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Best Classical Music in Movies

September 2, 2022

Best Classical Music in Movies

For years, directors have used classical music in movies to shape emotional responses, underpin narratives, manipulate perspectives, and connect plot points. Not surprisingly, many award-winning masterpieces have a classical soundtrack.

Colorado Symphony is a professional orchestra with 80 full-time musicians. We have highlighted examples of movies that got breakthrough responses because they spiced their superb acting with classical soundtracks. 

Amadeus (1984) – Mozart, Requiem

Recognized as one of the best biographical dramas of the 80s, Amadeus is a fictional rivalry between two classical music artists, Wolfgang Amadeus and Antonio Salieri. The film got 40 awards from the Academy, BAFTA, and Golden Globe, and the National Film Registry selected it for preservation.

While there are several reasons why Amadeus became one of the best-selling films in the 1980s, part of its success was the use of Mozart’s classical songs as the soundtrack. The classical artist’s respected titles like Requiem and the Marriage of Figaro tether viewers to a past when Amadeus and Salieri were living icons in the music industry.

Raging Bull – Intermezzo From Cavalleria Rusticana (Pietro Mascagni)

The 1980 tragedy Raging Bull tells the story of Jake LaMotta, a renowned boxer whose uncontrolled rage leads to his downfall. The film garnered several awards from the Academy Awards, Directors Guild, British Academy, and National Academy of Film Critics.

In this tragedy, Robert Chartoff, Raging Bull’s producer, uses Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana to creatively set the cinema’s atmosphere and induce a credible nostalgic effect of the particular era when the tragedy occurred.

The Shining (1980) – Bartok, Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta

The Shining is a thriller featuring a family haunted by snowstorms and strange supernatural occurrences in an isolated hotel in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. It earned a nomination for Saturn Awards for best horror and best music category.

Stanley Kubrick, the horror director, used Bartok’s music for strings, percussion, and celesta to create an immersive mystical and dreadful atmosphere. Bartok’s classical music glides up and down, helping Kubrick achieve the film’s intended purpose — creating a tension that chills viewers to the bone.

Intrigued by Bartok’s unique sound? Hear the Colorado Symphony perform his Concerto for Orchestra live this March.

The King’s Speech (2010) – Beethoven, Symphony NO. 7

The King’s Speech leverages the power of Beethoven’s classical music in movies to creatively reinforce the progression of King George VI’s journey from a nervous stammer to a confident public icon.

In this Oscar-winning masterpiece, the director uses Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 to amplify anxiety as King George struggles to improve his speech. Later, the director uses the symphony to induce optimism as the king’s speech improves.

With the film’s ingenious classical soundtracks, excellent acting, art direction, and screenplay, the King’s Speech garnered 12 Oscar nominations and several BAFTA, Grammy, and Golden Globe accolades. 

There will be Blood – Violin Concerto in D Major (Johannes Brahms)

This period drama stars Daniel Day-Lewis, a casual miner turned oil magnate. The film won various awards, including Screen Actors Guild, BAFTA, Academy Awards, and Golden Globe, due to excellent cinematography, cinematography, and screenplay.

In 2008, There Will was Blood won a Grammy Awards honor for best soundtrack due to its excellent classical soundtracks adopted from Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D Major.

The film’s director uses the two soundtracks to skillfully guide viewers from one scene to the next, enhancing comprehension.

Fantasia (1940) – Dukas, the Sorcerer’s Apprentice

The use of classical music in movies is a wave that started as early as the 1940 — Walt Disney’s Fantasia is proof. This animated musical used stunning animations and beloved classical songs used in movies to popularize Mickey Mouse at a time when his popularity was going down.

Some of the great classical music used in Fantasia include Night on Bald Mountain, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and The Nutcracker Suite.

Upon its release, the classical and animation combo received rapturous applause from film lovers worldwide, helping Walt Disney popularize their main character Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters.

The Big Lebowski (1998) – Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition

This comedy crime stars Jeffrey Lebowski, who gets attacked due to mistaken identity. Immediately after release, the movie became a cult favorite, praised for its eclectic soundtracks, comedic sequences, and eccentric characters.

The comedy uses a mixture of soundtracks from renowned artists like Bob Dylan, Kenny Rogers, and Captain Beefheart tied together by Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Mozart’s Requiem. Joel and Ethan Coen used the classical music combo to give the film an extra contextual depth.

Apocalypse Now – Flight of the Valkyries (Richard Wagner)

Produced in 1979, Apocalypse Now stars a captain on a mission to assassinate a Special Forces officer. The film got several accolades from Academy Awards for exceptional soundtracks and cinematography.

The film’s directors used soundtracks from Richard Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries to create a tense trill, which interweaves seamlessly with the storyline. Moreover, the classical music amplifies the character of Kilgore, a war monger serving as the film’s secondary antagonist.

2001: A Space Odyssey – Also Sprach Zarathustra (Richard Strauss)

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey is another excellent example of how classical music in movies can convert a regular film into an award-winning masterpiece. In this science fiction, Kubrick used Richard Strauss’ classical music to fill the film’s long nonverbal sequences with tunes that match seamlessly with images.

Brief Encounter – Piano Concerto No. 2 (Sergei Rachmaninov)

The romantic drama, Brief Encounter stars two strangers, Richard and Sophia, who meet at a railway station and get into a brief but intense affair. In this film, the director, David Lean, used Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, one of the most romantic classical pieces in movies, to draw emotions of a love affair gone wrong. 

Classical Symphony in Denver

Attending a live classical symphony in Denver is one of the best ways to experience classical music. The incredible lighting effects in a concert hall and the live appearance of your favorite musicians will leave you with a fulfilling experience.


Reserve tickets for your favorite show at Colorado Symphony to catch a classical symphony event soon.

Image Source: Fer Gregory / Shutterstock