A Film Classic: Mozart

Sunday the 15th of November. 13:00h. Teatro Salón Cervantes. 6€ 



One recurring cliché in the history of cinema that defines in four words the quality of a piece of work is: “It’s a classic”.

When we use this phrase talking about films, everybody delves into their imagination and identifies a certain director, actor or film with the classic concept. So what about the music, the soundtrack? The music that is essential to understanding the history of film is imbued with its own confused existentialism.

Image and sound have gone hand in hand since the images began to move, even if it was just the sound of the spinning film reel with its constant rhythm and intensity. Right away it was clearly necessary to fill that silent space with musical accompaniment so screenings were made together with live music, oftentimes improvised and others adaptations of what we call classical music.

The musical world was about to pendulum between two sets of sounds; the use of so-called classical music in the soundtrack with its academic nature played to suit the production, or the use of the pop music of the moment. Together they would provide the film with its own soundtrack.

At first, it was classical music that was employed with composers such as the Frenchman Saint-Saëns in the film “L’Assassinat du Duc de Guise”, by André Calmettes (1908). They created specific music on paper, which was not improvised. And they edited it and catalogued it within their body of compositional works.

So what about the classic we are dealing with here. Mozart. A classic among classics. Why are we devoting an entire concert programme to Mozart?

Improvisational and popular approaches alternated throughout the whole silent film period, with classical music by acclaimed composers. There are however, no records bearing witness to the presence of Mozart. There are in relation to other composers. It was not until the advent of talkies that Mozart’s music appeared on the big screen: “Liebelei”, by Max Ophüls (1932).

Obviously, a dramatic narrative sustained by a soundtrack required another type of more narrative music, as established in the leitmotif. As in the post-romantic musical explosion. So why not Mozart? Probably for the same reason we have brought him here today. His captivating, elegant and completely personal music, marries with difficulty to a dramatic narrative. So why devote an entire programme to Mozart? Because of his elegant music based on an innate sense of melody: direct, fresh and emotive, simple, without the elaboration of the other classical composers of his time such as Beethoven or Haydn. That is to say: fresh, captivating, dreamlike and evasive.

In 2020 all the arts have been impacted by the current public-health crisis and, therefore, we want to afford the audience a dreamy and evocative, peaceful and tranquil feeling. There lies within each of us, without us knowing, a melody that we are often unable to identify, whose author we do not know, yet which we all remember and are even able to hum; only Mozart is capable of that.

Mozart continued not to make a big splash on the big screen in the forties. Chistian-Jacque used a fragment of his sonata in A major in “La chartreuse de Parme”. There were other incursions, but we shall leave them until the end of these notes to the programme. It was in the following decade, in 1956, on the bicentenary of his birth, that he was rediscovered and the famous (thanks to the film “Out of Africa”) second movement of his clarinet concerto was used on film for the first time by Jean-Luc Godard in “A bout de soufle” (1959) and “Masculin et femenin” (1966). Pasolini, in “Il Vangelo secondo Matteo” (1964), also used Mozart’s music. And a long list of films not mentioned in these notes to the programme were set to follow. In the seventies, Ingmar Bergman, in a ground-breaking proposal to take opera to the big screen, tackled “The Magic Flute” (1974) as metatheatre, which explored the opera through the cinematographer’s lens. An audacious and valuable offering.

And then in the eighties there was “Amadeus”, by Milos Forman, which showcases the biography of our hero, and brings us the classical Mozart reinvented as a soundtrack. The music of Mozart in this film is a character in itself; the sinister sonority of the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 in the syncopation of the French horns, introduces us to the darkness and suffering of the story’s narrator, Salieri. His tortured confession to murdering Mozart leads into music we have all heard. Mozart’s A Little Night Music, Serenade K. 525, is immediately recognised by the priest who attends Salieri when he suggests that the priest distinguish between one of his works that he does not recognise and the stuttering first four notes of Mozart’s serenade, which we have all heard in countless scenarios, one of which is cinema.

In all likelihood, one of the most memorable scenes in the film is when Salieri studies Mozart’s original sheet music, including his double concerto for harp and flute and exclaims: “Astounding! It was actually, it was beyond belief. These were first and only drafts of music, but they showed no corrections of any kind. Not one. Displace one note and there would be diminishment, displace one phrase and the structure would fail …” This perfection of simplicity is what we refer to as genius. And in classical music it only applies to Mozart; a far cry from the lengthy internal struggles of Beethoven to discover that perfection and Haydn’s stylistic pursuit of the same.

“The Queen of the Night”, his most famous aria from his most famous opera, “The Magic Flute”, is played as we are introduced to a carefree, happy, simple and affectionate lover of life and its distractions. The stunning acrobatics of the aria describe him to a tee.

A lot of people got to know Mozart through the film. And as a result of “Amadeus”, Hollywood discovered his music.

All the selections of movements from symphonies and concertos that we have chosen are in “Amadeus”, with two exceptions: his celebrated second concerto for clarinet, which we referred to above, and the third movement of his concerto in G for flute, “Rondo”. We have left out his religious music, for obvious reasons: the need for choirs and soloists; as well as his chamber and soloist music since we are what we are, an orchestra. Nevertheless, we are going to play his opera through the adaptation for oboe of his aria “The Queen of the Night” from the “Magic Flute”. And we also decided to include the relaxed nature of our hero through a ‘sketch’ by Trío Zelenka of his most famous sonata for piano KV.331 in its third movement “Alla Turca”, somewhat in contrast to the rest of our programme.

The music of Mozart used in “Amadeus” would be justification for the programme on its own. Yet, these celebrated pieces can be found in a vast number of other films.

“Green Card”, a romantic comedy made in 1990 by Peter Weir, starring Gerard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell, is one of the films containing the most music by Mozart of those we are presenting here. The film includes the rondo of the third movement of his concerto in G for flute, the second movement of his double concerto for harp and flute, and the second movement of this clarinet concerto; all tied to the garden-terrace-conservatory carefully looked after by the leading character in her rented apartment.

The second movement of his celebrated clarinet concerto is used more than any other as in the following films:

  • “Hellboy 2”: the golden army, fantasy and science fiction from 2008 by the Mexican director Guillermo del Toro.
  • “27 Dresses”. Romantic comedy by Anne Fletcher from 2008
  • “Conversations with my Gardener”, 2007 French film by Jean Becker
  • “Wasabi”, 2001 film coproduced between France and Japan, by Gérard Krawczyk
  • “Stealing Beauty”, 1996 film by Bernardo Bertolucci
  • “The Last Married Couple in America”, by Gilbert Gates
  • “American Gigolo”, by Paul Schrader from 1980
  • “Libertad provisional”, 1976 Spanish film by Roberto Bodegas
  • “I din fars lomme”, 1973 Danish film by Lise Roos
  • “Masculin et Féminin”, 1966 French film by Jean Luc Godard 
  • “The Benny Goodman Story”, by Valentine Davies from 1956

His double concerto for harp and flute with its highly celebrated movement is in:

  • “Change of Plans”, by Daniel Thompson from 2011
  • “Moon”, 2009 science fiction film by Duncan Jones
  • “Moj Nikfor”, 2004 Polish film by Krysztof Krauze and Joanna Kos
  • “Cousin Bette”, 1998 film by Des McAnuff based on the novel of the same name by Balzac
  • “Ghost in the Machine”, 1993 US film by Rachel Talay
  • “The Joy Luck Club”, by Wayne Wang from 1992

The first movement of his Symphony No. 25 with which we open the concert was also used in films such as “Two Evil Eyes” (2004), by Darío Argento and George A. Romero, and in “Romeo and Juliet” (1996) by Baz Luhrmann.

But it is his famous A Little Night Music, Serenade KV 525 No. 13 in G major which appears in the soundtracks of all kinds of films. Some of the most well known are as follows:

  • “G.I. Jane” by Ridley Scott. Action/Drama 1997
  • “Up Close and Personal” by John Avnet. Drama/Romance 1996
  • “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” by Thom Sadyac. Comedy 1994
  • “Bonfire of Vanities” by Brian de Palma. Comedy/Drama 1990
  • “Hope and Glory” by John Boorman. Drama 1987
  • “Un homme pressé” by Hervé Mimram. Comedy 1986
  • “Sophie’s Choice” by Alan J. Pakula. Drama 1982
  • “Alien” by Ridley Scott. Terror/science fiction

His famous Queen of the Night aria “Der Holle Roche” from the Magic Flute appears in:

  • “College” 2008 comedy by Deb Hagan
  • “Miss Congeniality” 2000 comedy by John Pasquin
  • “Operation Dumbo Drop” 1995 action/comedy by Simon Wincer
  • “Paradise” 1991 drama by Mary Agnes Donoghue
  • “The Rocketeer” 1991 action/adventure by Joe Johnston

The most famous movement of all his symphonies will bring this concert to a close.

The first movement of Symphony No. 40 can be heard in

  • “The Barber” 2002 crime mystery by Basel Owies
  • “The Outpost” 2001 action movie by Rod Lurie
  • “Last train to Freo” by Jeremy Sims from 2002,
  • “The Living Daylights” 1987 action movie by John Glen
  • “Porky’s Revenge” 1985 comedy by James Komack
  • “Manhattan” 1979 comedy by Woody Allen

Bringing this sonorous-cinematographic programme to a close, the first movement of Symphony No. 40 can be found in two reels of film made a long time ago; “Tender Comrade”, a 1943 drama by Edward Dmytryk and “Battle for Music”, a 1945 war film by Donald Taylor.

The latter was a docudrama on the problems of the London Philharmonic Orchestra during the second world war, which ties in with the problems faced by orchestras today in relation to the current healthcare crisis.

If you are a film buff, this programme is designed to take you on a journey through the music that is imperceptible yet present in the history of film made by just one composer of classical music, Mozart. And if you are a music lover, there will not be many occasions such as this one to listen to a selection or bouquet of Mozart’s best music.

Music lovers and film buffs alike will be afforded the opportunity to see how musicians, directors and scriptwriters opted for the classical music of the happiest, most cheerful and extrovert of composers, in every shape and form, with a somewhat dilettante tone and profoundly melancholic contrasts that never gave way to fury, unless required by the text: and which have made his music the ideal of sonorous beauty for its harmony, simplicity and clear and direct melody. Forever emotive, witty and approachable.



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