The 30 Best Documentaries About Classical Music

Feb 10, 2024 | Best Of, Music

Classical music has been captivating audiences for centuries, and what better way to dive deep into its history and beauty than through the lens of documentary filmmaking. From legendary composers to groundbreaking performances, these 30 documentaries will take you on a journey through the world of classical music like never before. So sit back, relax, and prepare to be inspired by some of the most mesmerizing stories and music of all time. Get ready to discover the best documentaries about classical music that will leave you in awe and appreciation for this timeless genre.

1. A World Without Beethoven – Music Documentary with Sarah Willis

Classical music has been a source of inspiration and wonder for centuries. From the most complex symphonies to the simplest melodies, it has captured hearts and minds all around the world. However, have you ever stopped to think about what our world would be like without some of the greatest composers in history? In this thought-provoking documentary, host Sarah Willis takes us on a journey through the world of classical music, exploring the impact of one particular composer – Ludwig van Beethoven.


2. Johann Sebastian Bach – The Fifth Evangelist

Johann Sebastian Bach: The Fifth Evangelist is a must-watch documentary for any classical music enthusiast. It delves deep into the life and music of one of the greatest composers in history, Johann Sebastian Bach. Through stunning visuals and expert commentary, this film offers a fascinating look at the man behind some of the most renowned pieces in classical music. Bach’s music is often described as divine and timeless, but what sets him apart from other composers? This documentary seeks to answer this question by exploring Bach’s upbringing, his sources of inspiration, and the impact he had on the musical world.


3. Vienna – The Mecca Of Classical Music

Vienna, the capital of Austria, is known for many things – its stunning architecture, rich history, delicious pastries and coffee culture. But one thing that truly sets Vienna apart is its deep connection to classical music. For centuries, Vienna has been a hub for some of the most celebrated musicians and composers in the world. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johann Strauss II, and Franz Schubert are just a few of the names that have made Vienna their home and left an indelible mark on the city’s musical landscape.


4. Beethoven’s Ninth – Symphony for the World

The documentary, “Beethoven’s Ninth: Symphony for the World” offers a captivating glimpse into the world of classical music. Known as one of Beethoven’s greatest works, the ninth symphony has stood the test of time and continues to inspire people from all walks of life. Through stunning visuals and insightful commentary, this documentary explores the impact that Beethoven’s ninth symphony has had on the world.


5. The Challenges of Modernist Music  with Charles Rosen

In the world of classical music, there is a constant push and pull between tradition and innovation. This struggle is particularly evident in modernist music, which emerged in the early 20th century as composers began to break away from traditional forms and conventions. One of the most well-known documentaries on this topic is “The Challenges of Modernist Music” with renowned pianist and music scholar, Charles Rosen. Released in 2003, this documentary delves into the complexities and controversies surrounding modernist music.

6. BBC – The Birth of British Music – Mendelssohn The Prophet

The British music scene has been home to some of the most influential composers and musicians in history. One of these great minds was none other than Felix Mendelssohn, who is often hailed as one of the greatest musical prodigies of all time. His legacy lives on through his timeless works that have inspired countless artists throughout the years. But how did this musical genius come to be? The BBC’s documentary, “The Birth of British Music: Mendelssohn The Prophet,” delves into the life and works of this iconic figure.

7. The Nature of Genius: Beethoven and the Sonata Form

Beethoven is often hailed as one of the greatest composers in history, and for good reason. He was a true genius whose music transcends time and continues to inspire listeners today. But what exactly made Beethoven such a remarkable musician? One answer lies in his mastery of the sonata form. The sonata form was a popular musical structure during the Classical era, which Beethoven was a part of. It consisted of three main sections: the exposition, development, and recapitulation. In simple terms, the exposition presents the main themes or ideas of the piece, the development expands on those themes and explores new musical territory, and the recapitulation brings back the original themes in a slightly different way before concluding with a final coda.


8. Mozart Documentary – The Genius of Mozart Miracle of Nature

The world of classical music is full of intrigue and wonder, but few composers have left such a lasting impact as the one and only Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. His genius in composing beautiful symphonies, operas, and concertos has captivated audiences for centuries. In this documentary, we dive into the life and mind of one of history’s most celebrated musicians. Mozart was a child prodigy, able to play the piano and violin at an expert level by the time he was six years old. By age 13, he had composed his first symphony. His talent was undeniable and he quickly gained recognition throughout Europe for his musical abilities.


9. Mozart in Vienna – Documentary about Mozart’s life

Mozart’s music is timeless and revered, but what about the man behind the music? In this captivating documentary, we delve into the life of one of history’s greatest composers – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Through rare footage, expert analysis, and captivating storytelling, “Mozart in Vienna” gives us a glimpse into the personal struggles and triumphs that shaped the genius musician’s life. We follow Mozart’s journey from his early days in Salzburg to his move to Vienna, a city that would become the backdrop for some of his most famous works..



Richard Strauss, one of the most renowned composers of the 19th and 20th century, was a musical genius whose legacy still lives on today. He is best known for his operas, tone poems, and lieder (songs), which have captivated audiences for over a century. Born in Munich, Germany in 1864, Strauss showed immense talent and passion for music at a young age. He began playing the piano at the age of four and composed his first piece at the age of six. His father, Franz Strauss, was a renowned horn player and served as a major influence in Richard’s love for classical music.


11. Wagner (Richard Burton, 1983)

Wagner is a captivating and informative documentary that explores the life and music of one of the most influential composers in history, Richard Wagner. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Richard Burton, this film delves into the intricate world of classical music through the lens of Wagner’s groundbreaking works. Through interviews with experts and historians, as well as visually stunning performances, this documentary provides a comprehensive look into Wagner’s life, from his early years as a struggling musician to his rise as a revolutionary composer.


12. Vladimir Ashkenazy on the Path of Jean Sibelius

The world-renowned pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy takes us on a journey through the life and music of Jean Sibelius, one of the most celebrated composers in classical music history. With his expert knowledge and passion for Sibelius’ works, Ashkenazy provides an intimate look into the mind behind such iconic pieces as “Finlandia” and “Symphony No.5”. Through interviews, performances and archival footage, we are given a rare glimpse into the creative process of this enigmatic composer.


13. BBC Masterworks Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis at Gloucester Cathedral 2006

The year was 2006. Gloucester Cathedral, a historic and grand structure nestled in the English countryside, was bustling with activity. The BBC Masterworks crew had descended upon the cathedral to record one of their most anticipated documentaries – Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis. As cameras were set up and microphones tested, music enthusiasts eagerly waited for the performance to begin.


14. 1/4 What The Universe Tells Me (GREAT Documentary on Mahler’s 3rd Symphony)

Mahler’s 3rd Symphony is hailed as one of the greatest works in classical music history. Its intricate melodic lines and powerful orchestration have captivated audiences for over a century. But what inspired Gustav Mahler to create such a masterpiece? What was going through his mind as he composed this monumental symphony? In the documentary “What The Universe Tells Me”, we delve into the inner workings of Mahler’s mind and explore the influences behind his 3rd Symphony.


15. In Mahler’s Footsteps – Mahler’s relationship with the natural world – Keith James Clarke

Keith James Clarke’s documentary, “In Mahler’s Footsteps”, delves into the relationship between renowned composer Gustav Mahler and the natural world. As one of the leading figures in classical music, Mahler was deeply influenced by nature and often drew inspiration from its beauty and power. Through stunning visuals of breathtaking landscapes and scenes from Mahler’s compositions, this documentary explores the impact of nature on Mahler’s life and music.


16. Keeping Score – Gustav Mahler Origins

Classical music has been around for centuries, with its rich history and profound impact on society. Many composers have left their mark in this genre, but perhaps none have stirred up as much controversy and intrigue as Gustav Mahler. In this documentary from the “Keeping Score” series, we explore the origins and lasting legacy of this enigmatic composer. Growing up in a small town in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic), Mahler was exposed to music at a young age through his father’s tavern. His interest in music only grew as he received formal training, eventually attending the renowned Vienna Conservatory.


17. Gods and Monsters – The Musical Journey of Wagner’s Ring Cycle

The Ring Cycle is arguably one of the most monumental works in all of classical music. Composed by Richard Wagner in the mid-1800s, this four-part opera cycle tells a complex story of gods, heroes, and power struggles through its epic score and elaborate staging. But what many people may not know is that behind the scenes, there was just as much drama as there was on stage. Filmmaker Tony Palmer delves into the fascinating history of the Ring Cycle in his documentary “Gods and Monsters: The Musical Journey of Wagner’s Ring Cycle.”


18. Chopin’s Mysteries: Stephen Hough & Jeremy Nicholas

One of the most revered composers in history, Frédéric Chopin’s life remains shrouded in mystery and intrigue. His music continues to inspire musicians even centuries after his death, with its delicate melodies and technical brilliance. However, there are still many unanswered questions about his personal life and artistic journey. In the documentary “Chopin’s Mysteries”, renowned pianist Stephen Hough and music journalist Jeremy Nicholas delve into the enigmatic world of Chopin.


19. Claudio Arrau “A life in music” (1977)

Born in Chile in 1903, Claudio Arrau is considered one of the greatest pianists of all time. His talent was evident from a young age, and he began performing publicly at the tender age of five. By the time he was ten, he had already made his debut as a soloist with an orchestra. In 1920, Arrau moved to Germany to study with the renowned pianist Martin Krause. It was there that he honed his skills and developed his unique style of playing. His dedication to his craft and tireless practice sessions led him to become one of the most technically perfect and emotionally expressive pianists in history.


20. Ottorino Respighi – A Dream of Italy

Ottorino Respighi, a renowned Italian composer who aims to capture the essence of his homeland through music. His works embody the sights and sounds of Italy, making listeners feel as if they are transported into a dream-like state. Born in Bologna in 1879, Respighi showed an early interest in music and had a natural talent for composition. He studied at the Liceo Musicale in Bologna and later moved to Rome, where he would spend most of his life.


21. How Mendelssohn Brought Bach Back: Charles Rosen on The Bach Revival

Classical music has stood the test of time, captivating audiences for centuries with its complexity and beauty. Within this vast genre, one composer stands out above the rest – Johann Sebastian Bach. Known as the “father of classical music”, his compositions have influenced countless musicians and continue to be revered today. But what many people don’t know is that Bach’s masterpieces were not always appreciated in the same way. In fact, there was a time when his music fell into obscurity and was overshadowed by other composers. It wasn’t until the 19th century that Bach’s genius was rediscovered, thanks to the efforts of one man – Felix Mendelssohn.


22. Paganini’s Daemon – A Most Enduring Legend

The legend of Italian violinist and composer, Niccolò Paganini, has captivated audiences for centuries. Known as the “Devil’s Violinist,” Paganini was more than just a musician – he was a phenomenon. His extraordinary talent and mythical presence on stage sparked rumors that he had sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his unparalleled skills. Born in Genoa, Italy in 1782, Paganini showed musical ability from a young age. At just 7 years old, he began learning the violin from his father and quickly became a child prodigy.


23. Michael Parloff – Schubert’s Winterreise

Schubert’s Winterreise is a hauntingly beautiful documentary that delves into the world of classical music. Directed by Michael Parloff, this film takes us on a journey through Franz Schubert’s iconic song cycle of the same name. The documentary opens with stunning shots of the Austrian countryside, setting the scene for what is to come. We are then introduced to the talented musicians who will be performing Winterreise, including renowned tenor Ian Bostridge and pianist Julius Drake.


24. David Starkey’s Music and Monarchy Crown and Choir BBC documentary 2013

David Starkey’s Music and Monarchy: Crown and Choir is a captivating BBC documentary that takes viewers on a journey through the history of classical music, focusing specifically on its connection to the British monarchy. Released in 2013, this film brings together two iconic symbols of British culture – royalty and classical music – to create a truly mesmerizing experience. As we delve into the rich history of music and monarchy, we are introduced to a plethora of fascinating stories and insights.

25. BBC – The Birth of British Music: Purcell The Londoner

The history of classical music is filled with countless geniuses and their contributions to the world. One such figure is Henry Purcell, a London-born composer who rose to fame in the 17th century. His musical compositions have stood the test of time and continue to be celebrated today. In the BBC documentary “The Birth of British Music: Purcell The Londoner”, viewers are taken on a journey through Purcell’s life and his impact on the world of classical music.


26. Michael Perloff – Lecture on Russian Musical History

Michael Perloff is a renowned musician, but his talents don’t stop there. He is also an esteemed lecturer on Russian musical history. His vast knowledge and passion for classical music have led to the creation of a captivating documentary that delves into the rich history of this genre. The documentary covers various aspects of Russian musical history, from its origins to modern times. One can expect to learn about the evolution of Russian classical music and the cultural and social influences that shaped it.


27. Howard Goodalls Twentieth Century Greats 2of4 Bernard Herrmann

Howard Goodall’s groundbreaking documentary “Twentieth Century Greats” takes a deep dive into the world of classical music, exploring the lives and works of some of the most influential composers of the 20th century. In this second episode, Goodall turns his focus to the brilliant mind behind some of Hollywood’s greatest film scores – Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann is best known for his collaborations with the legendary director Alfred Hitchcock, creating iconic soundtracks for films such as “Psycho”, “Vertigo” and “North by Northwest”.


28. Liszt in the World

Liszt in the World is a captivating documentary that explores the life and music of one of the most influential figures in classical music history – Franz Liszt. This film takes us on a journey through his travels around Europe, uncovering the impact he had on different cultures and how they, in turn, influenced his compositions. We begin in Hungary, where Liszt was born and raised. As we immerse ourselves in the country’s rich musical traditions, we discover how Liszt’s Hungarian roots influenced his early works.


29. Saint John Coltrane

John William Coltrane was one of the most influential and innovative jazz musicians of all time. Born in 1926 in North Carolina, Coltrane began playing the saxophone at a young age and quickly became known for his virtuosity and improvisational skills. He would go on to revolutionize the world of music with his unique sound and approach to composition. Throughout his career, Coltrane was constantly pushing the boundaries of traditional jazz and exploring new sounds and techniques.


30. The Secret Of The Violin

The sweet and soulful sounds of a violin have captured the hearts of music lovers for centuries. From classical compositions to modern pop hits, this stringed instrument has proven its versatility time and time again. But what truly sets the violin apart from other instruments? What is the secret behind its enchanting melodies? In this captivating documentary, we dive into the rich history of the violin and discover the hidden secrets that make it a beloved instrument among musicians and listeners alike.

Read On – Our Latest Top Documentaries Lists

David B