We all have specific film soundtrack moments that we love. Maybe it’s The Pixies bellowing out “Where’s My Mind” at the end of Fight Club. Maybe it’s Eric Clapton’s “Layla” as the corpses are revealed in Goodfellas. Maybe it’s… well, pick any moment from a Wes Anderson movie. Everyone has at least one. What often gets neglected in these discussions is the use of classical music in film. Too often, classical music is swept under the rug by popular music. Today, classical music gets to shine. Here are my 11 favorite uses of classical music in film.
Raging Bull (1980), Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana
This classical piece was the perfect way to introduce Scorsese’s epic about beautiful brutality, with Deniro as Jake LaMotta bouncing around the ring, all by himself, in slow motion.
Amadeus (1984), Requiem Mass in D Minor
There is no sadder song than the Requiem Mass in D Minor. Other than possibly Chopin’s Funeral March, no other piece of classical music is as tightly tied to death. How fitting was it that Amadeus’ own depressing piece would be used to notate his death in a biopic about him?
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Also Sprach Zarathustra
Accenting the rising of the sun, the dawn of a new day wrapped around what looks like a giant space breast, with the majestic beat of drums and french horns is as perfect as a film introduction can get.
There Will be Blood (2007), Violin Concerto in D Major (Movement III)
What I enjoy most here is that the piece is so feverish, mirroring the frenetic final sequence. But the playfulness of the piece lies in direct opposition to Daniel Plainview’s boorish, angry, and deadly behavior. Forgive the foreign language right before the song begins. It’s the best clip I can find.
Silence of the Lambs (1990), Goldberg Variations
Speaking of placing beautiful pieces of music alongside very ugly behavior, leave it to hyper-intellectual villain Hannibal Lecter to demolish two human beings while J.S. Bach’s haunting piece echoes in the background.
Apocalypse Now (1978), Ride of the Valkyries
I bet when you realized what this list was all about, this is one of the first songs that came to mind. And rightfully so. But I’ll give you bonus points if you also thought of the hillbilly, banjo-infused version of the same song in Rango (2011).
Day for Night (1973), Day for Night Chorale
Georges Delerue’s score, reminiscent of Vivaldi, brings the French New Wave and postmodernism to life in a perfect way, as Truffaut rips apart the curtain behind the magic of filmmaking.
The Fire Within (1963), Gnossienne No. 1
Erik Satie’s somber, minimalist, lonely piano is a brilliant pairing with Louis Malle’s minimalist scene about a suicidal alcoholic, alone and nervous, falling off the wagon.
Se7en (1995), Air on a G String
The song itself is light and stately. Of course, it’s used amid a sea of ritual death. Oh, 90s irony, you so crazy.
The Big Lebowski (1997), Pictures at an Exhibition
I can’t find a reasonable clip. It’s the classical piece that plays while the Dude’s landlord performs at a dance recital in a nude colored bodysuit. And it’s as amusing and over the top as it can possibly be. Here’s the song:
Fantasia (1940), Night on the Bare Mountain
Do you know what I love about this? It’s from a movie made for kids. In fact, it’s a classic movie for kids. It’s a movie that most kids should see. And this scene will probably make a kid defecate in their pants. Walt Disney, that huckster, put a scene about demons in his kids movie, along with some really intense classical music.
The only reason I left out the Henley Sequence from The Social Network is that it seemed to defeat the purpose of the article, which was to call attention to traditional classical music. But rest assured that I think very highly of it.