LABELS: BBC Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Elgar
WORKS: Eroica: A film by Nick Dear; Symphony No. 3
PERFORMER: Ian Hart, Tim Pigott-Smith, Jack Davenport, Fenella Woolgar, Claire Skinner, Lucy Akhurst, Frank Finlay; Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: OA 0908 D
This prize-winning film centres on the first read-through of the Eroica Symphony at the palace of Beethoven’s patron Prince Lobkowitz in Vienna in 1804. The beginning is musically chaotic, but settles down to be note-perfect – historically impossible, but artificially bad playing would quickly become a turn-off. In fact, it’s the camera moves, which are sometimes wild, that give the frisson of newness to the proceedings.
Nick Dear has telescoped a lot into one day: Beethoven’s belief that the artist is of the same stature in society as the aristocracy, insisting that a late-arriving horn player comes up the main staircase with him, rather than using the servants’ entrance. And this is counterpointed by a footman, who understands that Beethoven has done something completely new in the Symphony, whereas the contemptuous Count Dietrichstein hears only dissonance and lack of form. We also have Countess Josephine von Dehn turning down Beethoven’s proposal of marriage; the first inklings of the composer’s deafness; the report of Napoleon declaring himself Emperor; and the aged Haydn, at the end of the symphony, declaring that ‘everything is different from today’, while Ian Hart’s expression balances apprehension and satisfaction as the music unfolds.
Most of the dialogue happens while the Symphony is being played: if you want to hear just the performance, you can, though be warned that the visuals then become distracting. Martin Cotton