Classical Music's Biggest TV Moments in 2023
Even with shortened seasons and delayed PR from dual strikes in Hollywood, television shows this year still came through with plenty of great classical music moments. In no particular order, here are some of our favorites.
Careful - Spoilers abound!
Rogue Chopin at Zelda’s wedding
Frederic Chopin: Prelude, Op. 28, No. 15
Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Chopin’s Raindrop prelude is a beautifully gentle piece of music…. Until it isn’t. The storm definitely picks up in the middle, making it an interesting processional for a wedding. And it’s especially long for an aisle that’s the length of a living room. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel always made excellent humor out of the fact that nobody knows precisely when to shut up, and that apparently goes for patriarch Abe at the piano as well.
Losing Interest in Mozart
Mozart: Selections from “The London Notebook”
Queen Charlotte: a Bridgerton Story
Part of the fun of the Bridgerton universe is that while it often plays loosely with historic details, it also occasionally makes good use of them. A performance by a young Mozart is a great example of the latter, as an 8 year old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart did in fact perform for Queen Charlotte, and he even later dedicated a set of sonatas to her. And the keyboard music that he performs on the show was from his earliest compositions. But true to the Netflix rendition of her character, when presented with the most interesting of performances, the queen’s attention wasn’t quite so easy to hold.
Nate picks up his violin again
Spiegel im spiegel - Arvo Part
“Just stop it.”
While it’s Rebecca who says these words to a room full of football club owners, everyone on Ted Lasso needs to hear it at that moment. Stop seeking power when you already have it. Stop trying to be the bully you experienced. Stop running from the family that hurt you. The title of this piece translates to “mirror in mirror” - referring to the infinite effect when two mirrors are held to each other. And the idea of taking a moment to reflect on one’s actions sets the entire end of the series in motion.
Actor Nick Mohammed is a trained violinist, and actually recorded the piece for the scene himself. So, like the football scenes, the violin playing in the scene is completely real.
Panic:at the funeral
Antonio Vivaldi: Violin concerto - l’inquietudine (restlessness)
In all of the seasons of Succession I don’t think there was one moment where I felt settled while watching. The story was a constant stream of secrets and betrayal, with patriarch Logan being the biggest backstabber of them all. So for his funeral, one last moment of discomfort, or as Vivaldi put it: "inquietude," seems perfectly appropriate for a musical choice.
For all of his delightful portrayals of nature in music, Antonio Vivaldi also knew breathlessness like no one else, suffering from what we now believe was asthma. And it's that musical gasping helps keep Logan Roy’s funeral from the relief that everyone expected it to be.
Violins of Hope playing Mendelssohn
Felix Mendelssohn - Violin Concerto
A Small Light
When the Frank family is joined by Jan and Miep Gies for a concert of the Jewish Symphony Orchestra, the episode includes a memorable portrayal of a concertizing violinist. She begins in a formal performance, and transitions to the dire position of being transported. As portrayed by Julie Svěcená, whether it was intentional or not, the portrayal alludes to Alma Rosé, the niece of Gustav Mahler who died in Auschwitz.
The scene also shows a moment of transformation, from performer to prisoner, with a cross fade. The abrupt change alludes to the cultural whiplash the entire episode portrays.
The Angel is a Rebel
Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5
Aziraphale is more of a rebel than he lets on. He has that in common with Dmitri Shostakovich, whose music he favors at the start of the latest season of Good Omens. He doesn’t just find an album of Shostakovich’s music at the record shop next door, but he requests it. Given his long habit of showing up at important historic moments, one has to wonder if he met the composer.
When Shostakovich wrote his Symphony No. 5, he had been denounced by his government, and like Aziraphale he had narrowly escaped an interrogation and punishment. Publicly he appeared to accept the charge, subtitling the 5th, “An Artist’s Response to Just Criticism.” But the music itself tells a different story, with references to dashed hopes, false cheering of a czar, and a strong ending in a minor key. Shostakovich then seemed to have the approval of Stalin, but it only lasted for about 10 years. So if it is indeed playing the parallel of Aziraphale, then the angel probably shouldn’t get too comfortable with his new job.
L’amour in bread
Georges Bizet: Carmen - Habanera
And Just Like That
“Love is a rebellious bird that none can tame, and it is well in vain that one calls it, if it suits to refuse.”
Carmen, to put it mildly, enjoyed the thrill of the chase a bit too much for her own good. The same, with far less dire consequences, might be true of Anthony in And Just Like That. He resists the gorgeous Giuseppi, which is in reality resisting leaving his comfort zone. Anthony has always been considered one of the more free characters in the Sex and the City universe, and the famously sultry Habanera accompanies the rare moment where he actually holds back. Or, more accurately, stops holding himself back.
Claude Debussy: Suite Bergamasque - Clair de lune
All the Light We Cannot See
“Darkness lasts for only one second when you turn on the light.”
You’re immediately struck with how completely unfair life has been to Werner and Etienne in All the Light We Cannot See. Their world is both literally and metaphorically dark, with Etienne’s blindness and Werner’s position always underground and surrounded by rubble as the war rages on. Drawn together without knowing it as children with the professor’s radio broadcasts, it’s Debussy’s Clair de lune that symbolizes light to them. Even the poem of the same name, on which the piano work is based, retains that sadness underneath its whimsy.
Netflix gave the song a special feature on their social media, with pianist Mikayla Hernandez performing the piece in public.
16 year old blind pianist Mikayla Hernandez plays Clair de Lune from All the Light We Cannot See at Los Angeles' Union Station. Media Accessible Description: 16-year-old Mikayla Hernandez walks through Los Angeles’ Union Station. She is blind, and finds her way to a baby grand piano in the center of a large concourse with the use of her white cane. Upon sitting down at the piano, she begins to play Clair de Lune as a crowd of travelers and patrons gather around her. Some people are taking videos with their phones, others just take a minute to listen. Upon conclusion of the song, everyone applauds Mikayla’s playing.♬ original sound - Netflix
Charles Gounod: Faust - Jewel Song
The Gilded Age
Don’t come for Bertha Russell. Because she’ll crush you. And she’ll do it with undeniable style.
Fed up with not yet having a box at the Academy of Music, Russell joins Team New York Metropolitan Opera, and begins recruiting the uppertens to join her.
The Russells host a dinner party for opera lovers wherein the first Met season is announced, including Christina Nilsson in the role of Marguerite in Faust (true to the Met’s actual opening night). In a move that makes the Kardashians look like amateurs, Mrs. Russell has her foyer converted to the lush garden scene during dinner to have Nilsson make an appearance and perform.
The episode is not only a testament to the accuracy to which the producers of The Gilded Age have committed (the aria is performed, as it would have been at the Met in the time, in Italian), but also a metaphor that works on several levels for the bejeweled Russell family. Either way, it’s a magical first shot in the real social battle.
Variations for a restless princess
Johann Sebastian Bach: Goldberg Variations
We all knew what would happen in this season of The Crown, so the drama comes more from the foreboding and restlessness that precede Princess Diana’s tragedy. Much of what we see is imagined, apocryphal, or rumored. But the anticipation is intense.
Also apocryphal (probably) would be the story of JS Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Count Goldberg was suffering from insomnia, and asked for some clavier music to help him pass the time. Whether this is true or not, that makes it the perfect music for Princess Diana’s restlessness on her final day. For that last evening’s dinner in Paris, she seems uncomfortable, and in the background at the Ritz, Goldberg’s variations don’t actually seem to provide any relaxation at all.
Diamonds are Forever but this deal is no diamond
Karl Jenkins: Palladio
The Morning Show
Welsh composer Karl Jenkins came to the world’s attention this year thanks to a conspiracy theory about a disguised princess at the coronation of England’s King Charles II. He took the moment in stride, pointing the spotlight on his music instead. And that was all before his most famous work was used in the final episode of this season of The Morning Show.
Palladio, paying tribute to a renaissance architect of the same name, is best known from the DeBeers “Diamonds are forever” campaign. But its the intensity and repetitive tension that makes it perfect for the boardroom scene in The Morning Show, as all of the season’s plots and plans come together and fall apart all at once. Showing that while diamonds are forever, very little in the world of media is the same.