Films Based on Classical Music and their Composers

For lovers of classical music, nothing can bring more excitement than to see their favorite songs brought to life. The stories behind the music, or just films based on classical pieces, help bring a new awareness of the songs themselves.

Over the years a number of great classical songs have been turned into feature films, and peeks into the lives of the composers behind the music have made classical pieces more relevant to audiences.

Black Swan

In 2010, the movie Black Swan opened in theaters with great success. Based on Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, the film was quickly embraced by audiences that were unfamiliar with the composer’s original opera.

The film featured a reproduction of Tchaikovsky’s original ballet and brought a new interest to the original production. Although Swan Lake has always been one of the most beloved and well known ballets ever performed, the release of the film helped to bring about a new awareness of the opera’s beauty.

The Immortal Beethoven

In terms of film popularity, no composer is more portrayed than Beethoven. A large number of films have been done based on his life and classical compositions. The film Copying Beethoven from 2006, gave a fictitious portrayal of the last three years of Beethoven’s life, including the composition of his Ninth Symphony piece. There is no way to fully know if the movies portrayal of Beethoven’s final years are even remotely accurate, but the movie is entertaining none the less and features many of the composer’s most popular compositions. Taking a different view of the composer’s life is the film Immortal Beloved from 1994. While most films about the composer show him as a musical genius, this film portrayed him as an ordinary man. The audience is drawn to Beethoven even more because he’s finally shown in a way that his fans can relate to. His music wasn’t featured heavily in this film, but the movie did give fans a possible view of why his music moves us so much.

Finally, one of the best films based on the true story of Beethoven’s life is Beethoven Lives Upstairs from 1992. This film balances both the life and music of the composer very well, unlike most other films about his life. The film was received so well, that a CD of Beethoven’s most noted works was created to accompany it, so fans are truly treated to a bonus. It has even gone on to be used in music lessons throughout both Canada and the United States, as a popular way to introduce elementary students to classical music.


There are literally thousands of films based on classical music all over the world, but no list could be complete without including Disney’s 1940 masterpiece Fantasia. Technically speaking this is an animated film, but the music is set for adults as well as children. The whole movie revolves around the use of different classical pieces to set different moods and help move the story along. The film features no dialogue at all, so it relies completely on the music to set the stage. Made up of many short film segments, each portion of the movie features a different classical piece to tell the story. The classical music for this film include many great works by well known composers. The list includes:
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach
Nutcracker Suite by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas
Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky
The Pastoral Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven
Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli
Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky
Ave Maria by Franz Schubert

Although the film almost sent Disney into bankruptcy after it’s release, it later rose to greater popularity in the 60s and again in 2000 with the release of Fantasia 2000. Today it is considered to be a Disney classic, and is beloved by both children and adults.