Music Break: 5 Memorable Piano Moments on Film

MemorablePianoMoments

As a big fan of classical music, I have always been a fan of piano music. In fact, I grew up listening to Richard Clayderman in the car nearly every single day as the French pianist is my late mother’s favorite.

This month’s music break is inspired by a scene I saw on Monday night. It was in the new drama Breathe-In starring Guy Pearce who plays a music teacher and aspiring concert cellist who’s tempted by a high school British exchange student in the form of Felicity Jones. There is a scene where she played the piano for him right after both being drenched by a thunderstorm. Brimming with breathless sexual tension, let’s just say their mutual attraction reached a crescendo.

It made me think of other memorable piano scenes in movies. Now, I’m not talking about films that are about musicians like Amadeus, Immortal Beloved, Copying BeethovenGreat Balls of Fire! or movies with piano/pianist in the title for obvious reasons (plus I haven’t seen The Pianist yet, but I’m guessing there are many piano moments in it). No matter what the genre, a well-choreographed piano scene is not just about the music itself. As some of these scenes exemplify, they can stir up various emotions, whether it’s sweet, fun, tense, happy, melancholy, or ominous.

Here are five to start with and I hope you, my friends, can add your own favorites in the comment section:

STOKER

Just like the scene in Breathe-In, the sexual tension is ricocheting off the walls and the ceiling of the whole room. So much so that one can’t help but squirm in one’s seat as the scene reaches its er, climax.

Casablanca

“Play it once, Sam, for old times’ sake.” It’s one of the most misquoted line from Hollywood classics. I love this scene, it’s romantic but tinged with sadness. Ingrid Bergman never looked so luminous and As Time Goes By remains one of my favorite songs ever.

Corpse Bride

I didn’t plan on having an animated feature on this list but somehow I just remembered how much I enjoyed this scene. It’s one of my fave Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter many collaborations, and they made a sweet musical duet.

Groundhog Day

This is such a great movie as it’s full of surprises. I love Phil’s piano solo, especially when he played Rachmaninoff’s 18th Variation on a Theme by Paganini, as in the music used in Somewhere in Time.

Moonraker

What, a Bond film? Well, why the heck not? I’ve shared it on this blog before that my early introduction to classical music was partly through Roger Moore’s Bond movies, as the Spy Who Loved Me introduced me to Mozart as Bond villain Stromberg played Piano Concerto No. 21. This scene is particularly memorable as it’s the first time Bond met his nemesis Drax, an elegant billionaire with a penchant for killer dogs and classical music.


As a bonus, I had to add this one in The Fabulous Baker Boys. Though really who notices the piano when you’ve got Michelle Pfeiffer in that red dress, ahah. Amazing that Jeff Bridges didn’t make one false notes watching her sexy rendition of Making Whopee.


Well, hope you enjoy today’s music break. What are some of YOUR fave piano moments in movies?

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71 thoughts on “Music Break: 5 Memorable Piano Moments on Film

    1. Thank you Chris! Stoker is full of great scenes but the piano one is just superb. Ha..ha.. I should’ve said in the post, ‘something other than the BIG piano scene but yeah of course it counts 😀

  1. Liz

    The piano beach scene from The Piano, in which Ada plays into the night while her daughter dances and Harvey Keitel watches.

    1. Hi Liz! He..he.. I knew someone would mention that scene tho I said that I deliberately excluded movies w/ the word piano/pianist in the title. But yeah that is definitely a memorable scene 😀 Thanks for stopping by, hope you are well!

  2. Fine set, Ruth. Glad to see Drax make your list. He’s was of the better Bond villains, just in one of the poorer OO7 films. Here would be my pick, and from something I’m sure you’ve not seen. One of the few and truly quiet moments in Neil Marshall’s stellar and ferocious debut horror film from 2002, Dog Soldiers. It uses Debussey’s wonderful Clair de Lune movement from his third and most famous movement of Suite bergamasque to marvelous effect.

    1. Yay, glad you like Drax too! Moonraker is kind of hilarious but I have a special fondness for Drax. Oooh this is a beautiful scene! I haven’t seen Dog Soldiers before, I think I should right? 😉

      1. Ever watch a Neil Marshall film before? Kinda bloody, but also bloody good fun 😉 Check out Centurion, first. Stars Michael Fassbender and Dominic West, and let’s you know what you’re in for. Dog Soldiers is a modern werewolf tale that features a splendid Brit cast. Kevin McKidd Sean Pertwee, Emma Cleasby (who is in the scene I linked to), and Liam Cunningham. Let me know what you if you see either of them.

        1. Oh I did see Centurion and I quite like that one. Indeed it’s bloody! Oooh, I like that cast of Dog Soldiers! A modern werewolf tale? Hey I might be up for that, I remember Timothy Dalton played a werewolf once in an episode of Tales From the Crypt 😀

  3. Oh what a great post Ruth! I love that you included Stoker. What an eerie and uncomfortable scene that is. And of course you mentioned my automatic number one – Casablanca. I would play anything in the world that the beautiful Ingrid Bergman asked me to play. 🙂

    Another of my very favorites would be The Music Box starring Laurel and Hardy. The whole thing involves a piano but it is sidesplitting hilarious.

    1. Hi ya Keith! Glad you approve of the Stoker one, and I knew you’d love the inclusion of Casablanca but it’s definitely memorable and packs an emotional punch! Ha..ha.. Ingrid at her most beautiful here, I don’t blame you!

      Man I watched Laurel and Hardy as a kid but for some reason I skipped The Music Box. I should look for that!

  4. Hey, Ruth. I haven’t seen Moonraker, but the rest are great.

    Can I add the chopsticks scene in Big (with the floor piano)? Or does that not quite count?

  5. Ted S.

    I only saw two movies on your list there, I still have yet to see Stoker, want to wait till I get a new projector to watch it. I really like Groundhog Day but I have no memory of that scene from Moonraker since it’s such an awful Bond flick. I hope in the coming Bond flicks, the producers will attempt to adapt Fleming’s book more faithfully, the book was excellent.

    1. You might enjoy Stoker Ted. It’s quite stylish and not as violent (which I like) as Park’s other films. Ahah well Moonraker is like a comedy but it’s one of my guilty pleasures from Moore’s era.

  6. Reading this makes me want to see Stoker again! Wow. Matthew Goode is just phenomenal. Personally, I’d rather see actors in situations like these rather than full on nudity. Anyone can grunt and moan, but a real actor should be able to make someone squirm just with a look. Great list!

    1. I should rewatch it too at some point. Good is deliciously devilish wasn’t he? I so agree w/ you that these types of minimalist scenes achieved far more impact than gratuitous sex scenes! Goode certainly made me squirm in my seat the way he looked at Mia here.

    1. He..he.. that seems to be the popular one. It is indeed a classic that’s why I didn’t include it. Besides, I was thinking of a regular piano, not a gigantic version, ahah.

  7. Nice post, glad to see Groundhog Dog on the list. Of course I have to be that guy and ask what about Edward and Bella’s piano moment from the first Twilight? ha ha

    1. I haven’t seen The Pianist yet but as I mentioned above I’m excluding those w/ piano/pianist in the title as it’ll be too obvious 😀 I’d have put Shine on here if I had seen it, surely Geoffrey Rush was superb in it.

  8. jackdeth72

    Hi, Ruth:

    Great catches on Stoker and The Fabulous Baker Boys !

    I caught Stoker on Epic this weekend. Kind of creepy homage to Hitchcock and Shadow Of A Doubt , Rope, Strangers on a Train and other classics.. Lots of shock moments and the actress who plays India is full of surprises. I liked how the director highlighted India’s heightened senses in several scenes. And he couldn’t have found a more disturbing, quietly smiling “Norman Bates” like character in the actor who played Uncle Charley.

    Also good catch with 70srichard’s The Competition .

    1. Hey Kevin! Stoker is exquisitely made, glad I made an exception and saw that one as I was initially worried it’d be too violent for me judging from the director’s previous work. Yeah Mia Wasikowska is one talented young actress, and Matthew Goode certainly is one underrated actor.

  9. Oh good call with Stoker! This is probably the first piano scene that comes to my mind, another being Brandon seeing Marianne play in Sense and Sensibility.

    1. Oooh, I’m so glad someone mention my favorite scene from my favorite film Sense & Sensibility! I was thisclose to including that but I’ve featured that scene so many times before on this blog, ahah. It is memorable indeed!

  10. I’m drawing a blank on most memorable piano performances, although it does make me think of the movie The Pianist.

    I went to piano lessons for about three years and decided to stop last year as I simply didn’t plan in enough time to really practice. One day I’ll pick it up again.

    1. I still need to see that one. Yeah I took a few years of piano lesson too but it was such a chore for me, I can’t play anymore, seems that my brain blocked it off, ahah.

      1. Excellent and very moving film. It wasn’t a chore to me as I really enjoyed it, but couldn’t spend as much time on it as I wanted to. Else I would not be able to blog as much 😉

  11. Great list! I love that you included Stoker. I think my favorite piano moments is Ava playing the piano on the beach in The Piano, while Flora is running around doing cartwheels. I love the piece she was playing. (The Heart Asks Pleasure First) For some reason the little girl playing the piano in Oliver and Company comes to mind as well. When she sings the Good Company song.

    1. Hi Brittani. It’s funny but even tho I saw The Piano, I barely remember that scene, that’s why it’s not on here. Besides seems too obvious considering the title is called The Piano, ahah.

  12. So many choices Ruth but I’ll go with these.

    Jack Nicholson playing the piano on the back of a flatbed truck in Five Easy Pieces was almost as memorable as the “chicken sandwich” scene.

    Chico playing the piano in almost any Marx Bros movie. If I had to pick it’d be the duet between Harpo and Chico in The Big Store.or Chico ‘shooting’ the keys from Monkey Business.

    Tim Roth in the piano duel scene with Jelly Roll Morton.from The Legend of 1900. I loved the way they shot this. Reminiscent of the recital scene from Shine.

    River Phoenix’s playing in Running On Empty. He learned to play the piano just for the movie. Even though they dubbed a professional player’s playing in later it’s pretty hard to tell. What could have been.

    Lastly is there anything as exquisite as watching Ingrid Bergman play the piano in Intermezzo. One of the great faces in all of cinema. Again like Running On Empty the music was dubbed in later by a professional although she actually played the piece as you can see in the clip below. Interestingly enough Leslie Howard couldn’t play the violin at all and had a professional violinist kneeling off screen for the close up shots and doing the fingering with his left hand. Quite odd if you think about it.

    1. Wow, great stuff Dave! Wish I had seen the films you mentioned. I’ve been wanting to see Running On Empty for ages, as I was a big fan of River Phoenix! Wow, what year was Intermezzo? Ingrid looks so young in there.

      1. It was 1939… three years before Casablanca. I actually dated and lived with a woman who looked a lot like Ingrid Bergman.She got that all the time…. from the older crowd that is.

        I was just looking at the trailer for Running On Empty… what a horrid trailer.

  13. Having only recently seen Stoker I’m not surprised to see it appear here. That scene was incredible even though I’m not entirely sure what to make of it.

    I love your other choices – particularly Bill Murray in Groundhog Day and of course Casablanca. Moonraker won’t make many top 5 lists so it’s nice to see it appear here as I’m a fan of Roger Moore’ Bond.

    A couple of alternatives – Tom Hanks on the BIG piano in Big, and how about Richard Gere wooing Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.

    1. Ahah I’m not sure what to make of Stoker as a whole either, but there sure are some memorable scenes.

      Moonraker probably would make a lot of people’s Worst Bond list but it’s more of a guilty pleasure for me as it’s so goofy at times. But Drax is a great Bond villain!

      Ahah, I didn’t want to include BIG as I was thinking more of a regular piano, not a gigantic version. I did remember the Pretty Woman one tho there’s not much piano playing was there? 😉

  14. OMG!

    So YES to all of this! Love this post so much Ruth. That scene in Stoker was my favorite in the film, actually…and that ICONIC scene in Fabulous Baker Boys is just perfection.

    1. Hi Andrew! Glad you love this, even more so after reading your comment 😀 That could be my fave scene in Stoker as well and FBB is well, fabulous!

  15. Great picks! Casablanca would be one of my favorite moments too.

    Some of mine would be:

    Three Colors: Blue – When Juliette Binoche plays a piece of music her late husband wrote.

    Once – When Marketa Irglova plays “The Hill”. (couldn’t find the clip, but here’s the song)

    The Aristocats – When the cats perform “Scales and Arpeggios”.

      1. Ruth, as having seen the Three Colors trilogy I can say, speaking for myself, that I thought Blue was good, White was better and Red just left my jaw on the floor. See them in order though. Blue, White then Red. I can’t stress this enough. The final image of the trilogy, from Red, will take your breath away.

  16. Love this list! I especially like you put the Corpse Bride on there which was kinda unexpected. I hated Stoker though, I can’t help it – what a contrived, boring movie xD. But yeah, that scene was great.

    1. Hi Manon! Yeah I love Corpse Bride. As for Stoker, I think it’s the first time I saw someone describe Stoker as boring, but hey to each their own. I have to admit I didn’t know what to expect going into it as I’ve never seen any of Park’s films before.

      1. Lol! My experience may have been affected because I watched it during my thesis period, and I was extremely stressed out, and every movie I watched felt like it dragged on forever because I had so much on my mind, :p. Maybe I should watch it again some time. Also, I wanted to mention Amélie, though I don’t remember whether there’s an actual piano scene in the movie, it’s one of my all time favorite movie soundtracks and it’s mostly piano. I love Yann Tiersen and it’s just pure brilliance.

  17. When I saw the title, my mind immediately went to the scene in Once, where “Falling Slowly” was played. In fact it was one of the highlights of the film and such a magical moment.

  18. Hi Ruth. Sorry I’m late to your post. I’ve been on holiday to Lake Como in Italy, so I’ve been out of the blogging loop for the last week or so.
    I’ve only seen Moonraker of your choices, but what can I say about your bonus selection?
    The Fabulous Baker Boys is one of the few soundtracks I own, as much for Dave Grusin’s piano playing as Michelle’s singing, and I can only echo what Roger Ebert had to say about La Pfeiffer in his original review.

    “This (The Fabulous Baker Boys) is one of the movies they will use as a document, years from now, when they begin to trace the steps by which Pfeiffer became a great star. I cannot claim that I spotted her unique screen presence in her first movie, which, I think, was “Grease II,” but certainly by the time she made “Ladyhawke” and “Tequila Sunrise” and “Dangerous Liaisons” and “Married to the Mob,” something was going on. This is the movie of her flowering – not just as a beautiful woman, but as an actress with the ability to make you care about her, to make you feel what she feels. All of those qualities are here in this movie, and so is the “Makin’ Whoopee” number, which I can only praise by adding it to a short list: Whatever she’s doing while she performs that song isn’t merely singing; it’s whatever Rita Hayworth did in “Gilda” and Marilyn Monroe did in “Some Like It Hot,” and I didn’t want her to stop.”

    Have a great weekend.

    1. Hi Paul! I was wondering when you’ll stop by 😉 What a lovely holiday to Lake Como, how lucky!

      Wow, gotta agree with mr Ebert there, what a spot on comment on La Pfeiffer. That must be a great soundtrack too, I should listen to ’em all. My hubby is a big fan of Gruisin.

  19. Nice picks, Ruth! (though I wasn’t a big fan of Stoker) I quite liked the clip from Corpse Bride; didn’t remember that scene! And I watched Casablanca many years ago. I guess I was still very young and I didn’t think much of it, but what a great scene. Ingrid Bergman is stellar.

    1. Hi Fernando, seems that some people aren’t keen on Stoker but no doubt that piano scene is memorable, right? Bergman is absolutely stunning in Casablanca and I really like her speaking voice, too.

  20. Great picks! I loved the piano scenes in Breathe In. I think one of my favorites is Jack Nicholson singing and crying alone while playing the piano in As Good As It Gets. Nice little moment there.

    1. Hi there Alex! Oh that is a great scene in As Good As It Gets, quite emotional indeed.

      Btw, I just posted my review of Breathe In yesterday. You’ve seen that one, I take it? What did you think?

    1. Oooh that piano scene in AOC is the one w/ Benedict Cumberbatch right?? I love his role there, so different from anything else I’ve seen him in.

  21. Pingback: Music Break: Top 10 Favorite Film Scores of 2014 |

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