Beethoven: In Search of Beethoven

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Seventh Art Productions
WORKS: Assorted
PERFORMER: A film by Phil Grabsky Juliet Stevenson (narrator); with Claudio Abbado, Frans Brüggen, Roger Norrington, Riccardo Chailly, Gianandrea Noseda, Fabio Luisi etc
CATALOGUE NO: SEVXXX (PAL system; Dolby stereo; 16:9 anamorphic)

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Beethoven attracts biographers like moths to a flame: most die on impact, but Grabsky belongs to a different class.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson, and starring many of the leading exponents of Beethoven’s music, this expansive treatment avoids drama-doc clichés, and, through copious close-ups of fingers on strings and hands on keyboards, gives intimate insights into the art itself. It certainly helps that Hélène Grimaud is a fashion-plate beauty as well as a brilliant talker, and that period-performance guru Roger Norrington can hold forth like a jovial Father Christmas, as well as wielding the baton.

Grabsky has corralled a hugely impressive array of talent, including Abbado, Noseda and Chailly among the conductors, and Ronald Brautigam, Janine Jansen, Paul Lewis, Lars Vogt, and Jonathan Biss among the players: this is vintage stuff.  

But the ‘search’ here doesn’t go far enough: Beethoven’s psychological journey was infinitely stranger than what we see here. Like Salvador Dali, Beethoven lived in the shadow of an elder brother with the same name, who died in infancy, and whose mysterious memory haunted him all his life.

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Beethoven irrationally believed he was illegitimate, and of noble birth; his abortive love-life, and the madness which assailed him in his middle years, are a gold-mine for Freudians, with some claiming that he was an authoritarian sadist who transferred his homosexual feelings for his younger brother Caspar to his unfortunate nephew Carl. The real ‘search’ still awaits. Michael Church