Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal


Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal


Article excerpt

COPYING BEETHOVEN, A FEATURE FILM BY THE POLISH DIRECTOR AGNIESZKA HOLLAND, opened in the United States on November 10, 2006. Produced by Sidney Kimmel Entertainment and VIP Medienfonds 2, and distributed in the U.S. by M-G-M, this American-German coproduction was filmed in the spring of 2005 in London and on locations around Hungary, on an eleven-million-dollar budget. Myriad Pictures, which handles the international rights, posted this synopsis of the 104-minute film on its website (www. myriadpictures. com):

Young Anna Holtz [played by Diane Kruger] , a student at the Vienna Music Conservatory, is summoned to the offices of Herr Schlemmer, Beethoven's publisher. His Ninth Symphony is about to be premiered and Schlemmer, who is dying of cancer, needs a copyist to complete the score. Anna eagerly accepts, despite his warning that Beethoven [Ed Harris] is a monster.

As her work copying down the music of Beethoven proceeds, Anna is drawn into the maestros tortured and inspired world. She sees their collaboration as a God-sent opportunity to prove her own talent as a composer; he glimpses in her a pure soul who might help him realize the culmination of his art-the creation of the last string quartets, the most sublime and spiritual music ever written.

Beethoven reveals his growing need and affection for Anna as they work together on the string quartets. She boldly shows Beethoven her own work Thoughdessly, he derides it and she leaves him in despair.

Desperate, Anna accepts her longtime paramour Martin's proposal of marriage. Beethoven storms after her-she must choose between Martin and him. Anna tries to flee Vienna but cannot; her destiny is linked to Beethoven's. She returns to finish their work and finds him dying. From his dictation she copies the last of the quartets. His work on earth done, he frees her to become what he tells her she was born to be-a composer.

The character of Anna Holtz is fictitious, of course, though various historical figures that will be familiar to Beethoven fans do appear, including the composers nephew Karl, the violinist Schuppanzigh, and the Archduke Rudolph.

From the synopsis, we gather that the film takes the same approach as the regrettable Immortal Belovedof1994 (with Gary Oldman as Beethoven), or Amadeus, or Shine, or just about every other "prestige" classical-music movie we can think of: blending fact and fantasy into an overheated mix replete with highfalutin nonsense. (Remember, in Amadeus, the quite absurd spectacle of the dying Mozart dictating his Requiem to Salieri?) The tagline of Copying Beethoven is "The passion behind the genius," and among the lines given to the Master are purple outbursts like "Loneliness is my religion!"-to say nothing of this mouthful:

The vibrations on the air are the breath of God speaking to man's soul. Music is the language of God. We musicians are as close to God as man can be. We hear his voice, we read his lips, we give birth to the children of God, who sing his praise. That's what musicians are.

Not surprisingly, reports are already circulating of historical errors in the film. In one scene, for instance, BeetJioven actually refers to his Csharp-minor sonata as the "Moonlight" (a silly nickname that in reality had nothing to do with him). Perhaps for the sake of dramatic expediency, he is given more credit for hearing than he actually possessed in 1824, in which year the movie is set, and the performance of the Ninth on the soundtrack is a decidedly un-period one: Bernard Haitink's 1996 Decca recording with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

Ed Harris's passionate portrayal of the tortured, aging composer has received much praise (he reportedly learned to mimic Beethoven's musical handwriting, and to conduct); so, too, has the direction of Agnieszka Holland, who is best known for her films from the early 1990s (Europa, Europa; Olivier, Olivier, The secret Garden; Total Eclipse). …

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