Tag Archives: classical production music

Top Classical Music Scores Used As Movie Soundtrack

The great 1970s-era film and TV composer, Jerry Fielding, said something that I have always tried to remember when approaching the music for a film or for any type of soundtrack.

Most of us are aware of and do not like the kind of bad film music that intrudes and italicizes moments that have no need of such emphasis.” ***

Fielding is saying that using background music too obviously, or too literally, can throw off the balance of a scene by over-emphasizing the moment. Because it contributes to and reinforces the emotional atmosphere of the scene at hand, background music has great power to affect an audience’s perception of the film. When done with taste, it elevates the emotional experience of the film. When done poorly, it can add an inflated sentimentality or become overblown and bombastic. In a bad film, I often get the sense that the soundtrack is being used as a crutch. The director doesn’t believe the scene is working and feels it can be saved by adding a lot of extraneous music.

The great majority of film soundtracks comment directly on the scene at hand, For example, in a chase scene, the music usually tries to elevate the audience’s pulse with strong, invigorating music. It echoes the action on screen. However, some of the greatest soundtracks use a much less direct approach. The title sequence to Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull provides a great example of another, subtle, scoring technique.

The movie begins with slow-motion footage of boxer Jake LaMotta (played by Robert De Niro), shadow boxing inside the ring while the movie’s opening credits appear.  The classical background music accompanying this scene is Interlude from the opera Cavalleria Rusticana by the Italian composer Pietro Mascagni. Scorsese chose a piece of pre-existing classical music to form the opening soundtrack to Raging Bull.

Unlike standard underscore, this music doesn’t enlarge or highlight what is happening on screen. Instead, it plays against the scene, creating its own dimension, its own personalized color or texture. The use of Cavalleria Rusticana elevates the scene into a dreamlike, almost religious environment, evoking a sense of the tragedy that we, as audience members, are about to experience while watching the story of Jake LaMotta unfold. This is a much more interesting use of background music. It’s less obvious, more poetic and very powerful.

What is it about classical music that makes it so well-suited to such powerful artistic statements in a film?

The main reason is the music itself. There are no stronger themes than those found throughout the classical repertoire. Add to that the fact that this music is already established in our culture and we, in some cases, have built-in associations with it. Also, the music is hundreds of years old. It has survived the tests of time and we subconsciously experience it as existing on another plane, like a voice from above.

Here is a list of some other movies that use classical music to play against the events transpiring on screen. These scores operate as an overview, revealing the elemental, spiritual core of the movie’s meaning.

Platoon (1986) – The music is Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings – here again, this background music provides the spiritual heart of the film – a saga about the struggle between good and evil faced by soldiers newly-recruited to serve in Vietnam. This same theme is used to produce virtually the same effect in The Elephant Man (1980).

Godfather 1 (1972) – It’s one of the greatest sequences in film history – while attending the baptism of his niece, Michael, the new Godfather, has all his enemies massacred. The scene is scored using J. S. Bach’s music Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor.

Breaking Away (1979) – A coming of age film about a teenage boy so in love with cycling that he adopts all things Italian, including opera, in order to fully emulate his racing heroes.   The film’s most memorable and endearing scene contains no dialogue at all. In it, the main character reaches an incredible speed on his bike by cycling in the backdraft of a large truck. It’s a moment akin to the scene in Rocky 1 when Rocky victoriously leaps up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum. (Gonna Fly Now) except in this scene, the underscore is Mendelssohn’s Allegro, 1st Movement from the Italian Symphony.

2001 Space Odyssey (1968) – Stanley Kubrick’s visually stunning masterpiece uses the composition Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss as its main theme. There is also an incredible sequence using the Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss.

The Killing Fields (1984) – Features a recording of Pavarotti singing Puccini’s Nessun Dorma near the end of the film when the main character (Sam Waterston) has returned to the US after witnessing and surviving the ethnic cleansing in Pol Pot’s Cambodia.

Philadelphia (1993) – Tom Hanks as Andrew Becket comes to grips with his own impending death from AIDS while describing Giordano’s aria La Mama Morta (sung by the great Maria Callas) to his lawyer. The lawyer (Denzel Washington) finally gets beyond Becket’s homosexuality and sees him as a human – sees his humanity. Heavy stuff, also extremely powerful.

Manhattan (1979) – In the famous opening sequence, Woody Allen portrays the New York cityscape in a stunning black-and-white montage. The underscore is Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

The UniqueTracks Production Music Library contains over 200 hours of classical production music. Try searching our music library for classical background music to support your next production.

*** Jerry Fielding is best known for the following film soundtracks spanning the late 1960s through the 1970s: The Wild Bunch, The Outlaw Josie Wales, Straw Dogs, Semi-Tough, The Gauntlet. He also composed the main themes for two pretty famous TV shows – Hogan’s Heroes and Barnaby Jones.


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Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons

The most famous piece of classical music in the world

Antonio Vivaldi’s best-known composition is a set of violin concertos composed in 1723 entitled the Four Seasons (Le quattro stagioni). The Four Seasons is actually four individual violin concertos that have been grouped together, each labeled for one of the seasons of the year. Each concerto (each season) is in three movements with a slow movement set between two faster ones.

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons has become arguably the most popular piece of classical music in the world with more performances and recordings than even Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. This achievement is further magnified when you consider that this music lay forgotten on a library shelf for two hundred years. It was not until 1950, when a recording of the Four Seasons appeared, that the piece gained notice. The success of The Four Seasons is an extraordinary journey for a piece of music that had lived so long in utter oblivion.

The popularity of The Four Seasons also points out how much Antonio Vivaldi’s music owes it’s current acclaim to the world of technology for without audio recordings, it is doubtful that Vivaldi’s music would have gained its current wide renown.

By now everyone has heard at least one of the movements from The Four Seasons. You may not have known the piece’s title but its most popular movements, especially the “Spring” Allegros, are quite ubiquitous in our culture having been used hundreds of times in national and regional commercials, movies, TV shows, as background music in restaurants, music-on-hold messages, not to mention constant radio play on classical music stations.

The addictive rhythmic vitality of so much of Antonio Vivaldi’s music has led to its rebirth and great popularity amongst classical music lovers and the general public as well. Much like the music of today, Vivaldi’s music, especially his opening movement Allegros, have a driving rhythmic vitality and are brimming with energy (The Italian word “Allegro” is a tempo indication meaning “lively” or “fast”). Vivaldi’s melodies are simple and easy to listen to. The tempo Adagio slow movements evoke a warm and beautiful sensibility (“Adagio” means slowly).

Vivaldi was a master violinist and it is thought that he wrote the Four Seasons as a performance vehicle to showcase his own virtuosity. The violin part is quite challenging indeed even by today’s standards.

An often-overlooked compositional force in The Four Seasons is its programmatic basis. In music, the term “programmatic” refers to a composer consciously trying to represent something non-musical, like a story or an image, in the composition. This type of writing is called tone-painting; the composition is a tone poem.

In the Four Seasons, Vivaldi takes four poems titled Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter and transforms various passages directly into music. He is quite literal. When the poem speaks of birds, we hear bird calls in the music. Throughout the movements, you can hear musical depictions of streams, thunder, lightning, a dog barking, even drunkards that have fallen asleep. These images can be found painted musically throughout the piece.

Here is a translation of the first poem Spring. It is now believed that Vivaldi himself wrote the poems.

Spring has come and with it gaiety,
The birds salute it with joyous song,
And the brooks, caressed by Zephyr’s breath,
Flow meanwhile with sweet murmurings:
The sky is covered with dark clouds,
Announced by lightning and thunder.
But when they are silenced, the little birds
Return to fill the air with their song:
Then does the meadow, in full flower,
Ripple with its leafy plants.
The goat-herd dozes, guarded by his faithful dog.
Rejoicing in the pastoral bagpipes,
Nymphs and Shepherds dance, in love,
Their faces glowing with Springtime’s brilliance.

Believe it or not, these poetic images are literally “painted” throughout the Spring movements of The Four Seasons. The bird calls can be heard in the Allegro, First movement from the Spring concerto. They appear right when the violin solos begin (about 30 seconds into the piece). This gives way to the undulating sounds of a rushing brook. Next lightning and thunder are heard only to subside as the bird calls return.

It’s hard to believe today that Vivaldi’s music would be destined to lie dormant for 200 years. Vivaldi himself had fallen into obscurity by the end of his lifetime. He died penniless in Vienna in 1741. His music virtually disappeared until just after World War 2. Since then, its popularity has exploded. The Four Seasons concertos are now regularly performed concert pieces and are among the most famous pieces of music in the world. Whether it is the appealing rhythmic drive or the beautiful warmth of the baroque violins, people are just naturally drawn to this music.

Poem translation from Landon, H. C. Robbins “Vivaldi, Voice of the Baroque” Chicago: University of Chicago Press,1993

There is no stronger piece of classical stock music than Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. It is music that is recognized the world over which means when you use it as background music, you pull all of that recognition into your own production. The mood of the music is upbeat, buoyant and immensely positive. This has contributed much to its success as one of the most licensed pieces in our music library.

If you’d like to license Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to use as background soundtrack in your video or media project, visit this classical stock music page.


Premium Stock Music for Film, TV, Advertising and Interactive. Editor-selected, Easy Search, Fast Results. UniqueTracks has a vast library of music loops and grooves plus a large selection of classical production music available for licensing into your production.


Royalty Free Music, Sound Effects, and Animated Video Backgrounds