Visit king.org all this week and next week for our Best of 2012 series--highlights from NW Focus LIVE, weekly live and local broadcast concerts, Exploring Music and more!
Some of the most famous composers—Strauss, Tchaikovsky and Mozart, to name just a few—composed before filmmaking even existed. Nevertheless, select pieces from these composers, including oft-ignored works, would later shoot to international fame and ubiquity thanks to the medium.
We’ll bet Strauss never thought “Also sprach Zarathustra” would represent the final frontier, but now we can't hear it playing without imagining the opening sunrise scene in “2001: A Space Odyssey." And we’ll wager that Mozart didn’t intend for the aria “Che soave zeffiretto,” from his opera “The Marriage of Figaro,” to serve as a moment of beauty amid the chaos of life in a high-security prison--but that scene from "The Shawshank Redemption" is now iconic.
Classical music has played a huge role in movies and TV shows almost since film’s inception. One of the earliest examples is the Disney classic “Fantasia,” in which classical music served as the entire film’s inspiration. The movie took the first step in making classical music accessible to audiences of all age groups the world round.
Seven decades later, countless films use classical music to accompany scenes in ever more creative and unexpected ways. Hollywood music directors draw from a library of centuries of music to create the perfect sentimental, tragic or ironic moment onscreen. They don’t always get it right, but when they do, they pull diverse new listeners into the rich world of classical music.
See our favorite classical music-centric film scores below, or skip to a list Edmund Stone's favorite film scores of all time.
Wagner: Ride of the Valkyries
The theme that opens Act III of Wagner's second Ring opera, "Die Walküre," has been famously used in two films to convey two very different messages. There is evidence that Wagner was anti-semitic and had a lifelong fan in Adolph Hitler, so it may be no surprise that the film "Birth of a Nation" played his Ring theme when"The former enemies of North and South are united again in defense of their Aryan birthright ." In this scene from "Apocalypse Now," however, the music is meant to criticize war rather than to glorify it.
Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro: Aria, "Che soave zeffiretto"
"I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about," Shawshank inmate Andy Dufresne said in this scene, "but I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can't be expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it." Ironically, this duet from Mozart's opera "Le Nozze di Figaro" is actually about two women scheming to expose a married man's infidelity.
Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker Suite
As the piece's conductor notes at the beginning of this clip, the Nutcracker Suite was famous well before it appeared in Fantasia, as were many pieces from history's greatest composers. Rather than launch the piece into fame, Fantasia set out to bring a whole different perspective to the piece, and it did--now, instead of a Winter Wonderland, people all over the world picture the beauty of nature in every season when they hear the piece.
Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue
There is nothing subtle about the opening of "Rhapsody in Blue," with its attention-seeking clarinet glissando that famously woke up a bored, impatient crowd at a concert in 1924, when it premiered. Perhaps that's why Woody Allen chose the piece for the opening scene of his film "Manhattan." It's the perfect accompaniment to the narrator's brash opening lines: "He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved. Behind his black-rimmed glasses was the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat. New York was his town, and it always would be."
Edmund Stone's Top Five Film Scores
1. Max Steiner: Casablanca
2. Ennio Morricone: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
3.James Horner: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
4. Rachel Portman: The Cider House Rules
5. Danny Elfman: Alice in Wonderland
KING FM Audio On-Demand
KING FM's Michael Brooks interviews Edmund Stone, host of The Score, on his film score background and asks him about some of his favorite scores.
Jacob Winkler, Artistic Director of the Seattle Girls’ Choir, speaks here about his participation in film and movie soundtracks.
Joseph Pollard White, Northwest violist, conductor, and composer, speaks about a piece of concert hall music of Aaron Copland’s that originated as a film score.
Leila Josefowicz, international violin soloist, provides insight on Dmitri Shostakovich’s film music.
Ask, discuss or share more about music in film
on the KING FM Facebook page.