Classical Music in Christmas films

8 December 2022

Put on your Christmas jumper, make yourself a cup of hot chocolate (perhaps with a dash of Baileys) and unwind to a joyful Christmas film. The festive season has well and truly arrived, and here at Welsh National Opera, we’re making a list (and checking it twice) of our favourite Christmas films with a classical music soundtrack.

It wouldn’t be Christmas without the appearance of Tchaikovsky’s adored Nutcracker. From Barbie’s romantic dance with a prince in Barbie in the Nutcracker, to The Simpsons Christmas Stories where the characters sing a hilarious Christmas medley to the tune of Act One’s March, you just can’t escape Tchaikovsky at Christmas time. For most people, this is a good thing, but if you share the same opinion as Homer, you may be thinking ‘I hope I never hear that God-awful Nutcracker music again.’ While  most films tend to opt for a more traditional, orchestral version of Tchaikovsky’s music, in Netflix’s recent The Knight Before Christmas, a story that follows a medieval knight who time travels to the present day and falls in love with the local science teacher, you can hear a modernised, dramatic version of Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy played on the violin with exhilarating electric drums that drives the pace of the film.

While Christmas films are often light-hearted affairs with happy endings, it’s hard to resist an adult-humoured film, especially when the one and only Chopin forms part of the soundtrack. In Bad Santa 2, the opening credits are accompanied by Chopin’s instantly recognisable Nocturne No.2 in E-flat major. The delicately beautiful piano accompanies imagery of people engaging in the joy and festivities of the Christmas season. However, the music’s serenity lulls you into a false sense of security, as the scene cuts to a miserable, dishevelled man, dressed in a Santa Claus outfit, drinking and smoking alone. While the remainder of this scene may not be entirely appropriate to write about here, it certainly sets the tone for the film, and helps you to understand why this Santa may not be on the nice list (despite what the peaceful music may imply).

Finally, whether you believe it is a Christmas film or not, we just had to mention Die Hard. In this action-packed film, we hear Beethoven’s  Ode to Joy, taken from his ninth and final symphony, but ironically this upbeat and triumphant piece of music is used to highlight the villains of the film. The adored motif interweaves its way in and out of the score through various parts of the film, but the music’s pinnacle point comes when a group of German terrorists successfully open a safe that includes millions of dollars. As the safe opens, Beethoven’s victorious symphony soars into the scene as if to let the audience know that the villains have won…but have they? This festive season, as you’re watching Christmas films, why not listen out and see how many pieces of classical music you can find.