Beethoven on Video: A Review of Selected Educational Programs (1988-1998)

Article excerpt

SINCE THE REPORTS BY WILLIAM GEORGE AND KEVIN BAZZANA in the Winter 1991 issue of The Beethoven Newsletter, we have devoted little space to educational videos on Beethoven. This review attempts to fill in that gap by summarizing some of the older television programs still available on video as well as more recent tapes. The programs may be biographical or historical in focus, or concentrate on the structure or performance of Beethoven's music. In some, the discussion of Beethoven is extensive; others illustrate his milieu and influences. For those who wish to purchase copies of the videos, catalog order numbers and price information are included. We are grateful to Films for the Humanities and Sciences (800-275-5126; for providing review copies of most of the tapes described below. Other distributors of performing arts videocassettes include Kultur Video (800-5733782;; and Facets Video (800-331-6197; e-mail:

Videos on Beethoven

Beethoven (The Great Composers). Films for the Humanities and Sciences, ©1997. 23 min. Color. $89.95. #BPX7193.

Originally produced as a half-hour television program, the video could be subtitled "an introduction to his most popular works." Short on biographical data, it instead offers brief histories, critical reactions, interpretations of meaning, and assessments of significance of a few major works: the Fifth, Sixth, and Ninth Symphonies; the Fifth Fortepiano Concerto; and the "Moonlight" Sonata. Selections of these works are played throughout the video, but the nearly continuous narrative superimposed on the music prevents close listening. Visuals switch between portraits, art works, scenes from movies set in Beethoven's day, and modern-day performers. As the program centers on Beethoven's middle period works, it stresses the "romantic" image of Beethoven as an artist. Certain Beethoven myths - his lack of spontaneity in the composing process as compared to Mozart, and his marriage proposal to Guilietta Guicciardi - are repeated here.

Beethoven: The Age of Revolution (Man & Music). Films for the Humanities and Sciences, c!988. 53 min. Color. $89.95. *BPX1776 ; Beethoven: The Composer as Hero (Man & Music). Films for the Humanities and Sciences, ©1988. 53 min. Color. $89.95. #BPX1777.

These two programs from the twenty-two part Man & Music series were produced for Granada Television in 1987. Both delve more deeply into political events during Beethoven's lifetime than other biographical programs on the composer. In Beethoven: The Age of Revolution, the narrator first looks briefly at art and literature of the period before focusing on the French Revolution. With the apparent intention to set the scene rather than follow a timeline, the switch from historical background to Beethoven biography is occasionally a bit abrupt and disjointed. However, the fine visuals more than make up for any shortcomings in the script. These include close-ups of documents such as Beethoven's diary of 1792; the contract with Artaria for publication of the Fortepiano Trios, Opus 1; the subscription list for Opus 1 ; many first edition title pages of Beethoven's other early compositions; and the Heiligenstadt Testament. Stanley Sadie shows us Beethoven's sketches for the first movement of the Trio, Opus 1, no. 3, demonstrating on the piano how Beethoven worked through several different ideas for the main theme before settling on the final version. Portraits and engravings of historical scenes are interspersed with modern-day footage inside Beethoven's homes in Vienna, Baden, and Heiligenstadt. Most welcome are the scenes inside the Lichnowsky palace where much of Beethoven's earliest music was first performed. In this setting we hear passages from Opus 1, no. 3; the Pathétique Sonata; and the Violin Sonata, Opus 24; the String Quartet, Opus 18, no. 6; and the Eroica Symphony performed on original instruments by Steven Lubin, Stephanie Chase, Myron Lutzky, the Salomon String Quartet, and the London Classical Players under direction of Roger Norrington. …