Top 5 Sex-Obsessed Movies Scored to Classical Music

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Lars von Trier’s latest release, "Nymphomaniac," has drawn mixed reactions with its explicit adult content, from shock to amusement and occasional boredom. Careful listeners might be surprised to hear its soundtrack, studded with chestnuts like Camille Saint-Saëns’s The Swan and César Franck’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major. (Von Trier also notoriously used Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde as inspiration and accompaniment in his previous film, "Melancholia.")

Directors have been mining the classical canon for music to match their erotic subject matter, and here are our five best examples:

1. Eyes Wide Shut

"Eyes Wide Shut," the final film completed by Stanley Kubrik, who singlehandedly familiarized the American movie-going audience with both Richard Strauss and Gyorgi Ligeti, uses Shostakovich's Suite for Jazz Orchestra No. 2 as a musical theme throughout this New York couple’s sexual walkabout. The movie, based on the Austrian author Arthur Schnitzler’s “Dream Story” contains several other nods to classical music history such as a seamy downtown haunt named the Sonata Café, and the password to an underground soiree, “Fidelio.”


2. The Age of Innocence

Martin Scorsese, who grew up listening to Italian verismo opera (which he incorporated into movies like "Raging Bull"), turned to Gounod’s French masterpiece, Faust, for his adaptation of Edith Wharton’s "The Age of Innocence." The movie opens at the opera, where the voyeurs of New York society use their opera glasses to spy on other well-healed and attractive audience members, rather than watch what’s on stage. Though the scene looks like a Mary Cassatt painting brought to life, it’s essentially foreplay for the upper crust.

3.  The Piano Teacher

Isabel Huppert plays Erika Kohut, a sadomasochistic Schumann and Schubert expert who begins a relationship with her much younger student, in Michael Haneke’s 2001 film "The Piano Teacher." Though Erika initially rejects the young pianist as a pupil, he seduces her by playing the Scherzo from Schubert’s Piano Sonata in A Major.


4. Closer

With Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Natalie Portman and Jude Law coupling and uncoupling throughout the 2004 movie "Closer," its no mystery why director Mike Nichols set his drama to Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte. Both the film and opera explore test the virtues of all four lovers as they bounce from one encounter to the next. Meanwhile, Nichols, an avowed classical fan, topped his list of favorite classical albums with the Herbert von Karajan recording of Cosi.

5.  50 Shades of Grey

E.L. James’ erotic novel 50 Shades of Grey has already boosted The Tallis Scholar’s recording of “Spem in alium,” onto the Billboard charts, and you can expect that its movie adaptation, to be released next year, will be an equal boon to sales of the 40-part motet. For those who haven’t picked up the steamy tome, the almost 450-year-old piece is Christian Grey’s choice accompaniment for his first evening with the book’s heroine.

Weigh in: What do you think is the best use of classical music in steamy movies? Please leave your comments below.


More in:

Comments [13]

Emma from Long Island, NY

Uhhh how about Don Giovanni? Yah, if you add Leporello's Catalogue Aria up, you get 2065, plus Zerlina is 2066, plus Elvira's maid is 2067. So. Yeah.

Apr. 22 2014 02:46 PM

Surprised no one's mentioned this so far: the sexiest use of music in any recent film must be the Puccini arias in 'Room with a View'.

Can you think of any more wholeheartedly erotic scene that this one, consummated in one single, life-altering kiss?

Apr. 21 2014 08:53 PM
lisette from New Mexico

For me it's Brief Encounter (Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard)--without Rachmaninoff's concerto I don't think the film would have been so powerful.

Apr. 20 2014 10:00 PM
Mrs. GotBucks from UES

Why, I've never!! (*sound of me clutching my pearls*)

Apr. 18 2014 12:52 PM
DavidD from Northern VA

The most seductive scene in any film with an accompanying piece of classical music has to be the one in Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon" where Ryan O'Neal seduces Marisa Berenson to the sounds of the Schubert Trio in E flat.

Apr. 18 2014 11:24 AM
James Thomas

I agree with David below - the first movie that came to my mind was "10". It immortalized Ravel's "Bolero."

Apr. 17 2014 10:12 PM
Suzanne Fass

Not sure about best, but worst: "A Late Quartet" just because it was such an awful movie.

Apr. 17 2014 04:46 PM

"Por una Cabeza" from Scent of a Woman!!

Apr. 17 2014 10:26 AM
Susan from Manhattan

"Monsieur Hire," a very French drama from the late 80's, featured a peeping-Tom protagonist who played a record of a Brahms quintet to enhance his observation sessions. Does anyone else remember this one? It certainly made an impression on me; every time i hear that beautiful piece of music, I remember the movie!!

Apr. 17 2014 09:42 AM
Paul Pelkonen from Brooklyn, NY

Two things: I would like to think that one of the finest (and funniest) depictions of coitus to a classical soundtrack in a Stanley Kubrick film is in 2001: A Space Odyssey--when Johann Strauss' 'Blue Danube' accompanies the ship docking into the space station. Two, it should be noted that the protagonist of Ms. James' trilogy is named "Christian" Grey.

Apr. 17 2014 08:22 AM
Barry Owen Furrer

Like David, my thoughts turned to the movie "10" with its references to both Prokofiev and Ravel. I recall after the movie's release in 1979, record sales of Bolero went through the roof. My issue is with "The Age of Innocence" as the opening sets the scene in NYC, 1870's; however, Faust premiered at The Met in 1883. Even more OCDish (to me) was the use of Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini in "Somewhere In Time" and making reference to hearing the work in 1911 although it was not finished until 1934.

Apr. 17 2014 08:03 AM

The movie "10". Not so "steamy", but great fun.

Apr. 17 2014 07:36 AM
Gev Sweeney from The Jersey Shore

More like SPERM in alium in "50 Shades." (Shudder) The motet has an important place in a piece of literary fiction that I began in 2010 and didn't want to finish because of its now-famous association with the James work. Friends convinced me to carry on, though. Now that my book is "out there," readers have been doing a kind of "dueling Spems," comparing the contexts in which the motet appears. Have to wonder what Tallis would have thought about his music being used in fiction.

Apr. 16 2014 04:30 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

The WQXR e-newsletter. Show highlights, links to music news, on-demand concerts, events from The Greene Space and more.

Follow WQXR 







About Top 5 @ 105

WQXR helps you make the most of the New York City’s classical music scene.

Our "Top 5 at 105 " features can't-miss experiences: the best concerts, books and films about music, places to eat before and after shows, and more.