Copying Beethoven

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Verve Pictures
PERFORMER: A film directed by Agnieszka Holland Ed Harris, Diane Kruger, Anna Holtz; Kecskeméti Chorus & Orchestra/Laszlo Gerhat
CATALOGUE NO: VER7775 (NTSC system; Dolby digital; 16:9 picture format


If you stay the course to the final credits, you will see that ‘For the purpose of dramatisation, names, locations and the circumstances of events have been changed, modified and created, and dialogue invented’.

Beethoven’s regular copyist calls for help during preparation for the Chora Symphony, and is sent the ‘best composition student in Vienna’, who happens to be an attractive young woman, Anna Holtz. This is complete fiction, which would be fine if it actually gave any insight into Beethoven’s life or creative process, but it’s very much the romantic concept of the eccentric, difficult artist, who is tolerated and forgiven because he has a direct line to God.

The first hour or so is given over to the Symphony, ending in an extended potted version of the premiere. As Beethoven can’t hear what he is conducting, Anna incongruously spends the whole performance among the musicians on the stage, beating time, and keeping him on track – with remarkable accuracy and sensitivity, given that this is totally unrehearsed. 


Ed Harris looks more plausible conducting than many actors, and they’ve given him a good make-up job, though he’s far too clean, as is everyone involved. But he can’t do much with the platitudes of the script: ‘I’m opening up music to ugliness’ he says of the Grosse Fuge, which takes up most of the remainder of the film. The lead actors and director do their best to hype it all up in a short extra feature, but it’s pretty thin stuff. Martin Cotton