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Top Five Romantic Clichés in Classical Music

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While lovelorn couples profess their devotion on Valentine's Day, there’s no doubt more than a few will be declaring their affections while a few classical themes complete the romantic sentiments. While music might be the food of love, here are five pieces that may just make our hearts sick because they’ve become clichés.

1. Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture

More than a few characters from TV and film have fallen head over heels to the sound of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture. (Often the two passionate parties are running, arms extending, toward each other through a field of flowers). The theme, has accompanied Cher in Clueless, Garth in Wayne’s World, and just about every Looney Tune who’s ever been in love.

2. Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody On A Theme of Paganini

When Christopher Reeve travels back in time to meet a young Jane Seymour in the 1980s flick Somewhere in Time, their physics-defying relationship requires an equally over-the-top expressive theme: Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody On A Theme of Paganini (naturally the 18th variation).  It wasn’t a particularly fantastical choice to pair with such an unusual affair; Vincente Minnelli and Gottfried Reinhardt had already the tune in their 1954 The Story of Three Loves.

3. Liszt’s Liebestraum

The third swoon-worthy serenade on our list doesn’t just appear on the soundtrack for films; it inspired movies. Liszt’s Liebestraum (which is German for "dreams of love") provided material for a 1970 Hungarian film called the Loves of Liszt and a 1991 indie film set in upstate New York. Even though the opus is comprised of three solo piano works, the first two are usually skipped for the more famous third (or infamous, according to Victor Borge, who’d play the work at double time to get through it).

4. Wagner's "Liebestod"

Though Tristan and Isolde’s love was doomed from the start, Isolde’s “Liebestod,” or love’s death, has had a second life in film and TV. The familiar tune usually comes across the speakers whenever someone’s about to die for the sake love. It sends Juliet to her death in Bas Lurhmann’s Romeo + Juliet. The familiar theme also accompanies another young couple to their joint suicide in the 1987 movie Aria.

5. Puccini's "Un bel di"

Practically any Puccini aria—“O soave fanciulla,” “Nessun dorma,” to name a few—could be put in this fifth slot. But for sheer heartbreaking oomph, moviemakers tend to select to Madame Butterfly’sUn bel di vedremo.” The aria is so overtly romantic, it has been used as a wink of sorts to its status as a romantic cliché. The Simpsons resident alcoholic Barney Gumble uses Cio-Cio San’s song to score his art film, “Pukahontas,” and it helps set a creepy mood the Michael Douglas–Glenn Close thriller Fatal Attraction.

 Weigh in: What piece do you think is the most overexposed?