Bad guys listening to classical music is one of the most used movies tropes ever, and yet it still remains effective. What attracts bad guys to Mozart and Beethoven rather than Pink Floyd and U2? I don’t believe talent is an issue, as all the musicians I’ve just named are talented within their own niche. So there must be a reason why these villains choose to listen to classical over any other genre.
For starters, the stereotypical bad guy is highly educated and came from an upper class background. These class divisions can be traced back through history in the stories people told, in particular fairy tales. In the average fairy tale, like Cinderella for instance, the hero/heroine is usually lower class and works as a domestic, and the villain, the evil stepmother for instance, is usually upper class and habitually condescends to and abuses the hero/heroine.
For a lot of people in the upper classes, ego and appearance are often an issue, which is why the archetypal villain has an English accent and dresses in tuxedos… and listens to classical music. Usually we associate a listener of classical music to someone who is smart or who likes to think they are smart. What self-respecting upper class villain would want to be caught listening to the music of “the people”?
But, if this is all there is to it, how does a murder committed to the sound of classical music appear all the more chilling? I think it has to do with the fact that classical music is beautiful. Music is an art, and art is a transcendental form of expression that connects us spiritually. Or, as Stevie Wonder put it in his song “Sir Duke”, music is a world within itself, with a language we all understood. I think it’s fair to say that music is the most transcendental art form, since rhythm provides the basis for our heart beat, breathing and biological functions, and from a very young age, children express themselves through singing when they don’t have the words to do it. Unlike painting or film, there’s no other medium like visuals to distract you from pure music. And unlike most rock or pop music, there isn’t the medium of language to distract you either: classical music is pure art. Pure beauty. And that is ultimately that sends a shiver down our spine whenever the villain strikes up the band: this person has no respect for human life, which is beautiful, and by listening to the definition of beauty, ultimately desecrates it. And there is nothing as evil as the desecration of beauty.