I don’t often write solely about music in film, but recently I watched The King’s Speech (2010) and was struck with the realisation that not only did I recognise a piece of music used towards the end, but that it was actually probably one of my favourite pieces of classical music and I didn’t even know what its name was. I refer to Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, and the Allegretto of the Second Movement. This is a piece of music that you will probably recognise as soon as you hear it, but for some reason I had no idea it was composed by Beethoven and had gone my whole life enjoying it but not identifying it properly. It must be noted that Beethoven was almost completely deaf when he composed this symphony. That fact will never cease to amaze me.
Here are three uses of this beautiful piece of music in film, and the different effects of the music in different contexts.
Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible (2002) is one of those films that I’m glad I’ve seen, but I never want to watch again in my entire life. The Second Movement is used in the final scene of the film, where we see Monica Bellucci’s character relaxing in a sunny field reading a book – and knowing everything that comes before (or after, given the reverse timeline of the film), the overall effect is a feeling of pure anger and grief. As the camera pans across from Bellucci reclining on the ground, across to playing children, it begins spinning and spinning, as the music eventually devolves into white noise and an image of the cosmos appears (warning: insane flashing graphics in the video above at this point). This ending is typical of Gaspar Noe who likes to make you feel emotions and then punishes you for it. The music in this context feels mournful and generally reflects how you feel after watching the film. That is, completely emotionally drained.
The use of the Second Movement in The King’s Speech gives it a completely different feel. It can be heard as King George VI, played to perfection by Colin Firth, reads his impassioned speech over the radio to announce that Britain is at war with Germany and that a Second World War is to commence. In this scene, with the building melody and tempo of the music behind the speech, and the feeling that at any moment the King’s voice could falter, there is a feeling of building tension; mirroring the international tensions building at the time. The music initially feels somewhat apprehensive in this context as it is performed in a minimalistic way, as directed by the film’s composer Alexandre Desplat, in order to highlight the use of the King’s voice. However, as the music builds and more instruments are added, there is an overall feeling of building strength and of one man overcoming his shortfalls and empowering others in a time of crisis.
My somewhat ironic love for the Sean Connery science fiction nightmare film Zardoz (1974) is quite well-known around here. Zardoz is a film that you almost can’t believe you’re watching when you’re watching it, because it is so ridiculous and it’s impossible to tell if it takes itself seriously. The second movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony is used in Zardoz at the very beginning, where it is sung in an operatic tone. When the music begins, we see a giant head pass across the screen, flying of its own volition towards some unknown location above the credits, and you just know that something amazingly weird is about to happen. The music is also used at the very end of the film, in another strange scene that shows childbirth, life, and death in the span of about a minute (warning: spoilers, childbirth, and nudity). It seems fitting that such an epic piece of music covers the entirety of a lifespan.
Are there any pieces of music that stick out to you when you watch films? What’s your favourite piece of classical music used in film? Feel free to share below!