Films are one of the best places to hear great music, but when the movie itself is about some of the greatest musicians ever known, it becomes sensational.
Over time, there have been several notable movies made about some of the best classical musicians in history. The lives of history’s great classical composers and sopranos are simply too compelling for most film directors and film lovers to ignore.
Now, while most of us cannot go out to musical theatres or concert halls to enjoy the pleasure of a live performance, you can still revel in the joy of classical music through these movies from the comfort of your home.
Without further ado, we bring you some of the best movies about classical musicians that we absolutely swear by. Enjoy our selection.
Top 8 Movies About Classical Musicians
1. Song of Love (1947)
Featured Musicians: Robert and Clara Schumann
Song of Love is one of the rare films that portrays the true story of women composers. The film features Clara Schumann and the struggles she has to overcome with her husband, Robert.
In the movie, Clara pauses her budding career as a concert pianist to help her composer husband as he struggles with his career. His best student, Johannes Brahms, also struggled with his emotions for Clara, putting their already difficult relationship in further jeopardy.
This makes the biopic more about the relationship of the couple than about Clara's career as a female composer. This was disappointing because we would have loved to have more context about her career as a pianist and composer without it being overshadowed by her relationships.
However, considering the movie was produced in 1947, having a woman take center stage as a composer in a major movie must have already been unusual enough for audiences!
Directed by Clarence Brown, Clara’s character in the movie is embodied with sensitivity and professionalism by the great Katharine Hepburn, while Paul Henreid plays Robert Schumann. Robert Walker plays Johannes Brahm.
We should also mention that Franz Liszt (portrayed by Henry Daniell) plays a sensational Mephisto Waltz No.1 in the movie, and Arthur Rubinstein created the movie soundtrack.
2. La Belle Meunière (1948)
Featured Musician: Franz Schubert
La Belle Meunière, which directly translates to mean The Pretty Miller Girl, is a French musical written and directed by Marcel Pagnol.
The film features French actor and singer Tino Rossi giving his character, Franz Schubert, a decidedly Provençal accent. The movie gets its name and inspiration from Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin.
The movie is a 50’s Vienna-style operetta that follows Schubert as he travels to the countryside for inspiration for his musical writing. He finds his inspiration in his tragic romance with Brigitte, a water miller's daughter.
The director implemented a drastic change from the regular German Agfacolor process by experimenting with Rouxcolor technology. This remains the only Rouxcolor film made by Marcel Pagnol.
Somewhere in the movie, by the side of a stream and accompanied by a guitar, Rossi gives his rendition of the famous Ständchen and enriches it with his beautiful singing voice and warm timbre.
It’s definitely worth the watch, if for nothing else but the unusual portrayal of Franz Schubert’s character.
3. Chronique d’Anna Magdalena Bach (1968)
Featured Musician: Johann Sebastian Bach
Chronique d’Anna Magdalena Bach, also known as The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, is the true story of Johann Sebastian Bach as told off-camera by his second wife, Anna Magdalena Bach.
The film has excerpts from Bach’s real-life works which are presented in chronological order, merged with Anna Magdalena Bach’s fictional journal.
Each work is presented in static long sequence shots and shows the musicians performing in period costumes in places where many of the original works were premiered.
Johann Sebastian Bach is played by the famous harpsichordist, Maestro Gustav Leonhardt, and Christiane Lang plays his wife. Conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, the Concentus Musicus performs the orchestral music.
The movie is directed by the French duo Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, who both agreed the biopic of the renowned composer would not be complete without including his vast collection of work.
4. Lisztomania (1975)
Featured Musician: Franz Liszt
The amazing Ken Russell brings Franz Liszt’s own true story to life with this musical movie dedicated to the life of the 19th-century composer. While we can call Bach’s story in our previous selection as true to the original as possible, Lisztomania is the direct opposite.
Some call it a musical travesty and others call it a cleverly organized outlandish portrayal. Whichever way you see it, the film is a free adaptation of the composer’s life, and we will leave you to decide which side of the debate you stand on.
Lisztomania depicts Franz Liszt (played by the contemporary rock artiste Roger Daltrey from The Who) attempting to change his hedonistic ways while being repeatedly sucked back in by his fellow composer, Richard Wagner (played by Paul Nicholas) and the women that cross his path.
The movie is partly inspired by Marie d’Agoult’s book, Nélida, which is about her affair with the musical genius. Although the screenplay follows some major events in Liszt’s life, they are largely embellished and filled with eccentricities.
For instance, the movie depicts Liszt as the first classical pop star and has an appearance from Thor, the Norse god of thunder (played by Rick Wakeman from the rock band Yes).
Wakeman also composed the movie soundtrack using synthesizer arrangements of both Wagner’s and Liszt’s works. Russell and Daltrey wrote the lyrics, and Daltrey provided the vocals behind the soundtrack.
Other rock stars also appear in the movie including Ringo Starr, who plays the role of the Pope.
5. Amadeus (1984)
Featured Musician: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Amadeus is considered one of the greatest biopics of all time and has received 40 awards out of 53 nominations since its release. Among those awards include one from the Directors Guild of America, four from BAFTA, four Golden Globes, and eight Oscars.
It’s a powerful and entertaining movie about the success and travails of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as told by Italian composer Antonio Salieri, who was madly envious of Mozart’s success and talents. The film suggests Salieri murdered Mozart to steal his shine.
The movie shows a straitlaced and highly religious Antonio Salieri (played by F. Murray Abraham) becoming consumed by resentment and wild jealousy of the talent and hedonistic lifestyle of his remarkable rival, Mozart (played by Tom Hulce).
Pushed to the limits, he becomes obsessed with plotting Mozart’s downfall, which leads to devious machinations that bring about the destruction of both powerful men.
The movie was directed by Miloš Forman and is based on an adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s 1979 stage play with the same title.
While some parts of the script were more in line with the true story (like the Emperor complaining that Mozart’s pieces had too many notes), Shaffer took great liberties with facts to present a more colorful piece for theatre and cinema.
For example, the rivalry between both composers was grossly exaggerated and it’s well-known that it wasn’t Salieri who finished Mozart’s Requiem at his deathbed. However, the scene made for great entertainment.
Mozart’s music in the movie was performed by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and conducted by Sir Neville Marriner. Also worth mentioning are the opera production scenes, predominantly from Don Giovanni and Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio).
Everything about the movie, from music to production, just points at it being a masterpiece. A rotten tomato score of 93% proves that we are not the only ones who think this way.
From the Symphony No. 25 played in the Vienna snow in the opening scene to Lacrimosa playing at the closing scene to Requiem fading into the distance, this movie will leave every lover of classical music something enjoyable to immerse themselves in.
6. Tous les matins du monde (1991)
Featured Musicians: Marin Marais and Jean de Sainte-Colombe
Tous les matins du monde, also known as All Mornings of the World, is a French baroque biopic from 1991 based on the eponymous novel by Pascal Quignard.
The film features Marin Marais (played by Gérard Depardieu) reminiscing about his younger years, particularly when he was a student of Jean de Sainte-Colombe (played by Jean-Pierre Marielle).
Set during Louis XIV’s rule, it features a lot of music from that era, particularly the viola da gamba. Marais reminisces about his brief apprenticeship with Sainte-Colombe, master of the viola da gamba, his doomed relationship with Sainte-Colombe’s eldest daughter, and his steady rise through the ranks of the royal court.
What stands out about this movie is the haunting sound of the violin (played by Jordi Savall) that plays works of Couperin, Rameau, and Marais et Sainte-Colombe, which sets the mood of each scene.
7. Immortal Beloved (1994)
Featured Musician: Ludwig van Beethoven
Immortal Beloved is a sensational classical music film that focuses on the life of composer and musical genius, Ludwig van Beethoven.
While there have been many cinematic adaptations of Beethoven’s biography, like Abel Grance’s Un Grand Amour de Beethoven (1937), Agnieszka Holland’s Copying Beethoven (2005), and Niki Stein’s Louis van Beethoven (2020), we picked Immortal Beloved over others to appear on our list.
Like Amadeus, Immortal Beloved has a riveting storyline that carries you along as we experience the triumphs and challenges of Beethoven’s life. It’s the most complete, realistic, and least embellished version of all the biographies ever produced to honor the composer.
The film gives great insight into Beethoven’s travails and weaves music, love, and psychology into a tale that will leave anyone who appreciates classical music in a state of euphoria.
The movie follows Beethoven’s first biographer and secretary, Anton Schindler (played by Jeroen Krabbé) as he tries to uncover the true identity of the person whom Beethoven (played by Gary Oldman) addresses as Unsterbliche Geliebte (Immortal Beloved) in his private letters.
The movie begins when after Beethoven’s death, Schindler discovers the mysterious letter to the immortal beloved. We follow along as Schindler travels all over the Austrian Empire looking for women who fit the bill as he tries to unravel the mystery.
It’s also worth mentioning that we enjoy sounds like Für Elise, Moonlight Sonata, Pathetique Sonata, Symphony No. 5, Symphony No. 3, Symphony No. 9, among others, throughout the movie.
8. Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)
Featured Musician: Florence Foster Jenkins
Although this is a movie about a classical musician, she’s about the only one on our list who was not a composer. Nonetheless, the unusual story of Florence Foster Jenkins is worth retelling on the big screen, especially as it features an A-list Hollywood celebrity cast.
Florence Foster Jenkins is a 2016 biopic of the similarly named opera singer written by Julia Kogan and Nicholas Martin, and directed by Stephen Frears. One thing that stands out is that the director of the movie portrays her life without taking too much away from (or adding to) the true story.
The film carries us on a journey as the New York heiress, Florence Foster Jenkins (played by Meryl Streep) dreams about becoming a famous opera singer despite being known for her bad singing (and generosity).
Despite her lack of obvious talent, her long-time companion and manager, St. Clair Bayfield (played by Hugh Grant) worked with her to successfully lead her onto the stage of Carnegie Hall.
Other notable cast members in the movie include Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Helberg (who played Jenkins’ accompanying pianist Cosmé McMoon), and Nina Arianda (who plays the showgirl Agnes Stark).
Based on our recommendation, the high scores the movie got on both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, and the box office earnings, it’s safe to say you will enjoy watching Meryl Streep spin the character into a crowd-pleasing favorite.
We hope you enjoyed this review of some of the best movies about classical musicians ever made. There are many to choose from, and it wasn’t easy to settle on these eight. But if you love classical music, we are sure you will love these films.
If you’re interested in more articles and reviews like this one, feel free to check out the other content on our site!