10 Times Classical Music Starred in Movies

10 Times Classical Music Starred in Movies

We're kicking off Classical Music Month with 10 movies that feature classical favorites! 

1. Amadeus (1984)
Mozart, Requiem
Winner of 8 Academy Awards, Amadeus interweaves the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with that of Antonio Salieri for a gripping meditation on the nature of genius—in all its mysterious, awe-inspiring, unpredictable glory. The film is packed with Mozart masterpieces, including excerpts from The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and, most famously, Mozart’s Requiem.

2. The Shining (1980)
Bartók, Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta

In Stanley Kubrick’s chilling psychological-horror classic, Jack Torrance’s descent into insanity is underscored by some of the most terrifyingly imaginative works of the 20th century, including Bartók’s ghostly Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta and music of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. The Shining’s opening theme, composed for the film by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind, was based on the medieval hymn Dies Irae (“Day of Wrath”) and inspired by Berlioz’s iconic use of the theme in Symphonie fantastique.

3. The King’s Speech (2010)
Beethoven, Symphony No. 7

The second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 provides the perfect backdrop to the climactic moment of The King’s Speech, the music’s ever-growing volume and intensity paralleling King George’s VI bourgeoning self-assurance.

4. Raging Bull (1980)
Pietro Mascagni, Cavalleria rusticana
The passionate and heart-wrenching Intermezzo from Pietro Mascagni’s opera, Cavalleria rusticana, memorably sets the stage in the opening credits of Raging Bull.

5. Fantasia (1940)
Dukas, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

The wonder and imagination of Walt Disney meets some of the most beloved classical masterpieces ever composed in this timeless extravaganza of sight and sound. Led by former Houston Symphony Music Director Leopold Stokowski, Fantasia features favorites like The Nutcracker Suite, Night on Bald Mountain, and, of course, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

6. The Big Lebowski (1998)
Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition
The Coen Brothers’ quirky crime comedy has plenty of Dylan, Eagles, and Creedence, but excerpts from Mozart’s Requiem, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and Korngold’s Die tote Stadt really tie the film together.

7. Platoon (1986)
Samuel Barber, Adagio for Strings
Haunting and poignant, Samuel Barber’s instantly recognizable Adagio For Strings has helped the world through tragic times: it accompanied the public announcements of FDR and JFK’s deaths, and was played at the funerals of Albert Einstein and Princess Grace, to name a few. The piece also famously underscored the atrocities of war in Oliver Stone’s Platoon.

8. Die Hard (1988)
Beethoven, Symphony No. 9

On the surface, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 might not seem like a natural fit for an action blockbuster, but the symphony’s exuberant, raucously joyous finale is the perfect complement to the high-octane roller coaster ride that is Die Hard.

9. Alien (1979)
Howard Hanson, Symphony No. 2
Lush, heartfelt music from Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 2 accompanies Alien’s final dialogue and end credits, drawing the sci-fi thriller to a cathartic and emotional close.

10. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Richard Strauss, Also Sprach Zarathustra
Stanley Kubrick’s mesmerizing sci-fi epic is arguably the ultimate marriage of film and classical music, prolonged nonverbal stretches allowing the music to seamlessly meld with the striking visual style. The thundering strains of Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra is the music most often associated with the film, but Kubrick also makes masterful use of Johann Strauss, Jr.’s Blue Danube Waltz, along with music of György Ligeti and Aram Khachaturian.–Katy Judd

This blog was originally published in March 2020.

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