The piano was the star in these films!

May 04, 2016, 08:11 IST | A Correspondent

On the birth anniversary of Italian musician and instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori, we look at major motion pictures, in which his invention, the piano, played an important role in the narrative...

One of the most popular and widely known musical instruments, the piano has been a integral to popular culture since the past two centuries. It has been a staple at musical concerts, theatre and various other aspects of the performing arts over the years. With the advent of cinema, another feature was added to its status: that of a plot device.

Representational picture. Thinkstock photos

On the 360th birth anniversary of Italian musician and instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori, the man who has been credited as, 'the father of the piano', we look at a select list of major motion pictures, in which his invention, played an important role in the narrative... (All pics/YouTube)

Five Easy Pieces

'Five Easy Pieces' (1970): Hollywood legend Jack Nicholson plays Bobby Dupea, a former piano prodigy estranged from his family. Nicholson was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in the film. The title of the film is derived from five classical piano pieces that were played during it's course, which include, Frédéric Chopin's Fantasy in F minor, Op. 49, Johann Sebastian Bach's Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat major, Chopin's Prelude in E minor, Op. 28, No. 4, Mozart's Fantasy in D minor. Jack Nicholson's character Bobby is seen playing both Chopin pieces from the aforementioned list effortlessly on the piano in the film.

The Competition

'The Competition' (1980): This romantic drama, in which actors Richard Dreyfuss and Amy Irving portrayed two fictional pianists namely Paul Dietrich and Heidi Joan Schoonover, who compete a financial grant and two years of concert engagements only to become romantically invovled. A key scene in the film has actress Amy Irving's character Heidi Joan Schoonover rendering a magnificent performance of another concerto after being unable to play the one she prepared due to her piano developing a technical problem. One of the pieces featured is Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major.


'Amadeus' (1984): A feature film adaptation of Peter Shaffer's 1979 stage play of the same name tells the story of how composer Antonio Salieri recognizes the genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart but thwarts him out of pride and envy. Film composer John Strauss won a Grammy Award for producing the soundtrack to the film, which contains Mozart's major works. In a famous scene Mozart (played by Tom Hulce) performs the 'March of Welcome' piano movement of Antonio Salieri (played by F. Murray Abraham) effortlessly after only hearing it once and transforms it into the Non più andrai march from his 1786 opera 'The Marriage of Figaro'. 'Amadeus' was a critical and commercial success and won 8 Oscars, one of which went to actor F. Murray Abraham - Best Actor in a Leading Role for his portrayal of Salieri.

Great Balls of Fire!

'Great Balls of Fire!' (1989): Actor Dennis Quaid emulates legendary rock 'n' roll pianist, Jerry Lee Lewis' wild piano style in this biopic. It features many of the artist's hits such as Great Balls of Fire, Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On, and Wild One. Quaid recreates Lewis' famous routine of setting the piano on fire, while peforming the song, 'Great Balls of Fire' in a scene from the film. It received mixed reviews, with critics praising Dennis Quaid's portrayal as Jerry Lee Lewis. In fact, although the singer himself has gone on record stating that he hated the film for it's biased depiction of him, he nonetheless hailed Quaid's performance saying, "he really pulled it off."

The Piano

'The Piano' (1993): A romantic drama about a mute Scottish piano player and her daughter set during the mid-19th century on the west coast of New Zealand. It starred Holly Hunter as mute Scotswoman Ada McGrath and future 'X-Men' franchise actress Anna Paquin as her 11-year-old daughter. The movie revolves around the piano player's passion for playing the instrument and her efforts to regain it after it is sold. 'The Piano' was a critical and box-office success and won 3 Academy Awards out of 8 nominations, two of which went to actors Holly Hunter (who won Best Actress) and Anna Paquin (who won Best Supporting Actress). Director Jane Campion won for Best Original Screenplay. The film's score for the piano by Michael Nyman became a best-selling soundtrack album, and Hunter played her own piano pieces.


'Shine' (1996): This was a biopic on the life of brilliant Australian pianist David Helfgott, who suffered from mental illness. Actor Geoffrey Rush played Helfgott in the film and his performance was met with much acclaim. Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 (referred to as "the Rach 3") is prominently featured in the movie. An interesting scene shows an unkempt and disoriented Helfgott (played by Rush) wandering into a restaurant and surprising the patrons by effortlessly playing the popular composition, 'The Flight of the Bumblebee'. Although the film has been a critical and commerical success with Geoffrey Rush winning the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role it has been met with strong criticism and opposition from David Helfgott's family members for a range of alleged inaccuracies.

The Pianist

'The Pianist' (2002): American actor Adrian Brody essayed Polish pianist Władysław Szpilman in the Jewish Ghetto of 1940's Warsaw. Based on the true life of Szpilman, Brody's performance netted him the Academy Award for Best Actor. Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and Chopin's Ballade No. 1 in G minor were some of the more popular pieces played in the film. The actor withdrew for months, gave up his apartment and his car, broke up with his then-girlfriend in order to prepare for his role and learned how to play compositions of Chopin on the piano.

The Beat That My Heart Skipped

'The Beat That My Heart Skipped' (2005): Alternatively titled, 'De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté', this French film tells the story of Tom, a shady realtor torn between a criminal life and his desire to become a concert pianist. It is a remaking of the 1978 American film, 'Fingers'. Lead actor Romain Duris learned to play his own piano sequences–most notably, Bach's Toccata in E minor, trained by his sister, pianist Caroline Duris, who performs on the soundtrack. The film also focuses on the relationship between Duris' character Thomas Seyr and his piano teacher Miao Lin a piano virtuoso, who speaks only Chinese, Vietnamese and some English, but no French, played by actress Linh Dan Pham.

Bartolomeo Cristofori

About Bartolomeo Cristofori
Bartolomeo Cristofori is generally credited as the inventor of the modern piano. He was employed as the Keeper of the Instruments at the court of Ferdinando de' Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany. An expert harpsichord maker, Bartolomeo Cristofori was well acquainted with the body of knowledge on stringed keyboard instruments. (Read more)

Bartolomeo Cristofori's Google Doodle

Bartolomeo Cristofori's Google Doodle

Google honoured Bartolomeo Cristofori on his 360th birth anniversary with a special animated doodle of a man playing the piano with the instruments interior parts magnified for the viewer. (Pic courtesy Google)

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