Saturday, August 8, 2015

Classical music biopics

Back in July, 2011, I mentioned how there are quite a few Hollywood movies that use pre-existing classical music. There are also some movies that are -- or purport to be -- biopics about composers. I mention these because Song of Love is coming up tomorrow afternoon at 4:00 PM on TCM.

Song of Love deals with Robert Schumann, played here by Paul Henried. Schumann was a German composer in the first half of the 19th century as well as a would-be piano virtuoso, except that he injured his hand early on. So the piano-playing duties in the family fell to his wife Clara (played by Katharine Hepburn), who was recognized as one of the great piano virtuosi of the 19th century, keeping the memory of her husband's music alive and composing some music of her own. Unfortunately, Robert suffered from either mental illness or perhaps some sort of brain tumor that led him to have visions and ultimately attempt suicide. He spent the last two years of his life in a mental asylum, dying at the young age of 46. Robert Walker plays Johannes Brahms, another composer/piano virtuoso, who one day showed up unannounced at the Schumann place and wowed them with his music. (Brahms was not yet famous at the time.)

It's one of several movies I can think of about real-world classical musicians who were long since dead by the time the movie was made. George Gershwin was as much of a popular songwriter as well as a serious composer, so we'll leave Robert Alda's Rhapsody in Blue aside for now.

Johannn Strauss Jr.'s life was highly fictionalized for the movie The Great Waltz. Strauss was played by Frenand Gravet, and his wife by Luise Rainer. Interestingly, this movie was remade in the early 1970s with Horst Buchholz playing the famed waltz composer.

Cornel Wilde played Polish piano player/composer Frederic Chopin in A Song to Remember. Poland was not an independent country at the time, having been divided up among Prussia, Russia, and Austria in the late 18th century. The movie also deals with Chopin's relationship with female writer George Sand (Merle Oberon).

More recently, Amadeus might be the most famous of all the movies about composers. I don't think Mozart and Salieri had quite the rivalry that the movie implies. There's also Immortal Beloved about Beethoven.

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