Tribute to Ken Russell: his best classical music films

Insightful, shocking, lurid, masterful: eight examples of Russell's composer portraits on film.

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The death of British film and opera director Ken Russell this week has refocused attention on his remarkable biopics exploring the lives of the great composers. From his early 1960s black-and-white efforts for the BBC to the decadent bombast of the controversial Lisztomania, and even the film that was banned: we pay our respects to a perennial enfant terrible and his wild imagination. This uncompromising iconoclast is perhaps the greatest composer ever to embrace classical music as his subject and main source of inspiration.

Elgar: Portrait of a Composer (1962)

One of Russell's most beautifully understated films, Elgar was the first in his documentary series for Monitor. It opens with a wonderfully free-spirited image of the young Elgar riding his horse through the English countryside to the tune of the Introduction and Allegro for Strings. With this film he made broadcasting history – it was the first arts program devoted to a single subject for an entire hour, the first to feature re-enactments, and also the first in which the music took the driver's seat. This excerpt explains the origins of the Enigma Variations.

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Tribute to Ken Russell: his best classical music films
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