World Cup of Classical Music: Germany vs. Argentina

Celebrate the World Cup winners – as well as the second-place team – with a little Classical 101, Germany and Argentina editions.

Classical 101: Germany

German classical music and German classical musicians have played a major role in the development of the genre, with a significant contribution to orchestral works and operas. Mozart’s Die Zauberföte, for example, remains among the most beloved operas, and Beethoven’s symphonies are considered prime examples of the Romantic era. Robert Schumann is also credited with the creation of lied, a mixture of romantic poetry and music.

In honor of yesterday’s victory, get to know the biggest composers from this World Cup-winning country:

Johann Sebastian Bach

J.S. Bach

Born in 1685 in Eisenach, Johann Sebastian Bach was a Baroque composer who Beethoven described as “the original father of harmony.” Although he was not recognized as a great composer during his lifetime, Bach’s fame developed during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He is famed for his more than 300 cantatas (of which close to 100 have been lost) as well as his music’s intellectual depth and beauty. An example of this can be heard in his Christ lag in Todesbanden.

Ludwig van Beethoven


Born in 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven is perhaps the most famous German composer of all time. Despite his hearing loss during the later stages of his life, he became a crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic musical periods, and  remains one of the most influential of all composers. One of Beethoven’s most famous works in his Symphony No. 9.

Robert Schumann


Robert Schumann was born in 1810 and brought forth a new type of music called lied. After a hand injury ended his dreams of becoming Europe’s finest pianist, Schumann turned his energies to composition and is now recognized as one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era. Listen to his Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54 to hear the composer’s prowess.



Richard Wagner was born in 1813 in Leipzig and is known for his operatic works. His compositions are known for their complex textures and rich harmonies. Arguably his most famous work is his Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). It’s famous “Ride of the Valkyries” can be heard below:



And to honor the second-place winner in the 2014 World Cup…

Classical 101: Argentina

Argentina’s contribution to classical music does not match that of Germany’s, but this should not detract from their legacy. Argentinians have contributed widely to many forms of classical music. Opera must be considered one of the main areas of classical composition. The Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires is considered one of the best opera houses in the world and represents the counties dedication to the art form. The country is less known for producing romantic and conservative compositions such as orchestral and piano works.

Alberto Williams


Alberto Williams, born in 1865 in Buenos Aires, is known as a pianist, conductor, and a pedagogue. While he was in Paris as a young man, Williams took lessons in composition from César Franck, who supposedly became fond of Williams. He is known for his orchestral works with his Symphony No. 2 in C Minor being one of the most popular.

Carlos Guastavino


Carlos Guastavino was born in 1912 in Santa Fe Province and is considered one of the most prominent Argentine composers of the twentieth century. He generated 500 compositions throughout his life and many were based on Argentine folk songs. He is sometimes referred to as the “Schubert of the Pamapas” and his songs Pueblito, mi pueblo, la rosa y el sauce (“The Rose and the Willow”) and Se eqivovó la paloma(“The Dove was Wrong”) have now become national favorites.

Alberto Ginastera


Born in 1916 in Buenos Aires, Alberto Ginastera became a peer of Guastavino and established himself as another of Argentina’s great twentieth century composers. He is famously known for his composition of the opera Don Rodrigo, but is also known for his orchestral works.


You Know More Opera Than You Think

Not familiar with opera? You may know more opera tunes than you might think. Here are a few you may recognize:

Shawshank Redemption
“Duettino – Sull’aria” from Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) by W. A. Mozart

Shawshank RedemptionShawshank Redemption remains perhaps one cinema’s best and most famous movies of all time. The 1994 American drama film starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins tells the story of a banker (played by Tim Robbins) who, despite claiming his innocence, spends 19 years at Shawshank Prison for murdering his wife and her lover. The banker, named Andy Dufresne, befriends a fellow inmate, Ellis “Red” Redding (played by Morgan Freeman), and begins assisting the warden in a money laundering operation to gain protection from the prison guards against inmate violence towards him.

One of the most powerful scenes of the movie occurs when Andy, after locking a prison guard out of the warden’s office, plays Mozart’s “Sull’aria” from Le Nozze di Figaro over the prison public announcement system.

Occurring in Act Three, the aria is a duet between Contessa and Susanna. Contessa dictates a letter designed to expose the infidelity of her husband. The song reflects Dufresne’s wife’s affair, but at the same time provides hope and peace for the rest of the prisoners. Considered one of the greatest cinematic uses of opera, many people fail to recognize the power of opera not only in movies, but in society in general.


“La Mamma Morta” from Andrea Chénier by Umberto Giordano 

PhiladelphiaThe 1993 release of Philadelphia represented one of the first mainstream Hollywood movies to address HIV/AIDS. Tom Hanks, who won the Academy Award for Best Actor for the role, portrayed a successful Philadelphia lawyer who, unbeknownst to his law firm, has AIDS. Beckett is not open about his homosexuality or sickness around the office, but one day one of the firm’s partners discovers a lesion on Beckett’s forehead. He is soon fired, which Beckett believes is because of his illness.  Beckett decides to sue his law firm for discrimination. A poignant scene from the film shows Beckett and his soon to be attorney, Joe Miller (played by Denzel Washington), listening to one of Beckett’s favorite opera arias.

“La Mamma Morta” from Andrea Chénier, an aria sung by the character Maddalena di Coigny, tells the story of how her mother was killed protecting her during the French Revolution. Maddalena describes how she almost gave up on life after the events. After hearing the “voice of love,” however, she chooses to go on with her life. In the film, Beckett states this is his favorite opera. Miller, while watching Beckett react to the aria, comes finds a man who loves life and deserves more than discrimination. Through the aria, Miller learns what Beckett is truly feeling. The scene becomes a turning point for Miller’s involvement in Beckett’s lawsuit.


Apocalypse Now
“Ride of the Valküres” from Die Walküre by Richard Wagner

Apocalypse NowApocalypse Now, released in 1979, is an epic war film depicting the Vietnam War. One would not think that opera would appear in movie set during this time, but Wagner’s famous “Ride of the Valküres” appears very fittingly. The figure of the Valkyrie derives from Norse mythology. They are female figures who pick certain soldiers who have died on the battle field and take them to Valhalla, the afterlife hall of slain warriors. In Apocalypse Now, a group of soldiers attack a Vietnamese village on a beach and during the process blare Wagner’s famous operatic tune from their helicopters’ speakers to intimidate the enemy. The now famous battle scene perfectly utilizes the tune to show the soldiers’ heroic nature.

The song is triumphal and symbolizes riding into hell itself. (Watch this version from New York Metropolitan Opera’s production.) The song allows for the director to juxtapose the heroic nature of the American soldiers with the poor moral justifications of the character of Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore for being there in the first place: he wanted a nice surfing position.


Your Turn…

What are some other movies that have featured opera pieces? Tell us some of your favorite opera moments in film in the comments below.