Copying Beethoven. Film review

This video is called Beethoven Symphony No.9Bernstein 1989.

Copying Beethoven is a film by Polish director Agnieszka Holland.

The subject of this film is famous early 19th century Romantic composer Ludwig van Beethoven, especially his last years.

The movie theatre’s explanation of the film says: “Differently from, eg, Mozart, Beethoven was already considered to be a genius while being alive. He was able to live from his royalties, without being dependent on monarchs’ courts’ jobs, or of serving high ranking churchmen”.

Nevertheless, Beethoven had problems in daily life. He said: “Das Tagtägliche erschöpft mich”, everyday life is exhausting me.

The main character, apart from Beethoven, in the movie, is historically fictional Anna Holz. She is a Silesian miner’s daughter, sent by the Vienna music school as their best student to Beethoven. Beethoven is in trouble: in a few days’ time, the premiere of his ninth symphony is supposed to be in Vienna. Beethoven, breaking with older musical rules, has singing in this symphony, contrary to traditional symphonies. However, the singing parts exist as yet only in the hard to read handwriting of Beethoven himself. Someone who can read Beethoven’s handwriting and understand his music well, has to copy the maestro’s handwriting into sheet music for the musicians at the premiere.

That someone becomes Anna Holz.

The film depicts both Beethoven and Vienna music publisher Schlemmer, trying to help Beethoven meet his 9th symphony premiere deadline, as having macho views on women in music and in society in general. However, they have no choice: either Anna Holz will copy Beethoven’s music, or it will be all too late for the premiere.

I personally have not studied whether Beethoven had really the patriarchal views on women which the film ascribes to him. It is not impossible. Beethoven was a great innovator in music. He also, as remarked earlier, had a different social and economic position than earlier composers like Mozart. He supported progressive political tendencies like the French revolution (and Napoleon, until Napoleon decided to in a sense bring back the monarchy by making himself emperor). However, there certainly are examples in history of people with progressive views on some points, and reactionary ones on others, like the situation of women in society. Beethoven might be another example of this though I am not sure.

In the practice of Beethoven’s life, unlike in the film, he may never have had any views on women students at the Vienna music school, just for lack of them then. Like most 19th century institutions of higher learning, the Vienna music school did not admit women students. So, the character Anna Holz as seen in the film takes liberties with history.

The film pays attention to some of the agonies, including becoming deaf, that Beethoven went through with his work. Also class tensions in the 1820s Austrian-Hungarian empire are mentioned. Anna Holz’s fiancé, an engineer, and, in a sense, like Beethoven, a representative of the rising bourgoisie, though of different sectors of that class, says to Anna that Beethoven does not fight the court aristocracy enough. However, the young engineer himself is dependent on the court aristocracy; which is linked to his losing both his fiancée and his job prospects in the film.

Finally, after the video of Beethoven himself, at the beginning of this log, a video of an example of the sometimes indirect ways in which Beethoven still was an influence over a century after his death: Roll over Beethoven, by Chuck Berry in 1965.

Beethoven’s fifth and sixth symphonies: here.

Beethoven concert in 1808: here.

Beethoven’s opera Fidelio: here.

An evening with the Cleveland Orchestra: here.

FBI persecution of Leonard Bernstein: here.

For those who are familiar with the marvelous 2007 documentary “In Search of Mozart”, my recommendation of director Phil Grabsky’s latest—“In Search of Beethoven”—might seem almost redundant. If you loved the Mozart movie, you will surely love this one that opens at the Cinema Village in New York today: here.

28 thoughts on “Copying Beethoven. Film review


    Almost sixty mazurkas; about thirty etudes;
    two dozen preludes; a score of nocturnes;
    some fifteen waltzes; over a dozen polonaises;
    scherzos, improvisations, ballades, four of each;
    three sonatas for piano; and two concertos for piano and orchestra,
    one berceuse, one barcalole, one fantasy, one tarantella, etc.,
    besides some seventeen songs for voice and piano; a fatal case of tuberculosis;
    a talent for concertizing; many mundane successes; an unhappy passion;
    a celebrated liaison with a famous woman; other assorted liaisons;
    a country without sure borders or definite independence;
    the French Europe of Romanticism; several friendships with the eminent;
    and scarcely thirty-nine years of lif. Others lived less, wrote more,
    tasted more bitterly the classically bitter bread of exile, were ignored
    or persecuted, died forsaken, didn’t linger in alcoves
    or salons of glory, confined themselves less to the instrument they had mastered most,
    and were exiled longer in suffering for a non-existent country.
    Besides, almost all the others escaped the repugnant possibility
    of becoming a melody for virgins, a rhythm for the castrated,
    a sham, a languishing, a nostalgia of illiterates,
    and other vulgar, mediocre, and ungenerous things – as he did not. Or of becoming
    a piece de non-résistance for performers who play for those who believe
    they like music but really don’t. And what’s more,
    he was a parvenu, a pedant sure of an aristocracy he couldn’t claim,
    a reactionary anguished over revolutions that would liberate, among others,
    the oligarchies of Poland – poor things. And, finally,
    one begins to suspect he was not even a romantic,
    at least not in the sense he pretended or let others believe he was.
    A knack for composing music as one writes a poem,
    a power disguising itself in languor, an air of inspiration
    concealing the structure, a harmonious melancholy above
    an ironic melody (or the other way round), the magic of rhythms
    used to hide thought – and hide it so well
    that he still passes for an ass of a genius, this man who had thought in his fingers,
    whose boldness put on the mask of feeling and free forms
    to create a self. So able in the kitchen, that he can be served
    lukewarm, in hours of longing and sorrow,
    hot, at those great occasions of triumphant life,
    or cold, when music alone expresses the empty despair of being
    nothing more in the world than a piano.

    © 1968, Jorge de Sena
    © Translation: 1988, Francisco Cota Fagundes, James Houlihan


  2. Cold Case in Vienna: Who Killed Beethoven?
    Physician’s Well-Meaning Ministrations May Have Sped The Composer’s Untimely End

    VIENNA, Austria , Aug. 29, 2007
    Beethoven’s Lead Poisoning

    Ludwig van Beethoven’s own Physician may have inadvertantly poisoned the ailing composer. Researchers are using modern forensic tools to prove this theory. (CBS)

    Fast Fact

    In attempts to ease the composer’s suffering, Beethoven’s doctor repeatedly punctured the abdominal cavity and then sealed the wound with a lead-laced poultice.

    (AP) Did someone kill Beethoven? A Viennese pathologist claims the composer’s physician did – inadvertently overdosing him with lead in a case of a cure that went wrong.

    Other researchers are not convinced, but there is no controversy about one fact: The master had been a very sick man years before his death in 1827.

    Previous research determined that Beethoven had suffered from lead poisoning, first detecting toxic levels of the metal in his hair and then, two years ago, in bone fragments. Those findings strengthened the belief that lead poisoning may have contributed – and ultimately led – to his death at age 57.

    But Viennese forensic expert Christian Reiter claims to know more after months of painstaking work applying CSI-like methods to strands of Beethoven’s hair.

    He says his analysis, published last week in the Beethoven Journal, shows that in the final months of the composer’s life, lead concentrations in his body spiked every time he was treated by his doctor, Andreas Wawruch, for fluid inside the abdomen. Those lethal doses permeated Beethoven’s ailing liver, ultimately killing him, Reiter told The Associated Press.

    “His death was due to the treatments by Dr. Wawruch,” said Reiter, head of the Department of Forensic Medicine at Vienna’s Medical University. “Although you cannot blame Dr. Wawruch – how was he to know that Beethoven already had a serious liver ailment?”

    Nobody did back then.

    Only through an autopsy after the composer’s death in the Austrian capital on March 26, 1827, were doctors able to establish that Beethoven suffered from cirrhosis of the liver as well as edemas of the abdomen. Reiter says that in attempts to ease the composer’s suffering, Wawruch repeatedly punctured the abdominal cavity – and then sealed the wound with a lead-laced poultice.

    Although lead’s toxicity was known even then, the doses contained in a treatment balm “were not poisonous enough to kill someone if he would have been healthy,” Reiter said. “But what Dr. Wawruch clearly did not know (was) that his treatment was attacking an already sick liver, killing that organ.”

    Even before the edemas developed, Wawruch noted in his diary that he treated an outbreak of pneumonia months before Beethoven’s death with salts containing lead, which aggravated what researchers believe was an existing case of lead poisoning.

    But it was the repeated doses of the lead-containing cream, administered by Wawruch in the last weeks of Beethoven’s life, that did in the composer, Reiter said.

    Analysis of several hair strands showed “several peaks where the concentration of lead rose pretty massively” on the four occasions between Dec. 5, 1826, and Feb. 27, 1827, when Beethoven himself documented that he had been treated by Wawruch for the edema, Reiter said.

    “Every time when his abdomen was punctured … we have an increase of the concentration of lead in the hair.”

    Such claims intrigue others who have researched the issue.

    “His data strongly suggests that Beethoven was subjected to significant lead exposures over the last 111 days of his life and that this lead may have been in the very medicines applied by his doctor,” said Bill Walsh, who led the team at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago that found large amounts of lead in Beethoven’s bone fragments. That research two years ago confirmed the cause of years of debilitating disease that likely led to his death – but did not tie his demise to Wawruch.

    “I believe that Beethoven’s death may have been caused by this application of lead-containing medicines to an already severely lead-poisoned man,” Walsh said.

    Still, he added, samples from hair analysis are not normally considered as reliable as from bone, which showed high levels of lead concentration over years, instead of months.

    With hair, “you have the issue of contamination from outside material, shampoos, residues, weathering problems. The membranes on the outside of the hair tend to deteriorate,” he said, suggesting more research is needed on the exact composition of the medications given Beethoven in his last months of his life.

    As for what caused the poisoning even before Wawruch’s treatments, some say it was the lead-laced wine Beethoven drank. Others speculate that as a young man he drank water with high concentrations of lead at a spa.

    “We still don’t know the ultimate cause,” Reiter said. “But he was a very sick man – for years before his death.”

    The Beethoven Journal is published by the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies at San Jose State University in California.

    © MMVII The Associated Press.


  3. May 31, 3:28 AM EDT

    In Haydn commemorative year its _ mostly Mozart

    Associated Press Writer

    VIENNA (AP) — Mostly Mozart. Hardly Haydn.

    Joseph Haydn died 200 years ago Sunday, and Austria has been officially marking the occasion with hundreds of concerts, exhibitions and other events dedicated to the music and memory of one of the country’s greatest sons.

    There is no doubt that Haydn was a giant. The “Father of the Symphony” was also key in developing genres such as the string quartet, the sonata and the concerto. His two oratorios are the gold standard. And he was unusually prolific, leaving behind more than 100 major works, and hundreds of shorter pieces.

    But Haydn has it hard in a country that also gave birth to Amadeus.

    Mozart was a wunderkind, a creator of more than 600 works, whose death at 35 perpetuated his fame. His genius propelled him to superstar status even before the Oscar-winning “Amadeus” in 1984 made his name a household word to even non-music lovers. He loved scatological jokes; he was impertinent, flamboyant, endearingly human.

    Haydn himself idolized his younger friend’s genius.

    “How inimitable are Mozart’s works, how profound, how musically intelligent, how extraordinarily sensitive!” he wrote. And Mozart’s father, Leopold, cited Haydn as telling him: “Your son is the greatest composer I know.”

    Haydn is loved by those who know him.

    But the majority does not.

    So it’s tough to drum up Mozart-like enthusiasm for the man who was staidly known as “Papa Haydn;” who died at 77 after an ordered life, most of it in the countryside; whose instrumental works are unjustly considered rigid and mannered by some when compared to Mozart’s, and who remains largely unknown to the non-classical world.

    “Everything is Mozart here,” said Ibrahim Erneten, who peddles concert tickets to tourists thronging the Austrian capital’s upscale Graben pedestrian zone abutting the opera house.” The tourists don’t know about Haydn.”

    Fellow ticket-hawker Armand Djakova says only “two or three” of his 50 or so daily inquiries are about Haydn. Bewigged and brocaded in Mozart style as he stalked the next customer, Djakova said the others want to either hear Mozart or waltz king Johann Strauss.

    Few are more aware of the difficulties of selling Haydn than Franz Patay, an organizer of festivities marking the bicentenary.

    “If you show someone a (Haydn) bust they’ll think it’s Mozart,” he said. Patay, who was also involved the all-Austrian hoopla surrounding the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth three years ago, says the Haydn budget of around 40 million euros – around $56 million – is about a quarter of what was allocated to the Amadeus year.

    He says trying to establish who was greater musically is like deciding on “whether green or yellow is the nicer color.” But he credits Haydn for “creating formats that are still relevant today, whereas Mozart did not live long enough to have that opportunity.”

    Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation,” was to be performed later in the day at the Esterhazy Palace at Eisenstadt, the southeastern Austrian town that was home to the composer for much of his musical life.

    It is indisputably one of the world’s greatest classical works. But there is more to Haydn than the grandeur of “The Creation.” The man – and his music – also had a warm, humorous side.

    His “Farewell Symphony” has instrumental parts ending in sequence – and was written to reinforce his musicians’ complaints that Haydn’s patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy, was deaf to their needs for vacation time. Esterhazy got the message at the premiere performance as the musicians left the stage one by one until only Haydn was left standing.

    And with Esterhazy occasionally dozing off, Haydn placed an unexpected loud chord in his “Surprise Symphony” that was meant to shake the prince out of his dreams

    A lover of wine, Haydn insisted that a part of his yearly salary be paid in it. He worshipped women – except for his wife, who used to rip up his scores and use the paper as hair curlers. Haydn was a mentor to Mozart, who credited him with teaching him how to write string quartets – and who freely used elements of the elder composer’s music in his works.

    And – despite his relative obscurity now compared at least to Mozart – he was BIG in his time.

    Mozart died impoverished and with his musical legacy unsecured. Haydn, in contrast, dined at the table of Esterhazy – one of Europe’s most powerful princes – and members of the British royal family bowed to him during his London sojourns.

    As Haydn lay dying 200 years ago and Vienna was in the hands of Napoleon’s armies, the emperor himself ordered that an honor guard do vigil outside. And his skull was studied after his death in attempts to ascertain the origins of musical genius, with German composer Johannes Brahms placing it on his desk for inspiration while composing.

    Little of that fame is now palpable on a casual tour of the Graben shopping district.

    The “Mostly Mozart” souvenir shop does brisk business in Mozart bags, Mozart CDs, Mozart marzipan and nougat sweets and Mozart tee-shirts. There are busts Mozart, Strauss and Beethoven – a German – and other non-Mozart items.

    But no Haydn.

    “There’s no demand,” explained sales associate Marjorie Francisco.

    But those who know the man and his music are paying homage, in less obtrusive ways.

    Bronx-born Lanny Louis says his CD shop is selling “at least five times as much” Haydn this year, compared to previous years.

    “People are starting to realize that there is there is another great Austrian composer outside of Mozart.”


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