How Wagner helped Francis Coppola succeed

The power of music is immense, to put it mildly. And it has been used and abused throughout history.  Watch Wagner’s music through the eyes and ears of Francis Coppola:

Francis Coppola won an Oscar for best film music for Apocalypse Now. And that’s where Richard Wagner and his The Ride of The Valkyries come in.

It’s amazing how the music contribute to enhancing our experience of the movie, isn’t it? Imagine the scene without Wagner’s music. It wouldn’t be as powerful would it? Can you actually imagine movies without music? The experience would be diminished, wouldn’t it?

Using or abusing music

Wagner and his music is perhaps the best example ever of how music can be used and abused.

Most people get married with The Wedding March from Lohengrin played when the bride enters church. The Nazis however used Wagner’s music for propaganda purposes because he was Hitler’s favourite composer.

So we have the contradiction of some people associating Wagner with getting married and some with the Nazi party and Hitler. Couples getting married are hence using Wagner’s music in a, presumably, positive sense while the Nazis abused it to serve their own needs. They did the same to the swastika symbol which is now, thanks to the Third Reich, associated with murder and oppression. That’s far from the symbol of spiritual victory it has been for milleniums.

Associations die hard, unfortunately

Interesting how a movement can taint a symbol or music and make it suddenly stand for their ideology, isn’t it? Wagner was controversial but he was dead and gone long before Hitler and the Nazis came to power. And the swastika had been a positive symbol for thousands of years.

Truly wish the people that are still using Wagner’s music as a reminder of the holocaust would instead use Nazi songs like Horst Wessel’s Die Fahne Hoch. That would be truly appropriate. But as long as some people link Wagner to the Nazis we all have to take that into account.

Music enforce your message

Different music puts you in different moods and makes you feel different. That’s why music in commercials has such powerful affects. It makes you feel a certain way about what’s being offered. The music can even make people purchase something they wouldn’t otherwise have been interested in. For better or for worse.

Chose the wrong music at your peril

People can also be put off by the choice of music. Sometimes even by the fact that music has been added to a web site and starts playing the minute you click on it can make you leave a site.

So it’s essential to know when music will have a positive affect and make a choice that will benefit you by enhancing your message. Using Wagner’s wedding march to illustrate the scene from Apocalypse Now in the video would for instance have confused the audience. Everybody would have been looking for the bride.

Do you use music to get your message across? If so, where and in what ways? Have you noticed how different types of music makes people do different things? Does music in a commercial sometimes put you off? Music gave Francis Coppola an Oscar. What can it do for you?

Video: Seok Joyeop – Picture: Todd Barnard

75 thoughts on “How Wagner helped Francis Coppola succeed

  1. So well said and I can support your premise of the power of music by telling you that my husband is in his office next door. I played the video and asked what movie it's from. He knew that and the composer.
    Sometimes in watching older movies before soundtracks were standard, it can be quite eerie without any music playing. I do not put music on my site and know what you mean about how it can be irritating when applied at the wrong time.

  2. Music is life and can touch the soul in so many ways. I find acoustic Spanish guitar the most soothing. One example of how tone can impact music is Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now." To hear her sing it as an adult versus when she was young is so eye-opening.

  3. Music is so important, if used properly. You are positively right, that using music can be a blessing or curse. It can either be a total success, or a total failure.
    I am created a video to promote my medieval novel, so I have chosen several medieval pieces. Soft, entrance music, then shifting to more a marching type, when the video changes tempo.
    Wagner's Ring opera's appealed to the Nazi mythos of a previous superior Aryan race, this is why it was Hitler's favorite.
    Was not only Apocalypse Now, but Wagner was used in one of my favorite movies, John Boorman's Excalibur.

    1. Absolutely. Am personally upset about Wagner's beautiful music being associated with Hitler and the nazis. His music is fantastic and should be recognized for its qualities.

  4. I have never used music for my business but I do know how powerful it can be. Films such as The Godfather, The Omen and your typical thriller rely heavily on music to enhance the scene. Without music films would be flat and evoke little emotion from the viewer.

  5. I love music and like with most people, it can bring up great (and also bad) memories. I actually do not like websites that automatically play music when you visit the site. I find it quite annoying and it makes me want to exit it straight away if I can't find the pause button. The same goes for videos actually. Not sure why I react this way. I guess I would prefer to have the choice of whether to play it or not?

    1. We agree that websites that automatically starts playing music is annoying. But there are many other areas where music can be used in beneficial ways. A video promoting something, for instance.

  6. I do enjoy learning about how music played a part in Coppola's movie successes. Along with other classical composers, I have been a fan of Wagner's. I can also see using a score without deep consideration could confuse and enrage a person instead of the reaction one hoped to achieve.

    1. Yes, Susan, music is powerful isn't it. Also love Wagner. Unfortunately his operas are too long. Didn't even bother to watch them at the opera in Vienna when I lived there.

  7. Catarina, when you stated that music can make people buy things I was reminded about what I learned about shopping. The music that is played in stores often contains a subliminal message encouraging customers to buy. Since I became aware of that I make sure to stick to my list.
    For sure movies without music would not be the same. The swell of the music prepares you for dramatic scenes.

  8. I admit that if music automatically starts playing when I enter a website, I usually click out as soon as possible. Sometimes I want to stick around and read something, but I can't figure out how to turn off the music without muting my computer which I then usually forget to unmute when I do want to listen to something. I was a musician through university. I played the oboe in a symphony orchestra. For me, music is very evocative. Some TV shows in the US, use new music very well during appropriate scenes.

    1. Agree with you completely about music automatically starting on a website. It's annoying. Using music to benefit you requires a much more creative approach. For some websites it actually would not be beneficial.

  9. Hi Catarina: I've never used music to promote my biz and I don't have plans to. but I can certainly relate to what you're saying about how some companies use music very effectively to promote their brands. Jeep comes to mind with that song called "Renegade." I like the song do much I downloaded it, after hearing it numerous times in the commercial. And yes, that leave a positive reinforcement on the brand in my mind–though not enough to go out and purchase a Jeep1

  10. Wagner may have been dead when Hitler arrived, but he was antiemetic. Many of his villains in his operas are caricature of Jewish people.
    I do think it is fascinating, how music can be viewed and how it motivates us. You spoke of “Apocalypse Now” using Ride of the Valkyries, but for me my first exposure to classical music was Bugs Bunny.
    To this day I hear the Barber of Seville, and I think of a classic Bugs Bunny cartoon.
    Thanks for sharing this with us.

    1. That doesn't change the fact that, in my opinion, his music is amazing, William:-) My first experience really was Peter and The Wolf. My late father loved classical music and made us listen to that when we were really small. By the way, he wasn't keen on Wagner' music. When I lived in Vienna I used to go to the opera all the time. But sitting through one of Wagner's operas is too much for me simply because they are soooooooooooooo long.

  11. So true Catarina, music evokes emotion.
    I love listening to music! Life without music would be very boring. Can’t imagine life without music.
    Websites that plays music as soon as you land on the home page is a big turn off.

  12. Music is a very powerful tool. It often moves people to action, conveys a message and serves as a catalyst for change. But it is easy to see how music can be misused like the Nazi’s did.

    It interesting now in the U.S. as we are again gearing up for presedential campaigns and the election to see the music that candidates chose to attach to their campaigns. What is even more interesting is when the artist contacts the campaign to say do not use my music. I don’t support you. I guess they have no problem voicing when they feel that their music is being misused for political purposes today.

    In podcasts I open/close with music hoping to enhance the experience. However, I do tend to dislike websites where music just begins to blare as soon as you open it. I usually just close the site immediately.

  13. This is a really interesting topic to me. In fact, I made the conscious decision not to have “the wedding march” in my wedding, because I didn’t like the nazi association, even though it’s not usually what people think of when they hear the song. Music is indeed powerful. This made me think of the scene in The Godfather where the opera music is playing during the baptism and it’s also a backdrop to all the mob murders. If you haven’t seen it, check it out for a great example of your point.

  14. I do not use music to get my message across. I find it irritating when I land on a site and for no reason it starts playing music. However In the right place and done well, music can be powerful as it tweaks our emotions. My daughter walked down the isle to Pachelbel's Canon and that invoke emotions I can not express. I could not imagine life without music
    My recent post Staying Productive During the Dog Days of Summer

    1. Thank you for stopping by and re-inforcing what we all agree on i.e. that websites with music are annoying, Arleen. Glad you appreicate music and agree that it tweaks our emotins.

  15. I love listening to music! Particular songs will transport me back to the past – some memories good and others not so good.

    Music helps me to unwind and zone out. I enjoy blocking outside talk when on my commute.

    I would prefer not to hear music as soon as I click onto a site. In fact I immediately click off.

  16. I believe President Ronald Reagan used Bruce Springsteen’s hit Born in the USA when he was running for office. Luckily Bruce Springsteen was very much alive and well when this happened. That way h his people could notify the Reagan campaign, that if they listened to the lyrics in the song, they would notice is was an anti-USA song. Luckily, most people hold the rights to their songs when they are alive, but songs written 100s of years ago weren’t given that protection, especially since much of what we have available today wasn’t invented yet.

    1. Politicians are a great example of how music is used to reinforce their message, Erica. They do it all the time. Sometimes artists even protest because they don't want to be associated with the politician in question.

  17. Funny how I have never associated Wagner with the Nazi movement! But I have long loved classical movement and have brought a few of my friends into that realm simply by pointing out movie scores!

  18. Interesting article on the power of music. Music evokes memories and I can see how the associations with certain pieces of music can influence our perceptions of movies, ads, etc. I may pay more attention to an ad if I like the music. I admit that I dislike any web site which plays music automatically, whether I like the chosen piece or not.

  19. Catarina, I will never think of music the same again. Never thought of music being used but you’re right. Movies would not be near as absorbing without music. One of the worst ways music is abused, to my way of thinking, is that horrible music that you have to listed to while placed on hold. More times than not it makes me hang up.
    I love Wagner’s music and will continue to associate it with good – not horror (I hope).

  20. Music can be a two-edged sword. It can be healing, like with Gabby Giffords and her recovery from being shot. It can be painful, like when it brings back bad memories associated with a song. It can be uplifting, like those singing hymns during worship. It can be annoying, like the song from a TV commercial you can't get out of your head. Music touches the mind in a way nothing else can. It is a fact that the brain processes music differently and that it crosses both right and left hemispheres. So music is a very effective tool in many ways.
    My recent post Is Your Phone Celebrating July 4 With You?

  21. Catarina I'm not sure how many brides would have known the relationship of the Wedding March to Nazi propoganda so I take exception with your critique of it in that sense. Certainly I believe if that is common knowledge, it wouldn't have been accepted.

    But there is absolutely no doubt to the power of music.

    How often does a little tune stay in your head and you hum it all day long?

    Music even has healing powers and I know that first hand from my husband's first open heart bypass surgery.

    You know I have NOT yet used music on my blog or website but it is for sure worth thinking about! Thanks as usual for an insightful post.
    My recent post Stress Releasing Tips in Call Center Employees

    1. Yes Pat, the power of music is amazing, isn't it. Wonderful example of the healing power it had when your husband had heart bypass surgery. Once had a website done in Saudi Arabia and it started playing music when you clicked on it. Honestly found it annoying. And whenever I click on a website and it starts playing music I leave:-)

      As for the Wedding March. Why should we care about the fact that Hitler loved Wagner's music. It is beautiful regardless of that.

  22. Music has served as a catalyst for changes in it's form and it's message for many years. It still does that today. I understand how it also can be misused as it was with the Nazi's and Wagner.

    Coppola and all the great movie producers understood/understand the power music can bring to a movie and what it is they want it to convey, you're right without the movie would be pretty darn dull.

    I do use music in my podcast to start and to close. sometimes in the podcast themselves. My hope that it enhances it and make it a better or more pleasant experience for the listen. What are your thoughts? 🙂
    My recent post Red White and Blue Delight: Recipe

  23. You are so right! Just look at the immediate succéss with the tv serie Treme. They had a second season at the pilot mostly because of the music.

    I'll think more about the music in our next funnel.

    Thanks Catarina!

  24. Catarina, aloha. What a terrific idea for a blog post. In all my time reading them, I have yet to see this topic addressed.

    You are so right, Catarina, music lifts us up, pulls us down, let us know of approaching danger and enhances our lives in oh-so-many ways.

    Your post inspires me to go find a piece of music which will be the centerpiece of a post. Thx so starting my thoughts in a new direction, Catarina.

    Best wishes for a great day. Aloha. Janet

    P.S. When I create my post, I will be sure to give you the hat tip for the music idea.

  25. Music sets the mood, adding another dimension to the movie, presentation, etc. However, it does need to be treated with care. Movie makers are generally very good with it; presentations, though, often suffer when it is used and, unless your presentation is scripted to the second, should purely be used beforehand to establish mood.

    Web sites with music that starts playing as soon as you enter them invariably cause me to close the page immediately. If you want music, allow your viewers to switch it on – it can be very disruptive to those nearby otherwise.

  26. Music is so important in almost anything. It adds depth and emotion. What a great example. I am a huge music nut, I listen to it everyday. And I see how my work is affected by it when I'm designing. It really makes a difference.

  27. Great article! I agree….I think Mr. Coppola made a habit of choosing the right music for his movies. Take "The Outsiders", the opening credits was fantastic due largely to Carmine Coppola's music and Stevie Wonder's lyrics and voice for the song, Stay gold. It was a genius mix of wanting and the beauty of innocence. If the movie's song touches your soul, there is very little chance of forgetting either.
    My recent post The Inspired Traveler – 11 – Michael Schuermann

  28. Jeannette, is it mainly in New York that brides have stopped using the Wedding March from Lohengrin? Or does it apply to the whole of the United States?

    Interesting to note that you feel that the alternate choices set the wrong tone. We expect the Wedding March to be used, don't we?

  29. Music…..just talking about it makes me think of certain songs and memories they bring up. When I need to be in the "zone" at work I'll always bring out my iPod and have certain songs I'll listen to so I can focus. Music is extremely powerful!

  30. So true, Catarina! I love movie soundtracks and am currently listening to snippets from Gladiator and Pearl Harbor — I always put these tracks on when it's time for me to focus and they certainly put me in the mood! Do you listen to certain music to keep you focused? I'd love recommendations! =)

    To go off on a tiny tangent here, I find that similar associations happen with fragrances. I think a lot of people underestimate the power of the olfactory system.
    My recent post Are You a Bystander

  31. Life without music would be pretty intolerable for me. The clip you shared was a perfect example of using music to enhance the action (although not everyone would approve of the choice). By the way, The Wedding March from Lohengrin has become such a cliche that most brides in the U.S. don't use it any more. I can't remember the last wedding where I heard it. On the other hand, some of the alternate choices of music for the bride have, for me at least, set the wrong tone. Again, music does count so choose carefully.

  32. Great post Catarina. Music does evoke emotions. Where would TV commercials be without those jingles? I expect music on commercials I don't expect or appreciate it on websites unless I have the option of starting it. The same thing applies to all audio on websites. If I click on something, that's fine but if I go to a site and something starts blaring at me, I'm usually clicking off that site as quickly as possible. I really appreciate silence.
    My recent post Google Panda and Website Load Times

  33. Not only does music help in the presentation. It also helps us create. If you choose to listen to the wrong music while you are writing, the emotion you wish to create may come out differently in the words you choose. Listening to romantic music while you write a morbid crime scene, just may take off the hard edge you need.

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