Classical Musicians in feature films???

July 27, 2010 at 02:15 AM ·


Curious to know if there are any classical musicians on film. Meaning in a major character role of a feature film. Jascha Heifetz played himself in "They shall have music", Isaac Stern did a small role of "Ysaye" somewhere, Ivry Gitlis did a few small French Films, but I don't believe anything major, Richter played "Glinka", pianist Jose Iturbi played himself in several films, Joshua Bell appears for a few seconds in the "Red Violin" and he supposedly was body double for the actor... Is there anyone else???

I always found it disturbing to have actors faking to play the instruments , why not use real musicians that could possibly act?


Replies (24)

July 27, 2010 at 02:56 AM ·

The film in which Isaac Stern appeared is "Tonight, We Sing" about the life of impresario Sol Hurok, and Isaac Stern was playing the role of Eugene Ysaye. If memory serves correctly, Ezio Pinza was supposed to be the great Russian bass, Chaliapin.

The film "Music of the Heart",starring Meryl Streep as Roberta Guaspari, the violin teacher who began a program in  Harlem against all odds and got her kids to Carnegie Hall, has a number of musicians playing themselves in the film. Isaac Stern again is featured as are violinists Arnold Steinhardt from the Guarneri Quartet, Joshua Bell,  Itzhak Perlman,  Mark O'Connor, and violist Michael Tree.

July 27, 2010 at 03:07 AM ·

Gidon Kremer as Paganini (I think) in the film Fluhlings Sinfonie.

July 27, 2010 at 06:41 AM ·

This isn't exactly a movie, but:

I remember reading that the cellist Zuill Bailey played a prisoner (I think) who plays the cello on the cable TV series "Oz."  I don't remember the circumstances, but I think he stabs someone to death with his endpin.

July 27, 2010 at 11:25 AM ·

 Dominique de Williencourt and Jeffrey Grice in Un Cœur en Hiver.

July 27, 2010 at 12:17 PM ·

Isaac Stern in "Humoresque", starring John Garfield, Joan Crawford. Some brilliant playing, although it was only his hands that were shown. John Garfield was the "virtuoso violinist", and every time he picked up the violin and put it under his chin, there was a clever little edit which cut and homed in on "his" hands, which were actually Isaac Stern's, playing.


July 27, 2010 at 12:25 PM ·

 Does Lori Singer count?  She is best known as an actress but is also an accomplished cellist.  She performs in several films, playing roles in some cases and appearing as herself in others.

July 27, 2010 at 08:51 PM ·

Thanks everyone! Seems like there have not been any 'big name" musician that played a major character role...the ones that have been mentioned so far are mostly small episodic roles without dialogue or actors that had some previous instrument training. What I meant earlier is for example, if there was a movie called "Fritz Kreisler" to have Joshua Bell play the character, or Gil Shaham to play "David Oistrakh" or Hilary Hahn to play "Ginette Neveu". Has there been anyone like that? I think it would be interesting to see someone make an attempt like that.

July 28, 2010 at 05:53 PM ·

 Didn't Leopold Stokowski shake hands with Mickey Mouse in Fantasia?

July 29, 2010 at 12:53 PM ·

I didn't know Mickey Mouse was a classical musician!!!

Yehudi Menuhin played the sound track for the Hollywood movie about Paganini (I think it was called The Magic Bow). There is a photo of Menuhin in a period costume and violin in hand, I think, in his autobiography. I'll have to find the book, but I believe he may have actually had a screen test. They wisely decided to have him just play the sound track.


July 29, 2010 at 07:53 PM ·

Honestly, they're not actors.  They're musicians.  Acting is a whole `nother art.  If you're already spending most of your time learning how to be mindblowingly fabulous on an instrument, you won't have much time left over to study yet one more performing art.

July 29, 2010 at 10:30 PM ·

Though the vast majority of those listed in the following link only appeared in or on film and not as actors, I thought it was worth sending the link for those who are curious:


July 30, 2010 at 12:00 AM ·

National Symphony presents Bugs Bunny.

Don't believe me, check the link:

July 31, 2010 at 04:30 PM ·

Stokie and Diana Durbin made "100 Men and a Girl" in the '40s. Mario Lanza played in "The Great Caruso" . There must be others but I am drawing a blank. Best R

July 16, 2011 at 08:08 PM ·

I'm currently watching a re-run on British BBC2 TV channel of the historical drama series The Tudors. For once, I am happy to report that there is some genuine on-screen violin playing by Canadian actor/violinist David Alpay, who plays the part of the 16th century Court musician Mark Smeaton. Mark Smeaton (1512-1536) was alleged to be a lover of Anne Boleyn (Henry VIII's Queen) by factions who wanted to bring about her downfall. Those factions succeeded – Mark Smeaton and Anne Boleyn both came to sticky ends (par for the course in that period of European history).

David Alpay's playing of music of the period is truly delightful to hear and watch. The relevant YouTube videos I've identified of his playing in the series are, 

July 17, 2011 at 12:03 AM ·

 Liberace played several (really schmaltzy) character roles in various films...but then, maybe he was an actor and not a musician?

July 17, 2011 at 03:42 AM ·

 marjory, did you just post from THE FUTURE????

July 17, 2011 at 08:03 AM ·

 Well Isaac Stern's hands were somehow superimposed on the main character of the movie Humoresque (1946), Paul Boray  (played by John Garfield) in the scenes with violin playing.  So Stern was I guess kind of a body double? All of the actual playing that was on the soundtrack was done by Stern.  He sounded brilliant in the pieces featured in the film which included Waxman's Carmen Fantasy and the Dvorak Humoresque.  Just for that alone, it's worth seeing the film to hear this tremendous violin playing.

I'm no Isaac Stern, but I'll report that I was in the movie: Sex and The City 2.  You can actually see me in the trailer for a brief second and if you watch the film, you can see me performing in the wedding scene as part of the on screen ensemble. :)

July 17, 2011 at 03:30 PM ·

Nate, how cool! 

  There's the lineup of violinists at the end of "Music of the Heart" than included Bell, Perlman, and Stern in addition to some others all playing with the kids. Mark O'Connor was kind of featured in that scene (always wondered how that came about and didn't like how it seemed to suggest that he was somehow the best, but that just might be reflecting my own experience with the tension between "fiddlers" and classical players).

July 17, 2011 at 10:55 PM ·

Nate, if we're claiming film rights - I was in the Moscow Conservatory orchestra in the Music Lovers. Actually Bristol University orchestra. The music had been recorded by Rafael Orozco and the LSO and we had to mime it. The impressive bit was Richard Chamberlain as Tchaikovsky. He doesn't play the piano, but he'd learned the shapes of the notes to act it. Ken Russell (director) wanted it in one long take from everyone walking in and taking their places, then Richard Chamberlain dashing on stage just in time and into quite a bit of the first movement. It would have been so easy to cut to a real pianist's hands, but that wasn't what Russell wanted. Everyone involved just went up so high in my estimation for putting so much effort in to get exactly what the director wanted.

It also paid rather nicely! Especially compared to a student grant.

July 17, 2011 at 10:59 PM ·

That film featuring Isaac Stern as Ysaye. I remember seeing it years ago. Unfortunately Mr Stern came over as completely wooden as an actor. I gather he was always interested in film and tv - I also remember his appearance as a guest artist in the Jack Benny show.

July 18, 2011 at 01:24 AM ·

 Very neat Malcolm!  I'll have to check out Music Lovers.  In regards to Isaac Stern playing Ysaye in that film you were discussing, I believe I've seen parts of it on Youtube.  He plays Ziguenerweisen and the last movement from Wieniawski 2 if I recall correctly.  I absolutely loved the violin playing.  

 Here's the Wieniawski: 




July 18, 2011 at 12:07 PM ·

 Malcolm, a couple of clips from The Music Lovers on YouTube. Can you be seen?

PS Seven guineas (£7.35) for a day's work as a film extra wasn't too bad in 1970 (or the late '60s when perhaps it was filmed).

July 18, 2011 at 04:13 PM ·

 @ Christian, sorry?  I don't get the problem.

July 21, 2011 at 07:08 AM ·

Trevor, it was a long time ago - I think I was sat at No. 3 but the guy there looks terribly wooden!

One of my friends from my local youth orchestra in Hornchurch came down for the film. Gave him a slight problem - the filming over-ran by a day, and so we finished up driving back from Bristol to Hornchurch early in the morning to start a youth orchestra weekend course that day - and Stephen hadn't had chance to look at the music beforehand. So - straight in. Scheherazade. He was leader. Section coach for the first violins - John Georgadis. (For those who don't know the name, leader of the LSO at the time). Luckily, Stephen played the solos very well, and John was a wonderful help to us all. Additional proof that the top artists are so often the nicest ones as well.


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