A Thing or Two About a Tune or Two: The Cinema Features the Classics

The Pied Piper of HamelinSo you think you might like classical music, but you don’t know where to start? How about right here at REFINERSFIRE? We’ll be writing weekly blog posts entitled “A Thing or Two About a Tune or Two” to help get you on your way to enlightenment through classical music.

Unless you have been carving out a subculture under the bowels of the city for the past forty years, the chances are pretty good that you have already been introduced to some great classical music through film.

Here is a reminder of where you can find those great pieces of music.

1. Beethoven’s 7th Symphony is used in the opening scene of Tarsem’s Singh’s “The Fall”. Roger Ebert called “The Fall” one of the most extraordinary films he has ever seen.

Opening scene

And here is a performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

However you can, we recommend that you watch this mesmerizing film and enjoy the paring of motion and music. You can stream the whole movie on YouTube or rent it from Netflix.

2. Tchaikovsky’s overture to nothing, the 1812 Overture is playing through the speakers as a Guy Fawkes disguised vigilante blows up the British Parliament in the 2005 movie “V for Vendetta”.

Avaliable to Rent on Netflix and stream on Amazon Prime

Who better to pen the soundtrack to the apocalypse than Richard Wagner? His music is featured in our number three and four slots.

3.Lars Von Trier’s most recent film, “Melancholia” is beautifully bookended by the overture from Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde. The film is, as the title would suggest, a sorrowful movie that explores the lives of two sisters at the world’s end.

And here is a performance of the Opera by the Bayerische Staatsoper Bayerisches Staatsorchester (National Theatre Munich)

For more information about the revolutionary and much discussed “Tristan Chord”, watch this marvelous video by the wonderful Stephen Fry.

“Melancholia” is streaming on Netflix right now.

4. Wagner’s music is brilliantly featured in another film about destruction: Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”. Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” from the opera “Die Valkyrie” is instantly recognizable from the famous helicopters descending on Vietnam scene.

Here is a performance of the opera at the start of Act Three

The movie is available to stream on Netflix

5. If ever there were a director who really knew how to pair classical music and film, it was the great Stanley Kubric, who used the famous Strauss waltz, The Blue Danube, in his masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

Here is a performance of the piece by the Vienna Philharmonic.

6. The 1985 British film ” A Room with A View” will make you fall in love with Florence and with opera. This wonderful adaption of the E.M. Forster novel uses two of Puccini’s most famous arias.

The movie opens with “O Mio Babbino Caro” from Puccini’s opera Gianni Schicchi.

And here is the great American soprano, Renee Fleming singing the aria

The film also features “Chi Il bel sogno” from Puccini’s other famous opera “La Rodine”

We can thank several major studios for introducing the great classics to the wee ones.

7. Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” uses Tchaikovksy’s music from his ballet of the same title.

Here is a scene from the animated movie where the evil witch puts the Princess Aurora to sleep.

You can also watch a performance of the Kirov Ballet.

8. A farmer who befriends a pig and hums to the musical greats?! That’s what we like to see! The marvelously sweet film “Babe” features Saint-Saen’s Organ Symphony concerto and transformed into a sweet lullaby.

Here is the scene from the movie

And here is the symphony in all its glory.

9. Magical flute + seductive tune + handsome man = rat problems solved. If only art imitated life, I would never again see a rat at the Christopher Street Subway stop in Manhattan! Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” is instantly recognizable to many, but most don’t know that one of its first appearances in film was the 1957 movie “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”.

You can watch the whole movie here:

And here is a live recording of the piece performed outside the Sansoucci Palace in Germany

10. Christian Bale sings!! (You got excited about “Newsies”, didn’t you?) Don’t be ashamed. I let my “Newsies” fangirl flag fly high and dry and daily belt lines from that great Disney musical. But alas, it is not the music of “Newsies” that we are featuring today. You may remember that before Christian Bale found fame as the dancing newsboy Jack Kelly, he was a precocious English boy dealing with Japanese occupation during World War II in Steven Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun”. The movie features a song called “Suo Gan” also known as “The Welsh Lullaby”. And although it is not a “great” classical piece (and Christian Bale doesn’t actually sing it), is a beautiful and haunting song that has become a very well known performance piece for choirs and solo artists like Charlotte Church. And on a more personal note, it will forever remind me of the first time I fell in love at 8 years old, with lip-synching choir boy, Christian Bale.

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