Good Classical Music Movies

Thursday, September 2, 2010 at 9:49 pm

September is Classical Music Month in the United States, so let’s celebrate by taking a look at some good classical music movies. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not my favorite musical genre, due in large part to the fact that I can’t keep up with all the song titles. “Yankee Rose” is a title I can remember. “Sonata Something-or-Other for Strings” isn’t. Still, I do appreciate many of the most famous classical pieces when I hear them (although their names escape me, too). If you have the same problem, maybe watching a few of these good classical music movies will help improve your capacity to remember.

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Amadeus (1984) – Directed by Milos Forman and adapted from the stage play by Peter Shaffer, this biopic is told from the viewpoint of professional rival Salieri (F. Murray Abraham). As he sits in a mental institution confessing his sins to a priest, flashbacks show us the genius of Mozart (Tom Hulce) and Salieri’s growing hatred of the young composer and his disillusionment with God. A fascinating look at the cancerous nature of jealousy, Amadeus was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won eight (including Best Actor for F. Murray Abraham, Best Picture, and Best Director). The soundtrack is a virtual treasure trove for Mozart lovers, and the orchestral works are provided by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

The Pianist (2002) – Adrien Brody became the youngest recipient of the Best Actor Oscar for his role as Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jew noted for his skills as a pianist. When World War II begins, he and his family must endure life in the horrid Warsaw Ghetto, as well as later facing possible relocation to the extermination camps. Director Roman Polanski had a special connection to the story, as his own mother died in the Krakow Ghetto. Polanski himself escaped following her death and lived in a barn until war’s end. Another excellent example of a film about classical music.

The Red Violin (1998) – In 1681, a perfect violin is crafted. Over the next 300 years (and the course of the film), the red-tinged instrument passes from owner to owner throughout five different countries. Each destination of the violin brings a new owner and new story, usually ending in tragedy and the passage of the violin into different hands. Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Colm Feore, Monique Mercure, and Jason Flemyng.

The Great Waltz (1938) – Later remade in 1972, this film about the life of Johann Strauss II starred Luise Rainer, Miliza Korjus, and Fernand Gravet (as Strauss). The film picked up three Oscars (Best Cinematography, Film Editing, and Best Supporting Actress for Miliza Korjus) and proved especially popular on the continent of Australia. Korjus gives a memorable performance, her only leading role in a motion picture (she was an opera soprano by profession).

Hilary and Jackie (1998) – Based on the non-fiction A Genius in the Familyby siblings Hilary (Rachel Griffiths) and Piers du Pre (Rupert Penry-Jones), the film tells the story of real-life cellist Jacqueline du Pre (Emily Watson) from her childhood to her later struggles with multiple sclerosis. Colleagues of the late musician protested her depiction in the film, but Hilary du Pre stood by her story, saying that critics simply did not wish to accept facts that didn’t mesh with their vision of their friend. As much about sibling rivalry as it is music, the film still features a solid soundtrack including works by Bach, Brahms, Handel, Beethoven, and Dvorak. Both Watson and Griffiths received Oscar nominations for their roles.

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Intermezzo (1939) – A remake of the 1936 Swedish film of the same name, Intermezzo introduced American audiences to Ingrid Bergman (reprising her role from the Swedish version). She plays a piano teacher who begins an affair with her student’s father, himself a world-renowned violinist (Leslie Howard). Beautiful cinematography from Gregg Toland, best known for his work on Citizen Kane. It’s more of a love story than anything else, but there’s still plenty of classical music to go around.

Shine (1996) – While this uplifting movie plays fast and loose with the real-life story it’s based on, it still remains an entertaining motion picture. Geoffrey Rush won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of David Helfgott, a talented Australian pianist afflicted with schizoaffective disorder. Armin Mueller-Stahl is his controlling father, and Lynn Redgrave is the woman whose love helps nurse him back to health. Featuring the works of Vivaldi, Chopin, Rachmaninov, and Beethoven.

The Seventh Veil (1945) – Suicidal mental patient Francesca Cunningham (Ann Todd) attempts to remember her past with the aid of her doctor (Herbert Lom). Thanks to the wonders of hypnosis (and the movie art of flashbacks), she slowly remembers her past as a celebrated pianist torn between several men. James Mason stars as one of her potential love interests, a crippled music teacher who also happens to be her guardian and second cousin. A massive box-office success in Britain, the film features works from Rachmaninoff, Mozart, Beethoven, Grieg, and Chopin.

Immortal Beloved (1994) – Following the death of composer Ludwig van Beethoven (Gary Oldman), his assistant (Jeroen Krabbe) tries to track down the identity of a woman known only as “immortal beloved” inĀ Beethoven’s letters. As the search unfolds, we’re taken back throughout the composer’s life. Oldman does his usual splendid job, portraying Beethoven as a passionate genius trying to complete his music despite numerous personal problems (chief among them deafness). The London Symphony Orchestra provides the music, playing such classic compositions as “Fur Elise,” “Ode to Joy,” and “Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61.”

Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995) – Richard Dreyfuss stars as Glenn Holland, a composer who takes a teaching job while trying to write one immortal piece of music. Teaching begins as a way to pay the bills, but he soon invests more and more of himself in his profession. Over the next 30 years, Holland’s resolve is tested in many ways (including the realization that his son is deaf), but this life-affirming film proves a man can become immortal in many ways–some more noble than others. Dreyfuss received an Oscar nomination for his role, and the film co-stars Glenne Headly, Olympia Dukakis, and William H. Macy.

Also recommended:

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 2nd, 2010 at 9:49 pm and is filed under Good Movies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “Good Classical Music Movies”

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September 4, 2010

David Thomas

Do you know the movie, “Tous les matins du monde”? Excellent classical music movie w Gerrard Depardieu and his son.

September 4, 2010


David, thanks for the recommendation. I’ll admit that it’s one I’m not familiar with.


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