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When classical music masterpieces become soundtrack cliches

September 30, 2008 |  2:30 pm

There are certain classical pieces that are repeated so often at the movies that they've lost virtually all power to move or surprise us. Certainly Wagner's "The Ride of the Valkyries," which featured prominently in "8 1/2" and "Apocalypse Now," ranks among the classically clichéd. So do Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 (Prelude), Orff's "Carmina Burana" and most of Beethoven's symphonies.

Culture Monster would like to nominate a few more pieces -- most of them falling into the contemporary classical category -- to this canon of the overused. (And feel free to contribute any we might have missed.)

The recent trailer for David Fincher's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (see the video above) features Camille Saint-Saëns' "Aquarium" from "The Carnival of Animals." This eerie, impressionistic 1886 composition was most famously used in Terrence Malick's "Days of Heaven." It also serves as the unofficial anthem of the Cannes Film Festival, where fans can hear it played ad nauseum on the red carpet.

Barber's "Adagio for Strings" also suffers from multiplex abuse. The 1936 piece has been used in "The Elephant Man," "Platoon," "Wild Reeds" and "Amélie."

Arvo Pärt's "Spiegel im Spiegel" (1978) and "Für Alina" (1976) are art-film favorites that are hauled out whenever a director wants to establish a feeling of existential melancholy. You may have heard them in "There Will Be Blood," "Gerry," "Heaven" and "W;t."

Charles Ives' "The Unanswered Question" (1906) has suffered less wear and tear than the above titles, but it's already starting to show the signs of film fatigue, having been trotted out in "Run Lola Run," "The Thin Red Line" and (again) "W;t."

Not that any of this is necessarily a bad thing. If this is how the majority of the population is exposed to classical music, so be it. Some classical exposure is definitely better than none.

— David Ng

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