The 20 Best Uses of Classical Music in Movies

14. The King’s Speech

King George VI was a symbol of English resistance during World War II. His speeches helped the people to stay united and aware of the current situation, in a period when England was attacked by Germany forces. That wouldn’t be possible without Mozart. In his first attempt to treat “Bertie”, Lionel Logue used Mozart’s “Le nozze di Figaro” in order to make the future king incapable of listening to his own voice.

With the piece playing on the headphones, The King would later discover that he could actually recite a Shakespeare poem. Another excellent use of classical music in the movie was at his final speech (first during the War), where Beethoven’s Symphony No7 is played on the background, with all its drama, hope and beauty.


13. Brief Encounter

David Lean’s created one of the most remarkable bittersweet movie stories: the love affair of a married woman and a married man. The impossibility of happiness in a relationship fated to fail doesn’t impede people to fall in love every day. Love cannot be trapped by wedding rings or contracts: it’s a cliché, but it can happen at any time. The couple meets at a train station and Rachmaninov’s Concert no 2 is the soundtrack to this impossible love.

The character listening to music, a feature that takes the musical meta-understanding of the classical piece and her association with feelings of, is used as a tool to associate the music with the movie and its emotions. All the sweetness and sadness of the piece serve as background to a story that is fated to end, but as long it lasts, it’s beautiful. The post romantic melody fits perfectly in a story that is told on flashback, carrying a nostalgia and distant feeling of warmth.


12. The Silence of Lambs

Hannibal Lecter’s originated a trilogy: The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and Red Dragoon. The Silence of the Lambs is the masterpiece, a thriller brilliantly directed by Jonathan Demme ( a director famous by his musical collaborations, most specifically in his Talking Heads “Stop Making Sense”).

Anthony Hopkins appears just 24 minutes in the movie, enough to scare everyone who saw it. One of these scary moments is when Lecter runs away from prison. The scene is spectacularly built. He asks for rare Lamb veal, a reference to Clarice’s child nightmare, and also a reference to human flesh, which in fact was his meal.

Before eating and killing the cops, Lecter is listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations. In fact, in the book wrote by Thomas Harris, which the movie derived from, Hannibal Lecter is a lover of Bach’s music. In Hannibal, the second movie of the franchise, The Goldberg Variations are played in many scenes, helping the audience see that even the most monstrous person has a sensitive soul.


11. Shine

“It’s a mountain. Hardest piece you could ever play. No one’s mad enough to play the Rach 3. Two separating melodies, fighting for supremacy. Ten fingers each hand. Performing is a risk. Tame the piano. It’s a monster.”

Troubled musicians are a common theme in music history. Beethoven could be described as a misanthropic depressive genius, Brian Wilson is a diagnosed schizophrenic, like Syd Barrett and many others. The definition of Insanity, as Michel Foucault says, varies according to time, so sometimes it’s hard to tell undoubtedly if a musician was completely insane.

David Helfgoff is one of those cases. A child prodigy (like Mozart), he showed an incredible talent at young age, playing pieces by Chopin and Rachmaninov at the piano with technical virtuosity. He earned a scholarship to study in England at Royal School of Music. He starts to practice for the Rach 3 (Rachmaninov Third Concert), one of the most challenging pieces of music ever written. He suffers a mental breakdown when he is playing the piece.

He goes back to Australia and gets himself into a mental institution. After years of ostracism, he starts playing in a local bar in Melbourne and gradually begins to achieve recognition among the public. Now the movie crosses with real life. His character is brilliantly portrayed by Geoffrey Rush, an unknown actor at the time. David Helfgoff goes back to classical presentations and participates in a record with the Australian popular rock band Silverchair.


10. The Shawshank Redemption

Andy Dufresne was wrongly convicted for murder and sentenced to a lifelong imprisonment at Shawshank prison. At the beginning he feels out placed and strange. But as time goes on he starts to make friendships, mainly with Red (Morgan Freeman). He starts to help other prison mates giving classes and creating a library at there. His patience and courage inspire the other prisoners.

One moment that demonstrates perfectly his bravery is when he enters the director’s room and puts Mozart to play. The prisoners’ reaction is jaw dropping: in that grey and lifeless environment, suddenly a heavenly melody comes from nowhere. He got punished for that, but it was worth every second.


9. Black Swan

Tchaikovsky’s ballet “Swan Lake” served as inspiration for this Darren Aronofsky thriller. Besides being similar thematically, the movie soundtrack (composed by Clint Mansell) takes a lot from Tchaikovsky’s compositions.

It was even left out of Academy Awards nominations because of the fact it was not entirely original. That doesn’t matter. The power of Tchaikovsky’s music as seen through the lens of Mansell is still amazing, and provides excellent moments in the whole movie.


8. Death in Venice

Thomas Mann wrote the book Death in Venice based on his experience in Venice, where he went to write a story about Richard Wagner, who had died there 3 years before. He took his family with him, allegedly to rest and get new ideas; he was having a creative block in Germany. But once in Venice, he couldn’t write, his mind had only one focus: Adzio, a Polish boy who was staying at the same hotel with his family.

This writer’s block and homosexual platonic passion served as a background for him to write the book. Luchino Visconti changed Gustav von Aschenbach to a musician, and got inspiration from Richard Mahler’s personality to him. The soundtrack is a homage to Mahler, a lot of inspiring moments, dealing with the battle between Apollonian and Dionysian, Intellect x Body and Death x Beauty.