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CLASSICAL MUSIC IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN
- 08 Oct 21
Photo Credit: https://www.iconspng.com/
If you’re browsing the internet in hopes of finding copyright-free music for your project, you’ve probably come across the term ‘public domain’.
More often than not, this term shares a connection with a particular genre of music – classical music.
Join us below as we explain the concept of the public domain and why it shares ties with the classical genre.
Whilst reading, make sure you watch out for links to other relevant articles posted on our editorial page – aptly titled The Edit – and our playlists that are practically brimming with tracks from our catalogue of more than 200,000 tracks.
What Is Public Domain?
The public domain consists of creative work unprotected by intellectual property law, such as copyright law.
Thus, work within the public domain can be used by anyone in any way they like, without needing permission from the author. FYI, the author is a term for the owner(s) of the work.
Creative work may find its way in the public domain for several reasons; most commonly, the piece was created before intellectual property law existed, or the author’s rights have expired.
Photo Credit: https://www.iconspng.com/
When Does Music Enter the Public Domain?
Unless the track was created prior to music copyright law or the author purposefully submitted the song into the public domain, music enters the public domain when the author’s rights expire.
In the United Kingdom, the copyright on a music track expires 70 years after the author’s death.
If a musical piece has more than one author, the copyright expires 70 years after the last survivor’s death.
How Long Is Copyright on Music?
Copyright on music lasts for the entirety of the author’s life, plus an additional 70 years.
Once the copyright expires, the author’s music enters the public domain.
Photo Credit: https://copyright.co.uk/
Is Classical Music Copyrighted?
Classical music falls under copyright law, just like music of any other genre.
The reason why many assume all classical music is copyright-free music is that the most famous classical music pieces were created decades ago, hence, they are not protected by copyright law.
Having said that, recent recordings and arrangements of classical music pieces are not part of the public domain. In these instances, the copyright holders are those involved in that particular version of the track.
Is Classical Music Royalty-Free?
While royalty-free classical music certainly does exist, not all classical music is royalty-free.
As the name suggests, royalty-free music means that no royalties need to be paid when using the music piece.
Additionally, it may prove useful to know that when you purchase a piece of royalty-free music, you’re also obtaining a licence to use the track for the project you’re looking to use it for.
Famous Composers in Public Domain
When we think of classical music, we think of historic composers like Mozart, Beethoven and Bach.
As these famous composers created their music such a long time ago – we’re talking centuries – their music is now part of the public domain; this may explain why classical music pieces often feature in modern media productions.
Below, we take a look at some of the most famous musicians whose work has entered the public domain, examining how their work has been utilised in modern media productions.
Rather read some composer trivia? Head on over to our fun facts about classical composers article.
Mozart in the Public Domain
Almost 230 years after his death, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart still reigns supreme in the realm of classical music.
The highly respected composer is the man behind tonnes of instantly recognisable classical compositions, including ‘Requiem’, ‘Symphony No.40’ and the ‘Overture’ from Don Giovanni.
As Mozart’s works lie within the public domain, it’s not unusual to hear his arrangements used within 21st century productions, usually for dramatic effect.
One of our favourite uses of Mozart’s music in contemporary film is the use of ‘Requiem’ in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’ (2014).
Antonio Vivaldi was a prolific Italian Baroque-period composer, and remains just as inspirational to musicians now as he was during the 18th century. Reportedly, many of his compositions were composed for an all-female ensemble from an orphanage in Venice, Italy.
Never heard of Vivaldi? Well, you certainly will have listened to some of his work: arrangements such as ‘The Four Seasons’ and ‘Magnificat’ that speak for themselves.
We particularly love how car manufacturer Jaguar made the most of Vivaldi’s composition ‘La Follia from Sonata No 12 in D Minor’, a track – which like all of Vivaldi’s songs – is in the public domain.
Enjoy that? Why not read more about classical music in commercials?
Beethoven in the Public Domain
Like Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven is a composer so iconic that we feel as though we were all born knowing who he was. Then again, perhaps that because our mothers would play classical music while they were pregnant (you never know…).
You could spend hours going back and forth, debating which Beethoven piece is most popular, but we’ve gone straight for ‘Für Elise’. Even Quentin Tarantino used it in his Western masterpiece, ‘Django Unchained’ (2012).
Bach in the Public Domain
Johann Sebastian Bach was a multifaceted musical talent. The Baroque-era German was not only a composer but a violist, violinist, organist and harpsichordist too. So, really, it’s no wonder the musician is still lionized to this day.
Over the years, his music has been incorporated in some of the most famous productions from Hollywood and beyond.
Discover some of the best examples of Bach pieces in TV shows and movies – from Boardwalk Empire (2010-2014) to The Godfather (1972) – by watching vlogger pianoTV’s video below.
Tchaikovsky in the Public Domain
Romantic period Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed numerous compositions in his lifetime, but the work he’ll forever be remembered for is his ballet Swan Lake.
Over the years, the transportive music from the world-renowned ballet has featured in every type of media imaginable.
Our favourite use of a Tchaikovsky track? We couldn’t possibly choose... Well, ok, if we had to choose it would be the use of ‘Swan Lake, Op.20, TH.12/ Act 1 – No.2 Valse’ in HBO’s Westworld (2016-Present). This moment from the sci-fi series’ first season is, quite possibly, our favourite television scene ever.
Wagner in the Public Domain
Bring up Wagner at a social affair, and you’ll instantly be able to separate the Haute Monde from the pop culture fiends.
The former will be keen to share their favourite composition by German composer Richard Wagner whilst the latter will bang on about a guy who made a fool of himself on X-Factor. Naturally, we’re here to discuss the former.
Being composed back in the 19th century, Wagner's music is firmly part of the public domain. Perhaps the most famous example of Wagner’s work being used in film is in Apocalypse Now (1979). We mean, who can forget ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ in that helicopter scene?
Verdi in the Public Domain
Last but not least, we come to Giuseppe Verdi, an Italian composer known for composing operas such as Rigoletto, La Traviata and Il Trovatore.
Now, his music is taken from the public domain and placed into films and TV shows such as The Crown (2016 - present), Cherry (2021), Jane the Virgin (2014-2019) and Zombieland: Double Tap (2019). Yes, really.
But the one use of a Verdi track that really sticks in our mind is the use of his track ‘Messa da Requiem: II Dies Irae’ in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). Warner Bros even used the public domain track in their epic trailer for the film!
Read more about classical music in film over on the best orchestral movie soundtracks page.
Audio Network’s Array of Classical Music
Why stress over copyright law and the quality of your public domain tracks when you can make use of our ever-expanding collection of classical music? Ideal for any creative project – from podcasts to TV shows to YouTube vlogs to commercials – our selection of tracks are all licensable for use across the world.
And if you’re looking to use multiple tracks in our collection and want to keep things cost-effective, we’d recommend signing up to our subscription service, The Essential Edit. For just £49 a month, subscribers can download as many tracks as they like from our catalogue and will receive a lifetime licence for any projects completed during their subscription period. If you ask us, it really is a no-brainer.
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