Classical Meets Pop Culture

Classical Royale: Classical Music In The James Bond Franchise

A list of classical pieces featured in the famous spy flicks.

Spectre poster
Spectre poster, courtesy of 007.com.

The writing’s on the wall, folks: there’s a new James Bond film, Spectre, coming out this weekend in the US, and we’ve combed the 50-year history of the films to pinpoint some prominent uses of classical music in the 007 franchise. So sit back and find your Quantum of Solace as you check out this list that is For Your Eyes Only

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

The 10th film of the Bond franchise shows one of the oldest villain tropes in the book, by having the main villain Karl Stromberg (Curd Jürgens) listen to classical music while performing dastardly deeds. It’s common for movies to connect classical music to characters like this to portray them as sophisticated, high-class villains as opposed to any generic thug, and for a series built on tropes and cliches, it totally works!

Here’s Stromberg sending an unfortunate lackey to the sharks with the popular Air on the G String, an arrangement of the second movement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3. And following that, the second movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 as his underwater lair rises from the sea:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miq8jxw2Ajw

There’s also a notable moment where the movie steals music from another film score! In the scene where Bond (Roger Moore) and Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach) are traveling across the desert, one of the editors put in Maurice Jarre’s score to Lawrence of Arabia as a joke, and as you can see from the finished film the joke stuck!

Moonraker (1979)

Hot off the heels of the previous film, Moonraker is often cited as one of the sillier movies in the series. The phrase “James Bond in space” sums it up pretty nicely. And just like its predecessor, the main villain has a fondness for classical music and even performs it himself! Michael Lonsdale’s piano mimicry as Hugo Drax may not be perfect, but this Chopin piece is certainly one of his most popular:

And for one of the more infamous sequences in the series, the gondola/hovercraft chase through Venice, featuring the Tritsch-Tratsch Polka by Johann Strauss II and a pigeon doing a double take:

If that wasn’t silly enough, how about the moment when Jaws (Richard Kiel), a ruthless, 7-foot-tall killer discovers the love of his life after crashing in a cable car, complete with the go-to option for cheesy romance scenes, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet:

And also like The Spy Who Loved Me, yet another cribbed movie score, this time from Elmer Bernstein’s The Magnificent Seven!

A View to a Kill (1985)

Skipping ahead a few years, we have yet another villain with taste, this time for Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. This clip is a version dubbed in Italian, but you get the general gist of the scene. Bond is doing his spy thing at an event hosted by nefarious industrialist Max Zorin (Christopher Walken), and naturally there is classical music present to class the place up a bit:

In an odd moment of a continuity break, the source music starts with the third movement of the Autumn concerto, and only moments later the music is on the famous first movement of Spring, which comes before Autumn in the traditional performance order. Granted, to the filmmakers this is probably negligible to the movie as a whole, but devout classical music listeners would definitely notice the discrepancy!

The Living Daylights (1987)

Two years later with a brand new Bond in Timothy Dalton, the main “Bond girl” of this film, Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo) is actually a professional cellist who doubles as a KGB agent on the side. Naturally, this lends itself to plenty of opportunities for classical music. 007’s first mission (after the credits) takes place during a concert in Bratislava, where the orchestra plays the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40. Later on, there is a scene where Milovy performs in the third movement of Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2, and in this sequence in Vienna, Bond and Milovy enjoy a performance of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro:

Following that, Milovy practices Antonín Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor in a pivotal scene near the climax of the film, and at the end of the movie she plays Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme. This movie is as loaded with classical music as Bond’s various cars are loaded with gadgets! On that note, here’s a little clip that classical musicians might cringe at, particularly cellists…

Quantum of Solace (2008)

A full two decades later, we get a really big classical set piece from Puccini’s Tosca. In this scene, Bond, now played by Daniel Craig, has tracked down the main villain to Austria. The villain, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), is part of a large criminal organization named Quantum, and some of its highest members have chosen to meet at a performance of Puccini’s opera in order to discuss business over earpieces to maintain secrecy. Naturally, Bond spoils their fun:

That pretty well covers the biggest moments of classical music in the series, some a little silly, others quite artfully done, which might be a fair assessment of the franchise itself depending on who you ask. If you’re interested in the original music for each film, check out the scores of Monty Norman (Dr. No), John Barry (multiple), George Martin (Live and Let Die), Marvin Hamlisch (The Spy Who Loved Me), Bill Conti (For Your Eyes Only), Michael Kamen (Licence to Kill), Éric Serra (GoldenEye), David Arnold (multiple), and Thomas Newman (Skyfall and Spectre).

Also, if any of this has inspired some James Bond nostalgia, the Nerdist-produced James Bonding podcast with 007 enthusiasts Matt Mira and Matt Gourley covers all of the films in the series (including the non-EON Never Say Never Again), and they discuss various aspects of the movies with a heavy comedic element present. Enjoy! 

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