To outsiders to the classical music world, out of the holy trinity of classical music, Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, it is Beethoven who appears to represents the ultimate icon of the composer: it is Beethoven who is told to â€˜roll overâ€™ in the early rock nâ€™ roll song; it is Beethoven whose name is borrowed by an 80s alternative rock group from California,Camper Van Beethoven. I once taught music to a very little girl who thought Beethoven was a big fluffy St Bernard, but now she knows, and now I know what it feels like telling a child Santa Claus is not real.
I recently saw the film Copying Beethoven by Agnieszka Holland, produced in Budapest and London, with Ed Harris in the role of Beethoven and Diane Kruger in the role of Anna Holtz, from a screenplay by Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson. This film is for the most part about the circumstances in which the Ninth Symphony received its premiere. I immediately liked this premise, because for a composer, certain premieres are really once-in-a lifetime events, especially when you have to conduct a huge chorus and orchestra work but canâ€™t hear a thing. I also liked the imaginary character of Anna Holtz, the copyist who longs to be a composer, a character undeniably not from Beethovenâ€™s time, but from our time: it seems that the increased interest of women for composing, and the personas that have come to the fore in the late twentieth century have had some influence on this screenplay, and I appreciated that. In the beginning of the film, Anna is told by Beethoven that â€œno woman can composeâ€¦â€ â€“ which may be consistent with the views of the time â€“ but he later condescends to brutally critique her piece. At one point in the film, after behaving rudely in all kinds of ways, Beethoven finally bares his behind for Anna while talking about the â€œMoonâ€-light sonata (I am not convinced that Beethoven himself has nicknamed his piece that way), and the heavy-handed joke in an otherwise serious, sexless movie, was however enjoyable because soâ€¦ utterly ridiculous.
Immortal Beloved, released over ten years ago, directed by Bernard Rose, with Gary Oldman in the role of Beethoven and Isabella Rossellini as a supporting actress, was focused on Beethovenâ€™s rather elusive romantic interests. Below is a link to a site featuring the many movies about Beethoven. Strangely enough, aside from Amadeus, there havenâ€™t been nearly as many movies about Mozart â€“ although his music has been used in hundreds of soundtracks. There are even less films on Bach. It seems that his personality has failed to interest film makers, even though he so justly deserves to be remembered by a film; all I could find was a 1968 film entitled The Chronicles of Magdalena Bach, directed by Jean-Marie Straub. And while Iâ€™m at it, Iâ€™ll mention in passing the Werner Herzog documentary on Gesualdo, the composer who was a real-life Othello.