Ten films about classical music

For true classical music lovers, just listening is not enough. Movies allow you to experience music with stories and the magic of the screen. Whether they follow the life of the composers or use the music as a unifying theme, it adds another dimension to enjoy.

Music plays many roles in the movies on this list. It can be the engine of rivalry and bitterness, passion and jealousy, healing and connection in stories ranging from drama to horror to romantic comedy.

Immortal Beloved

Gary Oldman directs a star-studded cast that includes Isabella Rossellini and Christopher Fulford in the story by our namesake composer Ludwig van Beethoven. The portrayal isn’t always flattering, with Oldman portraying his volatile emotions – including his legendary streak of revenge – and his often tumultuous life. The story revolves around the mystery of the beloved immortal, the nameless woman to whom Beethoven wrote three passionate love letters. Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbé plays Anton Felix Schindler, Beethoven’s friend who must unravel the mystery after his death. The London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Georg Solti, performs the music from the film, with soloists Murray Perahia on piano, Gidon Kremer on violin and the Juilliard String Quartet. (Available on YouTube or Apple TV)

Fancy

Fancy was a big gamble for Walt Disney, but it was a project close to his heart. It was only the studio’s third animated feature. The project began as a short film, but production costs quickly caused Disney to realize that it could only recoup its investment in a feature film. He devised a format of several segments, each set to classical music. Leopold Stokowski conducts, with seven of the pieces performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Between each segment, Master of Ceremonies Deems Taylor, eminent music critic and composer in his own right, introduces the next part. With World War II raging at the time, the box office was limited when it was released in 1940. But, in the years that followed, its reputation grew and the film was re-released several times. (Available on Disney+ and Amazon Prime)

The Soloist

In this drama based on a true story, Robert Downey Jr. plays journalist Steve Lopez. One day, he comes across Nathaniel (Jamie Foxx) playing the violin on a Los Angeles sidewalk and recognizes his gift. Nathaniel tells her that he once went to Julliard, but Lopez finds out later he didn’t finish school. Lopez wants to write a story about him and helps him get off the streets in hopes of a fairy tale ending. But Nathaniel’s issues are real, and the story acknowledges the difficulties of living with schizophrenia as well as the healing power of music. The film is based on the true story of Nathaniel Ayers, a musician whose schizophrenia led to homelessness. (Available on YouTube, Amazon Prime or Apple)

Amedee

Miloš Forman’s 1984 biopic on the life of Amadeus Mozart was a smash hit. Peter Shaffer adapted the screenplay for his play of the same name, describing it as a “Mozart and Salieri-themed fantasy” rather than a standard biography. Filled with music by the composer, the film is set in Vienna. The plot invents a bitter rivalry between former court composer Antonio Salieri and young upstart Amadeus, and the two stars F. Murray Abraham (Salieri) and Tom Hulce (Mozart) have been nominated for an Oscar. Abraham won Best Actor. The film grossed over $90 million and cemented poor Salieri as a jealous murderer in the pop culture psyche. This is perhaps the funniest classic movie still based at least somewhat on reality. (Available on YouTube or Apple TV)

The red violin

Directed by François Girard and performed by Samuel L. Jackson, The red violin is a story inspired by a legendary musical instrument – the 1720 Red Mendelssohn made by Antonio Stradivarius. The real instrument (last sold for $1.7 million) features a red stripe on its right side. The film follows a mysterious red violin as it enters the lives of generations of people, spanning four centuries and five countries. It begins in Cremona in 1681, travels to Vienna in 1793, then to Oxford in the 1890s, Shanghai in the 1960s and Montreal in 1997. The film’s soundtrack was composed by John Corigliano and the solos are performed by renowned violinist Joshua Bell. (Available on Amazon Prime, YouTube and Apple TV)

Perfection

The world of classical music mixes with horror in this cello rivalry thriller. Charlotte is a talented musician, the favorite pupil of Anton, the director of a music academy. When her mother falls ill, she has to leave the prestigious music school to take care of her. Years later, her mother died, Charlotte reconnects with the Shanghai academy and befriends Lizzie, the new cello star student who has taken her place. What ensues is a tale of over-the-top rivalry and bloody revenge worthy of a night on the couch with popcorn. The plot takes sinister twists and turns in places you would never suspect. The story ends with the force that drives the plot: the music. (Available on Netflix)

The song of names

Director François Girard makes the list a second time in this drama based on the power of music to testify. When the Second World War puts his family in Poland in danger, the young Dovidl Rappaport takes refuge with the family of Martin Simmonds in London. Tim Roth stars as Martin, with Clive Owen as Dovidl in a story based on Norman Lebrecht’s book of the same name. Dovidl grows up as the boys enjoy a typical brotherly combination of friendliness and competitiveness. Dovidl continues his studies on the violin, and arrives on the eve of his first big concert. Then, he disappears… Martin tries to find him decades later, revealing a story of loss where music, culture and memory intertwine. (Available on Amazon Prime, YouTube and Apple TV)

Mahler on the couch

The 2010 German film is based on facts. Alma Mahler, wife of Gustav, and Walter Gropius, architect and founder of the Bauhaus school, had an affair. Gustav Mahler met Sigmund Freud in 1910 in Holland. But, of course, no one knows what they talked about. The film imagines the rest, based in part on Alma’s journals, which speak of Gustav’s demands that she quit her own musical composition. The story is funny and distorts the Viennese culture of the time. Mahler’s music is performed by the Swedish Radio Orchestra, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. (Available on Amazon Premium)

My Father’s Violin

My Father’s Violin (Babamin Kemani) is a Turkish film by director Andaç Haznedaroğlu. Eight-year-old Özlem lives with her father, a poor street musician named Ali Riza. Riza falls ill and when he discovers it is terminal, he tries to reconnect with his brother Mehmet. Mehmet is a famous concert violinist and the two brothers have been separated for many years. He reluctantly takes responsibility for the girl. The violin and the music become a way for the two to connect in a story that explores the healing of deep family wounds. The film’s music was composed by Taskin Sabah. A bonus is a glamorous look at the city of Istanbul. (Available on Netflix)

Fall in love with Figaro

Opera dreams mingle with romantic comedy delight in this film set in the Scottish Highlands. Danielle Macdonald plays Millie, a talented money manager who does what many dream of – she ditches an unsupportive boyfriend, packs her bags and leaves for Scotland to train as an opera singer. Joanna Lumley plays the embittered ex-opera singer who takes her under her wing. Yes, there are romantic ups and downs with Max, a rival opera student, and of course there is a singing contest. There’s also real laughs and beautiful singing from Puccini, Verdi, Mozart and others by Australian opera performers Stacey Alleaume and Nathan Lay. (Available on Netflix)

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Latest posts by Anya Wassenberg (see everything)
Latest posts by Anya Wassenberg (see everything)

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