, doing exactly what Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Chopin, Brahms and the rest did.

They, too, will come to be known as classical composers some day. As such, I'm going to cast a pre-emptive vote for the works of Hans Zimmer and Thomas Newman--most of the stuff they've done...I could no sooner pick a favorite leaf on a tree. ;)

P.S. If I absolutely had to pick one piece from a modern composer, it would be "Chevaliers de Sangreal" by Zimmer. It's a very simple, repetitive theme, but oh my god, how he builds on it and brings it to a climax! I get goosebumps every time I listen to it. Perhaps folks two-hundred years from now will, too.

October 5, 2007 at 05:56 AM · n

October 5, 2007 at 04:56 PM · A Clockwork Orange--Kubrick uses interesting synthesized versions (Wendy Carlos) of compositions by various composers.

Love and Death--Woody Allen's satire of Russian classic literature is set to the music of Prokofiev.

October 5, 2007 at 05:09 PM · The creepiest one I can think of is "Soylent Green". Edward G. Robinson's death scene utilizes Beethoven's Sixth Symphony.

October 5, 2007 at 05:48 PM · The second movement from the Bach Double Concerto for 2 violins was used in the soundtrack to "Children of a Lesser God." The movie dealt with a man who loved music and his love relationship with a deaf woman (played by Marlee Matlin, who won an Oscar for the role). I thought the double concerto was a poignant metaphor for their struggle to bridge their differences and make the relationship work.

October 7, 2007 at 03:05 AM · Fantasia (pretty obvious)

2001: Space Oddysey

The Shining

October 8, 2007 at 12:33 AM · An old, old Brando movie, Last Tango in Paris, (perhaps ?) used the slow movt from Mozart Symphonie Concertante....and that's tough to beat for great music !

October 8, 2007 at 01:35 AM · I don't know what films exactly, but a lot have had Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in there. Mainly older films usually have most or all of it, but newer ones usually only have like 10-20 measures and then stops because something else in the movie happens.

October 8, 2007 at 07:15 AM · 1. As Karen wrote, Children of a Lesser God uses Bach's Double Violin Concerto beautifully.

2. 2001: A Space Odyssey has great scenes of a space vehicle drifting languidly through space to the strains of Strauss's Blue Danube. This is a must-see. Every time I hear this waltz, I think of those scenes from this movie. Once, when we were practicing it in orchestra, the conductor broke down laughing because of his visions of the music in this film.

3. Elvira Madigan features Mozart's Piano Concerto 21 (now known as the Elvira Madigan Concerto).

4. Bach Toccato and Fugue was used for high drama in 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. Go, Capt. Nemo!

5. I once saw an old Grade C film on late night TV. I don't remember the title, but it featured Boris Karloff playing Bach on the piano in a haunted castle in Transylvania where a young couple on honeymoon got stranded. It was spooky.

6. Prokofiev wrote the background music for the classic Russian movie Alexander Nevsky.

7. There are lots of ballet performances on film with the appropriate classical music.

October 8, 2007 at 06:05 PM · I caught "The Bad News Bears" on TV last night and was reminded of how effectively the score from Bizet's "Carmen" was used in it.

October 8, 2007 at 06:22 PM · Babette's feast used classical music to great effect, esp. an aria sung by two of the film's characters (does anyone know what that beautiful piece was?).

Here's a list of non-English language films using classical music

October 8, 2007 at 06:33 PM · Hi, Mike. I checked the IMDb, and the soundtrack of "Babette's Feast" uses music from Mozart's "Don Giovanni" (which would account for your characterization of it as "that beautiful piece").

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Business Directory Business Directory Guide to Online Learning Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine