About this Recording
8.556804 - Classics at the Movies: Romance

The Classics at the Movies

The Classics at the Movies

Ever since the advent of talkies there has been a continuing debate on the nature and function of film music. For many it should be heard but not noticed. It should induce certain emotions but not obtrude on the consciousness of the audience. Yet it should be able to invest a scene with a variety of feelings, terror, grandeur, misery or gaiety. To understand what good film music can do for a film there is a simple test. If scenes from a film are shown with and without music, it will immediately be clear that good music can affect the feelings of an audience, without their being conscious of it.

If the function of film music has been the subject of debate, there can, nevertheless, be no doubt that the nature of this music has changed very considerably over the years. Before the advent of talkies all cinemas had their own house pianists to provide music at every performance, illustrating the action on the screen. In the heyday of Hollywood film music was big business, with major studios turning out hundreds of films a year and having under full-time contract large orchestras. There were also many composers, orchestrators and song-writers attached to each studio. These were the golden thirties, forties and, to an extent, the fifties, with names like Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Alfred Newman, all with a European background, writing big scores for a string of Errol Flynn pictures and for films like The Mark of Zorro and The Prisoner of Zenda.

Steiner, Korngold and Newman were followed by a succession of American composers like Henry Mancini, the composer of the Pink Panther music, Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams. Gradually, however, the really ambitious scores vanished or were reserved for multi-million-dollar projects. More and more films had to make do with loosely strung together pop tunes, or, in an increasing number of cases, more or less well chosen themes from classical music. In some cases the use of a piece of music in a film had a very considerable effect, as, for example, the use of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, now popularly known as the Elvira Madigan Concerto.

In the Naxos Classics at the Movies series we have gathered together many classical themes used in popular films. All of these well deserve a hearing in their own right, but they may also remind the listener of a favourite film or two.


Director: Claude Berri

Cast: Yves Montand (César Soubeyran / "Le Papet"), Gérard Depardieu (Jean de Florette / Cadoret), Daniel Auteuil (Ugolin Soubeyran / "Galinette"), Elisabeth Depardieu (Aimée Cadoret)

The scene is a small mountain village in Provence in the twenties, where water, or the lack of it, is an all-important factor. César Soubeyran, a wealthy landowner, has his eye on a natural spring, but the farm is inherited by city-bred Jean Cadoret ("Florette’s Jean") who comes to live there with his wife and his little daughter Manon. The unscrupulous César and his nephew Ugolin hide the source from him and watch him literally work himself to death. They then buy the farm from the widow. The sequel, Manon of the Spring takes place about ten years later and shows how retribution overtakes first Ugolin and finally César.

The main theme from Verdi’s Force of Destiny Overture is played by Jean on his harmonica and is strongly associated with both him and Manon.


Director: James Ivory

Cast: Maggie Smith (Charlotte Bartlett), Helena Bonham Carter (Lucy Honeychurch), Denholm Elliott (Mr. Emerson), Julian Sands (George Emerson), Daniel Day Lewis (Cecil Vyse)

A group of English tourists is holidaying in Florence at the turn of the century. As in A Passage to India Forster is a sharp-eyed observer of his countrymen’s foibles and follies, but above all this is the story of a young Victorian woman’s emotional and sexual awakening and her liberation from her extremely conventional fiancé. The Italian atmosphere is enhanced by three arias by Puccini.


Director: Karel Reisz

Cast: Meryl Streep (Sarah/Anna), Jeremy Irons (Charles/Mike), Hilton McRae (Sam), Emily Morgan (Mary), Charlotte Mitchell (Mrs. Tranter), Lynsey Baxter (Ernestina), Jean Faulds (Cook)

The French Lieutenant’s Woman is a movie on two levels. The first level is a film set in Victorian times and shot on location at Lyme. It is the story of a leisured young gentleman, Charles Smithson, and his fascination with Sarah Woodruff, a former governess, now shunned by polite society after a supposed liaison with a Frenchman. The second level, running parallel to the first, is the more casual love affair between the two main actors, Anna and Mike. The film within the film has a happy ending, but in "real life" Anna decides to return to her husband, and Mike is left alone.

The music used is the Adagio from Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 17.


Director: David Lean

Cast: Omar Sharif (Yuri Zhivago), Julie Christie (Lara), Geraldine Chaplin (Tonya), Alec Guinness (Yegraf Zhivago), Rod Steiger (Komarovsky), Tom Courtenay (Pasha/Strelnikov), Ralph Richardson (Alexander Gromeko), Siobhan McKenna (Anna), Rita Tushingham (The girl)

Based on the novel by Nobel-Prize winner Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago is set before and in the years following the Russian Revolution. Yuri Zhivago marries Tonya Gromeko but while studying medicine in Moscow he is attracted to Lara. She is seduced and humiliated by her dressmaker mother’s lover Komarovsky and Zhivago witnesses her attempt to shoot him. At the front during World War I, Zhivago again meets Lara and for several months they work together as doctor and nurse. After the Revolution he is abducted by roving Red Army partisans and forced to travel with them as medical officer. Eventually he makes his way back to find Lara and they enjoy a brief spell of happiness together, before Komarovsky returns. Years later, still searching for Lara, Zhivago dies in a Moscow street and Lara disappears into a labour camp. But their daughter survives and is found by his brother, Yegraf.

Doctor Zhivago has a sumptuous score by Maurice Jarre and the theme heard here which is connected with Lara, has a yearning, slightly sad quality that made it an instant hit all over the world.


Director: Sydney Pollack

Cast: Meryl Streep (Karen Blixen), Robert Redford (Denys Finch Hatton), Klaus Maria Brandauer (Baron Blixen-Finecke), Michael Kitchen (Berkeley), Malick Bowens (Farah)

"I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills" — these are the opening words, both of Karen Blixen’s autobiographical novel and the film based on it. The Kenyan landscape provides a fascinating background to the love story between her and the aristocratic English adventurer, Denys Finch Hatton.

The film made extensive use of the beautiful slow movement from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto.


Director: James Ivory

Cast: Julie Christie (Anne), Greta Scacchi (Olivia), Christopher Cazenove (Douglas Rivers), Julian Glover (Crawford), Susan Fleetwood (Mrs. Crawford), Shashi Kapoor (The Nawab)

The story of two women and their fascination with India and its people. They are Olivia, married to an English civil servant in the nineteen-twenties, and her great-niece Anne, who arrives there sixty years later to find out the truth about Olivia and the mystery surrounding her.

Anne’s own adventures are mirrored in those of Olivia and like her she chooses to stay among the Indians, still an outsider, never quite belonging.

The music is Tales from the Vienna Woods by Johann Strauss II.


Director: Jane Campion

Cast: Nicole Kidman (Isabel Archer), John Malkovich (Gilbert Osmond), Barbara Hershey (Madame Serena Merle), Mary Louise Parker (Henrietta Stackpole), Martin Donovan (Ralph Touchett), Richard E. Grant (Lord Warburton), Christian Bale (Edward Rosier), Valentina Cervi (Pansy Osmond), Viggo Mortensen (Caspar Goodwood), John Gielgud (Daniel Touchett)

Gardencourt, England, 1872. Isabel Archer is staying with her uncle Daniel Touchett. She leaves for London, spending some time with her consumptive cousin, Ralph Touchett, where she turns down a marriage proposal from an old suitor visiting from America, Caspar Goodwood. Daniel Touchett dies suddenly, leaving Isabel with a large provision in his will. She goes to Florence with a Madame Merle whom she had met at Gardencourt. There she is introduced to Gilbert Osmond and his teenage daughter, Pansy. Osmond and Isabel become engaged and three years later marry. Pansy is courted by Edward Rosier whom she loves, but Osmond wants her to marry Lord Warburton, who had at Gardencourt proposed to Isabel. He tries to enlist Isabel’s help in bringing about the match, but Lord Warburton returns to England realizing Pansy does not care for him. There is a letter saying that Ralph is dying and, against Osmond’s will, Isabel returns to Gardencourt, after she has discovered that Pansy is in fact Madame Merle’s daughter. Isabel sees Ralph before he dies and after the funeral she is courted by Caspar Goodwood who asks her to elope with him. She runs to the house and the film ends.

Though the film has an original score by Wojciech Kilar, its soundtrack is particularly rich in classical music. From J.S.Bach there is the slow movement of the A Minor Violin Concerto and the Largo from the F Minor Clavier Concerto which Woody Allen used to such great effect in Hannah and Her Sisters (Comedy 1, Naxos 8.556811). In the ball scene there is music by Johann Strauss Jr., the Fledermaus Quadrille and the Künstlerleben Waltz. But most telling is probably the music of Schubert. When Isabel first meets Madame Merle she is sitting at the piano playing the Impromptu No.3. This and the Impromptu No.4 (included here) appear again in the film, often in scenes where Madame Merle is involved. And there is the String Quartet No.14, "Death and the Maiden", first heard, early on, at a party at the Osmonds’ house and then, very strikingly, to illustrate Isabel’s feelings when she receives the news that Ralph is dying.

Close the window