"The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" ... Bogart, Shakespeare, The Maltese Falcon, Those Great Movies

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


By ClassicBecky

Are you a classic film lover but don’t think you really like classical music? Think again! You have been listening to music by Peter Tchaikovsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Robert Schumann and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, right along with the great movie composers, including Bernard Hermann, Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Miklos Rosza. Korngold and Rosza can really be classified as classical since both composed music for orchestra and violin apart from movie scores. It would take another article to talk about the great movie music by those and other fine composers for film. This article is about the long-hairs, the old white dudes, the classical composers and their important role in movies.

There are obvious examples of classical music in movies, i.e. the movie biographies of composers themselves. A Song of Love comes to mind, with Katharine Hepburn and Paul Henreid, the story of Schumann and his accomplished pianist wife, Clara. Made in 1947, the movie also stars Robert Walker as Johannes Brahms. The music throughout is of course by Schumann, with some Brahms thrown in, and is a delight to the ear. As Schumann’s mental health declines, his most beautiful music accentuates the sorrow. 1945’s A Song To Remember is the biography of Frederic Chopin. Although it stars Cornel Wilde as Chopin and Merle Oberon as George Sand, even Paul Muni as Chopin’s teacher, the movies is kind of a dud. But the music – oh the music – Chopin throughout and beautiful enough to make the movie seem better than it is.

Two more recent films belong in this category as well. Ken Russell’s idiosyncratic version of the life of Peter Tchaikovsky is 1971’s The Music Lovers, starring Richard Chamberlain. Anyone who thinks classical music is just for relaxing must see this film and bask in the magnificent music of Tchaikovsky. Like a well-written movie soundtrack, Tchaikovsky’s music is used to enhance the emotional content of the movie, and stresses the pathos of the sad life of this genius. In 1994, Gary Oldman starred as Ludwig von Beethoven in Immortal Beloved. The music of Beethoven marches through this movie and into our hearts. The climax with the beloved 9th symphony having been composed by the deaf genius would bring tears to the eyes of the most jaded viewer.

Then there are well-loved movies that incorporate classical music into the score, or use particular pieces almost in place of a score. One that I love is a 1945 British film, Brief Encounter, starring Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. One of the most decent love stories about two people, each married, who deal with their feelings about one another, this movie could stand by itself. But the music of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto weaves throughout this beautiful story and enhances it immensely.

Max Steiner scored most of Bette Davis’s best films, but he shared credit with Tchaikovsky in 1941’s The Great Lie. Mary Astor plays larger than life classical pianist Sandra Kovack, with George Brent as the man both women love. Astor plays portions of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto in the movie, and it is also showcased for the climax of the film. Then there is Humoresque, with Joan Crawford and John Garfield. Released in 1946, this melodramatic story of a woman in love with a struggling violinist is scored by the great Franz Waxman, but also by the music of Wagner, Rimsky-Korsakov and Dvorak. What better than lush classical romantic era music to showcase a melodrama?

The final film I like for this category is more recent, 1980’s Somewhere in Time with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. A love story of two people who live in different times, this movie is famous for its glorious score by John Barry. But it is even more famous for the love scenes which are lushly enhanced by Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini. An unwieldy name for a gorgeous piece of music, the movie’s romance would have been just another love story without it.

There are so many examples of classical music in movies, and too little time and room. I have offered a few for your consideration. Maybe you know others you would like to bring to our attention, and that would be wonderful. All input is welcome from all movie lovers