Music in Korean dramas and films; part 1: classical

Hello, this is your most beloved writer Park Chohwa (don’t shoot me). Music is one topic I always wanted to discuss. I’m not an expert in the field, AT ALL, but it’s one of my passions so I decided to look into music in Korean dramas and films. But it’s a huge topic so I narrowed it down to categories. After all the narrowing, I ended up with 8 categories: classical music (including opera and choir), pop music (especially idol groups), rock bands, musicals, singers, hip hop, traditional music and classical dances. The articles of this music series won’t be able to cover everything since Koreans live with music. I’ll try to discuss some of the works in each category. The first part of this series is on classical music.

No matter what our favourite music genre is, we all have that classical phase. Whether it was a time of our life when we went crazy over classical music and spent hours listening to symphonies and operas or a brief time when our mood required it, we’ve all been there. Even if we were clueless as to what the piece played was or who the composer was, we had at least one song we like, one composer or one musician. Even if we don’t know how to play instruments, we all have that one instrument we like listening to the most. We all have that moment where our eyes shut unconsciously when a certain piece plays. That is the beauty of classical.

Music in K dramas and films –after the research- focuses on music as healing mostly. Music is portrayed as the refuge that heals and comforts. Music offers people the hope needed to start anew and break away from the shackles of the past. Music brings people together and evokes love.

Shall we start?!




In this masterpiece, music is used as healing. Women inmates have it hard in prison. Each one has her own sad story. Each one has had a reason to commit a crime. But a crime is a crime. Nobody cares for the behind story. The miserable women are locked up. Here comes music to help them find hope in whatever remained in their lives. They start a choir. They live for it. They change to the better. Those who gave up on life decide to give it a new try. Those who closed their hearts off, let others in. Those who blamed themselves start seeking forgiveness. The women who ended up in prison because of domestic and sexual abuse, cheating or debts find in music the will to carry on, the lost joy and the forgotten smile.

The music played and the songs sung in the film are so deep and meaningful. They carry a great sum of emotions. They convey the message. And they break the heart.


(Drama Special)


This one-hour drama special has nothing to watch except for the music (which is obviously not played by the main actor). The story is lame and the acting is nothing to boast of. There’s piano, a lot of it. Beautiful playing. Calming background music to fit the theme and the pace of the story. Chopin brought two people together. Love was kindled by the piano. Music here represented Cupid.

Sky and Ocean



Now this was touching. Three people carry a great amount of pain and loneliness. They’re abandoned by the whole world. The violin brings them together. Music builds friendship, heals the wounds and eases loneliness. Jang Na Ra was awesome and her violin playing (well, I can’t say professionally) was so moving.

P.S. Violin is that instrument that makes me close my eyes involuntarily.

Five Fingers



Piano might be the instrument that cures and gives hope, the dream of many and the joy of others. But piano can be a dangerous weapon if used for the wrong purpose. In this melodrama, piano is used for revenge. It’s no longer the origin of beautiful sounds but the knife pointed at family members. Piano resembles power and money. Making piano is to serve selfish desires. Playing piano is to defeat enemies. Composing piano pieces is to prove you’re the best. Piano is used to fulfill the greed of some and to avenge others. Despite the darkness of the story, we are presented with some outstanding performances by Ji Chang Wook and Joo Ji Hoon. So many superb performances, heart throbbing background music and out-of-earth acting. The drama is not for everyone though.

My Paparotti



Can I cry??

Because music doesn’t discriminate, even a gangster can turn into a prodigy opera singer. Because music is like fate, it brings those at odds together and gives them one unforgettable relationship. Because it’s music, people can start their lives anew.

Though I don’t know who sang for Lee Je Hoon, he surely gave me goose bumps and left me gaping at the screen like a complete nut. Jang Ho’s voice and the songs he sang went straight to my heart. The music was brilliant. The duet by Lee Je Hoon and Han Seok Kyu brought me to tears. And the last opera performance was a highlight of Heaven.

Tomorrow’s Cantabile



The thing about this drama was definitely not the love story though it was the main story. What made this drama worth it were the music performances of each character. Music here represented the dreams of youth. The young people in the drama lived by and for classical music. Though selfishness and greed stood in the way of some and though in moments they forgot the spirit of music, music grabs a hold of them and brings them back. Classical meant the present and the future, friendship, love and family, joy and happiness and the bond between the sound and the soul. When the world turned its back to them, music didn’t.

The drama was full of awesome performances of different instruments; piano, violin, cello, etc…

Secret Love Affair



This drama is about a love story. It’s evolved around the love story and centres on it. But what gave that love story the depth, the beauty, the complication and the mystery was the piano. The piano scenes of the two started the story and developed it. The piano was the language that broke all the barriers between the two: age, social standards, rules, financial difficulties and even the future. The exotic effect of the piano on the two changed their lives once and for all.

Beethoven Virus



Out of all music-themed dramas, it was this one that left me paralysed for days. Yes, the story and the acting were extraordinary. But it was the music after all. How music changes people, makes them closer, gives them hope, brings out their humanity and enlivens their dreams. I’m always in awe of people whose dreams are music related. It’s such a mysterious call I can never understand. It requires taste, soul and tenacity. It requires perseverance and a strong heart. Watching a bunch of different people hanging on to their dreams and music no matter what still baffles me. And the sounds those dreams make!

In Beethoven’s Virus, music was salvation: a way to escape the hell we live in.

Spring Waltz



There were beautiful piano performances in this one, and a beautiful love story. The end.

It was one of my very first dramas so I do not recall much about it. But I do recall Seo Do Young playing the piano in a huge green field!




The BEAUTIFUL cello was used in this film as a weapon of horror and revenge. Two friends and rivals play the cello. A tragic story develops. Cello symbolises hatred, terror and revenge. Not the best way to portray classical. –suddenly scenes from different dramas and film where the villains sip at wine and listen to classical pop up in front of my eyes. Whose concept was that to begin with?!-

My Piano



Through the piano, a neglected and scarred child finds talent, dreams and love. Uhm Jung Hwa has lost the joy of playing the piano with time and harsh circumstances. One young boy invades her life and brings back all the beautiful recollections a piano can carry and starts a new life for both.

The child actor played some wonderful music. Uhm Jung Hwa was no joke either.

Here we summarise our classical part. Waiting for your favourite classical music works.

Comments (34)

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    fryyyy 8 hours ago

    serenade, frans schubert, korean version yoo mi sook/ ave maria, shubert, stairway to heaven, rebecca luker/ serenade, hadyn, summer scent/ Oh Na Ra, jewel in the palace., Romance, autumn in my heart, Reason, autumn in my heart, Tears, autumn in my heart.

  • Reply
    my3views May 13, 2016 - edited

    **ParkChohaw**, Your article underscores the power of music on a great drama, it elevates it even more then it would by itself. I describing music and drama as this: when searing music embeds with a great drama my heart ignites!! Secret Love Affair Love, Five Fingers and Spring Waltz and Beethoven's Virus and Harmony clearly exemplifies how powerful and moving the duet of music and drama can have on our pysychi, it can make our bones ache, our hearts race, and beyond this,it can be wholely cathartic.
    The First Drama's ost that hit me like a ton of bricks was "Warrior Baek Dong Soo", I can't begin to describe the soonomi-like effect it had on my emotions, that music crumble my knees and totally snatched any resolve. The next current one to strike such an impact was "Memory" that music brought tears to my eyes every epi it played (not even knowing what the lyrics were). As **bmore** pointed out I absolutely fell in love with the music in "It's Ok. That's Love".such a perfect match of music and drama.
    Thank again, for another enlightening article, **Mydramalist** is so blessed, having such a creative and thoughtful writer elevating and contributing to its site.

    I thinks there is nothing sexier then a tenor sax and nothing more angst & sweeping than the strings of a violin in play.

  • Reply
    jinja b Apr 24, 2016 - edited

    I like Page Turner (short drama series), it just came out....

    • Reply
      ParkChohwa May 1, 2016

      I watched and loved it.. couldn't add it here but added it somewhere else^^

  • Reply
    kpopx3lover Apr 23, 2016 - edited

    I loved Beethoven Virus and I didn't really get to enjoy Tomorrow's Cantible as much but these are the only two I've seen from the list. There's also Page Turner which is pretty recent and I loved it! The piano symbolized new dreams, the future, sadness and joy. I especially loved the acting from the young actors and actresses as well. Although it's unfortunate it was only 3 episodes, it was still a great one!!!

  • Reply
    lily_b Apr 15, 2016

    Beethoven Virus! <3 " it was this one that left me paralysed for Days" - agree! I love it so much. I also liked Secret Love Affair. I haven't watched the other ones but now I want to - well, except maybe the horror one... This article also makes me think about the Japanese movie Departures - I loved the music in it.

  • Reply
    NewKDramaAddict Apr 13, 2016 - edited

    I love the dramas and movies about the arts; okay, the movies mostly. My Little Hero and The Tenor Lirico Spinto were also decent.

    • Reply
      lifedreamerm Apr 13, 2016

      I liked My Little Hero. Can you tell me your thoughts of The Tenor Lirico Spinco?

  • Reply
    Junebee Apr 13, 2016

    Great article, though I've only seen two of the dramas listed ("Tomorrow's Cantible" and "Beethoven Virus"). I look forward to the rest od the articles in this series.

  • Reply
    sanadonghae Apr 13, 2016

    Five Fingers is one of my fav dramas *________*

  • Reply
    Misunderst0_od Apr 12, 2016 - edited

    This is perfect because I'm on a music drama spree! Just got done watching Alice in Wonder City (which is not on this list), but I can't wait to check out the other ones I haven't seen.

  • Reply
    sagwao_o Apr 12, 2016

    I've been brought to Dramaland thanks to Spring Waltz. I was listening to piano videos and there was a video about the drama. My curiosity was so strong that I started to watch the drama and I don't regret it !

  • Reply
    sunflower63 Apr 12, 2016 - edited

    Thanks for this interesting article. I also love classical music in dramas and of the ones you listed I have seen Tomorrow's Cantabile, Secret Love Affair and Beethoven Virus. Out of these my favourite is definitely Beethoven Virus as I found the story original even if a little similar to the Japanese Nodame Cantabile which is the very best drama about classical music of all times in my opinion.

  • Reply
    bmore Apr 12, 2016 - edited

    Great article. Music in kdrama, no matter what genre, is a huge part of almost every drama. Even if it is not part of the story. So many times the music in the background not only sets the tone (light hearted, melancholy, etc), but often gives an indication of the subtext behind a scene or elaborates on a point the director is trying to make. It's why I so appreciate it when the lyrics of songs are translated. It's Okay was great at using songs to match what was happening on screen.

  • Reply
    Yume Apr 12, 2016 - edited

    I really liked the movie Whispering Corridors: Ghost Voice. The movie had some really good classical opera singing that I sing til today

    • Reply
      ParkChohwa Apr 14, 2016

      But the movie itself was lacking compared to the music it contained, I think.

  • Reply
    idreamofpie Apr 11, 2016 - edited

    Thank you for writing this. Classical music is very close to my heart! Will look into the shows/films you mentioned that I haven't seen yet.

  • Reply
    Lavande Apr 11, 2016 - edited

    love your article, thanks for all the recommendations!! :D can't wait to watch Harmony and Secret Love Affair!
    Beethoven Virus was one of my fav dramas back then and omg My Paparotti is one of my all-time favourite movies! It simply makes me tearful and at the same time soo blissfully happy whenever I think of it & I still listen to ''The Person that gives me happiness'' every day xD (though I actually like the version by HSK&Lee Je Hoon and the original by Haebaragi the best)!
    The one who sang for LJH was Yosep Kang btw :) gosh the scenes with ''E lucevan le stelle'' & ''Nessun Dorma'', there are no words for his singing and LJH's expressions...simply pure perfection........♡
    looking forward to the other parts of your music article :D

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