Classical Music in Movies

I was reading an article on Music Teachers Helper Blog about Musical Movies that inspire students. I too have a few favorite movies that feature Classical music, especially piano music. It is expected that movies such as The Pianist, or Shine, i.e., movies featuring musicians as protagonists, would contain a lot of classical music in the soundtrack, but here I am referring to movies that do not have a musical storyline, but contain memorable scenes where classical piano music is featured.

Two of my students are currently learning a duet piece as part of their CAPMT Piano Auditions: the Berceuse from Dolly Suite by Gabriel Faure. My students played the piece in our October group class, and after their performance, we started talking about how Classical music is often used in movies. Here are some examples:

1. Bicentennial Man – The main character, played by Robin Williams, is a highly evolved robot with emotions. There is a moving scene where he and a little girl (later becoming his wife) are playing the piano together. The girl is trying to teach him to play the piano, and being a highly intelligent robot, he quickly catches on! The music they share together is the Berceuse from Dolly Suite. The seemingly easy Primo part actually takes a lot of musicianship and sensitivity to convey. The much harder Secondo part is rich in harmony and texture. My students are both required to learn both parts, and accompany each other for their auditions. Here is a YouTube clip of the scene:

2. Gattaca – This is one of my top 10 favorite movies of all time. The main characters, played by Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, live in the not-so-distant future where genetic engineering is the norm. They attend a piano solo recital where Schubert’s Impromptu Opus 90 No.3 in G flat major (with a few extra added notes) is played. After the performance, the pianist throws his gloves away as souvenirs for the audience, and we notice that there are 6 fingers in each glove! Here is a YouTube clip of the scene:

3. The Adventures of Milo and Otis – This is a family friendly animal lovers film. It features many Classical compositions, including:

Serenade” by Franz Schubert, “Appalachian Spring” by Aaron Copland, “Of Foreign Lands and People” from “Scenes from Childhood” by Robert Schumann, “King Cotton” by John Philip Sousa, “Auf Dem Wasser Zu Singen D 774” by Franz Schubert, “People With Long Ears” by Saint-Saëns, “Dialogue Between the Wind and the Waves” from “La Mer” by Debussy, “Perpetual Motion” by Johann Strauss II, “How Beautifully Blue the Sky” by Gilbert and Sullivan, “Waltz in A minor” by Frédéric Chopin, “Impromptu in B flat” by Schubert, and “Piano Concerto in A Minor op.54” by Edvard Grieg.

Here is a YouTube Clip of the movie with Schumann’s “About Strange Lands and People” in the background (end of clip):

It is great that Classical music is used a lot in movies. Who can count how many times they have heard Debussy’s Claire de Lune being used!? (The most recent one was in Twilight, but I also remember Atonement and Ocean’s Eleven). I found a list of Classical Music in Movies, on the Naxos label. The list is pretty comprehensive, but of course they only list music recorded on Naxos and not other labels. Do you know any other good movies featuring classical music? Do share in the comments below if you find a good list somewhere!

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