Classical Music in “The Wolf of Wall Street”: A Harmonious Subtext

by Patria

When one thinks of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, classical music may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Yet, beneath the glitz and debauchery of this iconic film lies a subtle but powerful presence – classical music. In this article, we will explore how classical music is used in “The Wolf of Wall Street” to underscore themes, enhance storytelling, and evoke emotions.

Classical Music as a Symbol of Opulence

In “The Wolf of Wall Street,” classical music is often used as a symbol of opulence and excess. This choice is evident from the very beginning of the film when Jordan Belfort, played by DiCaprio, introduces himself as a successful stockbroker while the opulent strains of classical music swell in the background. The juxtaposition of classical music with scenes of lavish parties, extravagant lifestyles, and reckless behavior serves to highlight the decadence of Belfort’s world.

Throughout the film, classical music serves as a sonic backdrop to Belfort’s rise to power. Whether it’s the elegant notes of a Mozart concerto playing during a lavish yacht party or the grandeur of Beethoven’s symphonies accompanying scenes of extravagant spending, classical music reinforces the notion that wealth and success are intertwined with a certain level of cultural sophistication.

Classical Music and Emotional Depth

While “The Wolf of Wall Street” is known for its high-energy sequences and dark humor, classical music is also employed to add emotional depth to the narrative. In moments of reflection and introspection, classical compositions provide a counterpoint to the film’s more raucous elements.

For instance, there is a memorable scene where Belfort’s life begins to unravel, and he contemplates the consequences of his actions. As he grapples with the weight of his decisions, the melancholic strains of a Chopin Nocturne underscore his inner turmoil. In this context, classical music serves as a vehicle for conveying the complexity of Belfort’s character and the moral dilemmas he faces.

Classical Music as a Narrative Device

Beyond its role as a symbol of wealth and a source of emotional resonance, classical music also functions as a narrative device in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” It is used strategically to emphasize key plot points and enhance storytelling.

One notable example is the use of classical music in the infamous “Lemmon 714” sequence. As Belfort and his colleagues experiment with Quaaludes, their physical and mental states deteriorate into a comically chaotic tableau. The use of classical music, particularly Rossini’s “The Thieving Magpie,” provides a rhythmic structure to the chaos, creating a comedic and surreal atmosphere that underscores the absurdity of the situation.

Similarly, classical music is employed during the film’s moments of suspense and tension. Whether it’s the suspenseful crescendo of a string quartet during a high-stakes deal or the thunderous timpani rolls accompanying a tense confrontation, classical music heightens the drama and keeps the audience engaged.

Classical Music and Character Development

In “The Wolf of Wall Street,” classical music is not limited to serving the narrative as a whole; it also plays a role in character development. The music choices for individual characters reveal aspects of their personalities and motivations.

For Jordan Belfort, classical music becomes a symbol of his aspirational persona. He uses it to impress others and create an image of sophistication and success. His choice of classical music reflects his desire to be seen as a cultured and refined individual, even as his actions often contradict this facade.

On the other hand, Belfort’s right-hand man, Donnie Azoff, portrayed by Jonah Hill, has a distinct musical preference. He is shown to have a penchant for contemporary rock music, which stands in stark contrast to Belfort’s classical leanings. This contrast in musical tastes serves to highlight the differences in their characters and priorities.

Classical Music and Irony

One of the most intriguing aspects of the use of classical music in “The Wolf of Wall Street” is its ironic juxtaposition with the on-screen events. Scorsese skillfully employs classical pieces to create moments of dark humor and irony.

One memorable instance is the use of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” during a sequence that involves the reckless consumption of drugs and the destruction of a Lamborghini. The elegant and structured nature of Bach’s composition clashes humorously with the chaos unfolding on screen, highlighting the absurdity of the characters’ actions.

This use of classical music to create irony is a testament to Scorsese’s directorial prowess, as he leverages the inherent contrast between the music’s sophistication and the characters’ debauchery to great effect.

Classical Music as a Reflection of Society

Beyond its role in character development and storytelling, classical music in “The Wolf of Wall Street” can be seen as a reflection of societal values and attitudes. The film is set in the 1980s and 1990s, a period marked by economic prosperity and excess. Classical music, often associated with high culture and refinement, serves as a sonic representation of the era’s values.

During this period, conspicuous consumption and materialism were rampant, and classical music’s presence in the film serves as a commentary on the extravagant lifestyle choices of the characters. It raises questions about the disconnect between their cultured tastes and their moral bankruptcy, underscoring the idea that wealth and refinement can be superficial and hollow.

Classical Music and the Climax

As “The Wolf of Wall Street” reaches its climax, classical music takes on a new significance. The film’s final act is marked by a sense of reckoning and moral confrontation. It is in these moments that classical music, with its historical association with introspection and contemplation, plays a pivotal role.

In the film’s closing scenes, as Belfort faces the consequences of his actions and the legal system closes in, the haunting melodies of classical compositions such as Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” evoke a sense of catharsis and reflection. The choice of these pieces serves as a poignant commentary on the moral and emotional journey that Belfort undergoes.


In conclusion, classical music in “The Wolf of Wall Street” serves as a multi-faceted and integral element of the film’s narrative. It symbolizes opulence, adds emotional depth, functions as a narrative device, contributes to character development, creates irony, reflects societal values, and plays a crucial role in the film’s climax. While the film may be a raucous and irreverent depiction of excess and ambition, classical music provides a timeless elegance that enriches the viewing experience and invites deeper exploration of its themes.

Classical music’s presence in “The Wolf of Wall Street” is a testament to its enduring power to elevate and enrich cinematic storytelling. Through its careful integration, Martin Scorsese and his creative team have crafted a film that not only entertains but also prompts reflection on the complexities of wealth, ambition, and morality. As we revisit this cinematic masterpiece, let us not forget the harmonious subtext of classical music that underscores the wild and extravagant journey of Jordan Belfort.

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