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Music column

Beethoven Docus

© 2020 by Wolf-Dieter Seiffert

Ludwig van Beethoven

Title Ludwig van Beethoven

Subtitle --

Genre Documentary

Country German Democratic Republic

Language German

Director Max Jaap

Script Stephan Hermlin

Actor (Beethoven) --

Release date 1954

Duration ca. 90 minutes

YouTube --

IMDb Film details

Further Information Article

DVD SCM Hänssler: out of stock

Comment
“Biographical documentation of Ludwig van Beethoven’s life and works, carefully developed and organized. Despite some tendentious text passages owing to the1950’s historical view, an informative, many-sided film – worth seeing for viewers age 12 and above.” Source: Filmdienst

Recommendation Not seen.

 

 

A film about the life and music of Beethoven

Title A film about the life and music of Beethoven

Subtitle --

Genre Documentary

Country USA

Language English

Director ?

Script ?

Actor (Beethoven) --

Release date 1960

Duration ca 12 minutes

YouTube Film 

IMDb --

Further Information Article

DVD --

Comment
A rather superficial, black-and-white, lexicon-like mad dash through Beethoven’s life stages in just 12 minutes, with an emotional American newscaster focusing on democratic Enlightenment ideas via film clips (nature, original locations, costumed scenes); main concern: “Beethoven’s music is for all people.” Expendable.

Recommendation *

 

 

Ludwig van

Title Ludwig van

Subtitle Experimentelle Dokumentation

Genre German experimental film (Collagen)

Country Germany (WDR)

Language Silent film

Director Mauricio Kagel

Script Mauricio Kagel

Actor (Beethoven) --

Release date 1970

Duration ca. 90 minutes

YouTube Film

IMDb Film details 

Wikipedia Article

DVD Amazon

Comment
This film, created in 1970 as an experimental, time-sensitive collage, may have worked in intellectual circles of its time, but today the doleful black-and-white material seems only insipid and inconsequential; interesting at best as a period document. “Film music”, is, admittedly, worth listening to: Kagel’s compositional manipulations of Beethoven’s original music.

Recommendation *

 

 

Beethoven. A Portrait

Title Beethoven

Subtitle A Portrait

Genre Documentary

Country UK?

Language English

Director Balint Vazsonyi and Nicholas Vazsonyi

Script Balint Vazsonyi and Nicholas Vazsonyi

Actor (Beethoven) Antony Quale and Balint Vazsonyi

Release date 1985

Duration ca. 52 minutes

YouTube Film 

IMDb Film details

Further Information WorldCat

DVD --

Comment
Balint Vazsonyi and Anthony Quayle visit Beethoven's original locations: Bonn, the Rhine, Vienna and Heiligenstadt. And they conversationally exchange their considerable Beethoven lore along the way. Sophisticated, worthwhile, though also “old-fashioned” and often all-too emotional. The YouTube copy is unfortunately still fuzzy and has short interim glitches; still, it’s worth seeing.

Recommendation * * *

 

 

Ludwig van Beethoven

Title Ludwig van Beethoven [for children]

Subtitle On the Tracks of Composers; Part 2: Beethoven

Genre Docufiction

Country Austria (Dorifilm Medienservice)

Language German

Director Guntmar Lasnig

Script Thomas Brezina and Guntmar Lasnig

Actor (Beethoven) --

Release date 1994

Duration ca. 20 minutes

YouTube Film

IMDb Film details

Further Information --

DVD --

Comment
Based on the play of the same name by Jeunesse Musicale. Inane over long stretches.

Recommendation *

 

 

Beethoven. The Sound and the Fury

Title Beethoven

Subtitle The Sound and the Fury

Genre Documentary

Country USA

Language English

Director Jeff Swimmer. Series: Discovery History Documantary, by Jack Perkins

Script Jeff Swimmer

Actor (Beethoven) --

Release date 1995

Duration 45 minutes

YouTube Film english, Film italian, Film portuguese

IMDb Film details

Further Information Article

DVD Amazon

Comment
Narrated by Ron Perlman (Madeleine Gavin, editor). Rapid pass through Beethoven’s life stages, uninspired and monotonously illustrated (the camera constantly wandering over documents). More or less original statements by musicians and musicologists such as Charles Rosen, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Kurt Masur, William Meredith, Michael White, John Suchet, Emerson String Quartet (Eugen Drucker and Philip Setzer), Isaac Stern and Robert Greenberg.

Recommendation * *

 

 

Beethoven biography

Title Beethoven biography

Subtitle Great Composers

Genre Documentary

Country UK (BBC)

Language English

Director Jill Marshall

Script Jill Marshall

Actor (Beethoven) --

Release date 1997

Duration ca. 60 minutes

Youtube Film

YouTube (Series The Great Composers)
The Great Composers Part 1 (Josquin, Vivaldi, Handel, Haydn)
The Great Composers Part 2 (Bach, Scarlatti, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert) [Beethoven: 1:12:36 ff.]
The Great Composers Part 3 (Berlioz, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Wagner, Brahms)
The Great Composers Part 4 - The Russians (Glinka, Balakirev, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Stravinsky)

IMDb --

Further Information --

DVD Amazon

Comment
Beethoven’s life stages excellently related by Kenneth Branagh, partly cinematic, partly illustrated as docufiction. Most of all, important Beethoven researchers and musicians have their say, which is why what is intrinsic, his music, is done satisfactorily and intelligently – by William Meredith, William Kinderman, Charles Rosen, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, The Lindsays, Michael Tilson Thomas, J. Suchet, and others.

Recommendation * * * *

 

 

Ludwig van Beethoven. Triumph over Adversity

Title Ludwig van Beethoven

Subtitle Triumph over Adversity

Genre Documentary

Country Canada (Sound Venture Productions)

Language English

Director Neil Bregman and Katherine A. Jeans. Told by John Kimura Parker (pianist)

Script Michael Laewen

Actor (Beethoven) --

Release date 1998

Duration 27 minutes

YouTube Film with spanish subtitles

IMDb --

Further Information --

DVD Amazon

Comment
Quite uncharitable and uninvolved broadcast from a Canadian TV series: “Whole Notes. Stories behind the Classics”. In essence, it’s about the deaf Beethoven’s hard fate and how he ultimately overcame it thanks to his music. Here are also some musicians and historians with some rather random statements: William Littler, Lynn Harrel, Richard Westerfield, Trevor Pinnock, Stephen Isserlis, Leon Botstein and, above all, Pinchas Zukerman, who is also to be seen as conductor (barely committed) of the National Arts Centre Orchestra of Canada with excerpts from the 5th Symphony. Besides the too long music recordings, we see the camera wandering over some documents and portraits, along with a narrative voice from offstage. Expendable.

Recommendation *

 

 

Beethoven. Mark Steel Lectures

Title Beethoven

Subtitle Mark Steel Lectures

Genre Docufiction

Country UK (BBC 4, for Open University)

Language English

Director Michael Cumming

Script Mark Steel

Actor (Beethoven) Martin Hyder

Release date 2004

Duration ca. 30 minutes

YouTube Film, Film french

IMDb Film details

Wikipedia Article

DVD --

Comment
“Beethoven was a rapper and punk.” Mark Steel (as part of his legendary “Mark Steel Lectures” on BBC 4), introducing us in his inimitable British, funny-bone humour, and anything but dead serious, to some aspects of Beethoven’s life and to some specific works. Even the film entry about “classical music” is a masterpiece (John Cage’s 4’33 ...). Occasionally Steel also appears disguised as Beethoven, acting in today’s London and Vienna. Again and again, quoted letters, contemporaries’ reports, musicological jargon (Barry Cooper gets his “fat away”), living conditions, etc., are superbly satirised.
Just one example of dozens of his short great episodes: Beethoven as piano teacher (7:05ff.), amongst others, with “Elton John”.
Roaringly funny, diverting (30 minutes) – and therefore one of the best Beethoven docus ever.

Recommendation * * * *

 

 

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

Title Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

Subtitle Documentary

Genre Documentary

Country France

Language English

Director Pierre-Henry Salfati

Script Pierre-Henry Salfati, Esteban Buch and Maynard Solomon

Actor (Beethoven) Storyteller John Tarzwell and Christian Brendel

Release date 2004

Duration ca. 75 minutes

YouTube Film 

IMDb Film details

Wikipedia --

DVD --

Comment
This documentary is not about the music of the 9th itself, but is based on Esteban Buch’s brilliant analysis “Beethoven’s Ninth” (1999), about primarily its contradictory reception: “it traces the complex and contradictory uses – and abuses – of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony since its premiere in 1824” (Amazon)

If it weren't for this speaker’s penetrating tone of pathos in conjunction with his quasi-religious, ultimately kitschy Beethoven veneration, then this documentary would be the ne plus ultra for everyone interested in cultural history. Owing to their incredibly extensive compiling of historical film documents, these are a good 75 minutes of instruction. Because Beethoven’s “Ninth” is, as we all know, more than just any other symphony; since its premiere, as the spokesman notes, it has been used politically around the globe, by the “good guys” as well as by the “all the bad ones”. It was and has been appropriated by – for example: Marxists as well as by National Socialists, by Freemasons as well as by Wagnerians, by freedom fighters in Rhodesia (it’s the national anthem today) as well as by French Republicans. It served as the final consecration for kamikaze airmen of the Japanese Air Force in World War II, for Mussolini’s mass stagings (Mascagni had up to 7,000 musicians compete for the public performance of the “Ode to Joy”), and of course it also rings out on the occasion of historically memorable events (e.g., at the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, to commemorate the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp). All this and much more is documented and analysed here in film.

The end credits alone (from 1:15:30ff.), listing all the almost numberless edited original film clips, lasts 2 minutes. I enumerate in the following (in order of appearance) the live personalities who have either performed in Beethoven’s 9th itself (mostly in the 4th movement) or have adopted it “politically”:

Karajan, Bismarck, Richard Wagner, Herreweghe, Nikisch, Masur, Lenin, Engels, Olga Kameneva, Weingartner (allegedly the 9th’s first LP recording), Liszt (4-hand piano arrangement), Coolidge, d’Indy, Hindenburg, Hitler, Richard Strauss, Goebbels, Furtwängler, Alfred Rosenberg, Hans Eisler, Bruno Walter, Walter Abendroth, Toscanini, Clemens Kraus, Mengelberg, Mussolini, Mascagni, Pope Pius XII, Knappertsbusch (18 April 1945 for Hitler’s birthday), Paul Robesen, Sir Simon Rattle, Katsaris, Mitterand, Barenboim, Bernstein (1989: “Freiheit [instead of Freude: ‘Freedom’ instead of ‘Joy’] schöner Götterfunken”), Menuhin, Klemperer.

Further highlights are film documents of the 9th adapted by Chinese culture (before the “Cultural Revolution”): from 47:20ff. – later again at 1:06:00ff.; the Japanese massed performances of the 9th (to this day); Toscanini’s performance of “Verdi’s” Hymn of the Nations as a reaction to the end of the Nazi horrors in Germany and Italy (complete under this link, from 10:00ff., absolutely worth seeing; Roman Kofman’s performance of the 9th directly after Arnold Schoenberg’s “A Survivor from Warsaw” in 2003; the path to “Ode to Joy” as the European anthem (in 1971); the Ode has been appropriated by pop culture since the 1970s (“what price immortality”).

The director cleverly links the countless historical film documents with excerpts from early Beethoven feature films in order to have the “Person Beethoven” step forward (besides the well-known silent films, especially those with Ewald Balser and Donatas Banionis – see part 1 of the filmography). The camera repeatedly goes beyond Gustav Klimt's “Beethovenfries” [“Beethoven Frieze”] in artistically epitomising Beethoven’s ideals of freedom and fraternity.

Recommendation * * * *

 

 

Genius of Beethoven

Title Genius of Beethoven

Subtitle A personal exploration by Charles Hazlewood

Genre Docufiction

Country UK (BBC documentary)

Language English

Director Francesca Kemp

Script Francesca Kemp and Charles Hazlewood

Actor (Beethoven) Paul Rhys

Release date 2005

Duration ca. 180 minutes (3x à ca. 60 minutes)

YouTube
1 The Rebel 
2 Love and Loss
3 Faith and Fury

IMDb Information to Paul Rhys [the Beethoven film is missing]

Wikipedia Article

DVD --

Comment
An extraordinarily impressive, absolutely worth seeing, very detailed film about Beethoven’s life with the very great actor, Paul Rhys, in the leading role, a wonderful narrator to listen to and very good analyst and convincing actors in all other roles.
The life story is told by the intelligent and enthusiastic Charles Hazlewood. Often quoting from Beethoven’s letters always read offstage, the composer is seen writing with his quill or wandering in nature (the “Heiligenstadt Testament” and the letter to the “Immortal Beloved” are, of course, also excerpted).
Hazlewood intelligently analyses the central works that can be convincingly heard, excerpted, on historical instruments (e.g., Ronald Brautigam, Hammerklavier) without drifting too far into technical details:
Part 1: Cantata on the Death of Joseph II; Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 1; “Moonlight Sonata”; 2nd Symphony (whose finale is called “the music of a hooligan”); “Eroica”
Part 2: “Leonore (Fidelio)”; “Appassionata”; 5th Symphony; “Archduke” Trio
Part 3: Hammerklavier Sonata; Missa solemnis; 9th Symphony; late string quartets, especially the “Great Fugue”
Unlike for all other Beethoven docufictions, here there are no other of today’s “experts” except for
Hazlewood. This makes for great suspense in a “played life”, especially with the film so quietly narrating Beethoven’s life stages and their most important, all well-researched life events. Sometimes, perhaps even a bit too quiet, too long-winded, in my opinion (e.g., very long music recordings). My only criticism of Hazlewood is that, as is so often the case with laypersons, he repeatedly uses biographical material to analyse specific works, deriving music one-dimensionally from private experiences. All too often overlooked is the fact that composing is primarily the sovereign possession of a craft, even and especially with Beethoven, as if a Beethoven could write “dramatically” only when experiencing dramatic events (e.g., the nephew conflict), “heroically” only when overcoming physical disabilities (e.g., deafness) and lyrically only when in love. “Political” Beethoven comes up in my opinion far too short, overall.
The approximately 3-hour (!) docufiction is meaningfully divided into three life-phases. A particularly successful “trick” made use of by all great actors throughout is that the essential contemporary witnesses from Beethoven’s life not only play their lives, but also report on experiences in front of the modern camera, as in an “interview”:
Part 1: Eleonore Wegeler, Beethoven’s brother Karl, Joseph Haydn, Ferdinand Ries
Part 2: Peter von Braun (impressario), Prince Karl Lichnowsky, Josefine Deym, Johanna van Beethoven (sister-in-law), Archduke Rudolf, Antonie Brentano
Part 3: Stephan von Breuning, Nanette Streicher, Anton Schindler
Special “highlights”: the piano competition with Steibelt (1/30:00ff.); the “Moonlight” Sonata in the presence of Giulietta Guicciardi (1/36:40ff.); the “Heiligenstadt Testament” quoted (1/ 51:00ff.); the four-hand piano playing and farewell to Josefine Brunsvik (2/11:00ff.); the break with Lichnowsky (2/23:30ff.); Rudolf’s dialogue with Beethoven about “composing in spite of deafness” (25:30ff.); the “interview” with Antonie Brentano – the Immortal Beloved? (2/43:30ff.); the loss of hearing during the performance of op. 97 (2/ 54:00ff.); the analysis of the “late style” based on the Hammerklavier sonata (3/9:30ff.); the famous premiere scene (applause) of the 9th Symphony (3/33:00ff.); the terminally ill, even already half-decomposed Beethoven, relentlessly shown on his deathbed (3/52:45ff.).

Recommendation * * * * *

 

 

Beethoven's Hair

Title Beethoven's Hair

Subtitle --

Genre Docufiction

Country UK (CBC & BBC)

Language German (Original English)

Director Larry Weinstein

Script Thomas Wallner

Actor (Beethoven) Láry Hauser

Release date 2005

Duration ca. 60 minutes

YouTube Trailer english, Film German (ZDF) (2 parts)

IMDb Film details

Wikipedia Article

DVD (Buch) Amazon

Comment
The “Ira Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies” has been the proud owner of one of the many hair locks cut as a relic from Beethoven on his deathbed at the end of March 1827. The Beethoven-Haus in Bonn alone owns 11 of them. (Last year, 2019, by the way, the most recent Beethoven hair tuft also went under the hammer at Sotheby’s, for 31,000 euros). The basis of the enormous, elaborately shot docufiction is Russel Martin’s bestseller “Beethoven’s Hair”.
The film, which has long since been for purchase on DVD, really spares no effort (“medical thriller” General Anzeiger) in turning a rather meagre story into something supposedly spectacular: camera teams traveled over literally half the world for this documentary fiction, to find places and speak to people known to have had anything to do with the hair tuft provenance: Ferdinand Hiller (Vienna) > his son Paul (Cologne) > unknown whereabouts > Dr Freming (Denmark) > his daughter Michelle > Sotheby’s > Ira Brilliant (Phoenix/AZ). On the other hand, there are several physicians, medical historians, forensic experts, an expert in chemical hair analysis (Dr Bill Walsh), a physicist, a musicologist and even an Australian who suffered from lead poisoning but is now cured thanks to research in connection with this film. Finally, the film is enhanced by historical film excerpts (Nazi propaganda, Beethoven feature films of the early 20th century: Balser, Baur, Kortner; see part 1 of this filmography), recording of the (moderately inspired) Emerson String Quartet, and of course docufiction through numerous re-enacting scenes of the dying Beethoven and his surroundings.
Beethoven's locks are examined, wordily introduced, by a urologist Dr. Che Guevara (!) in surgical clothing, then meticulously examined in the “Argonne Labs” (the strongest X-ray source in the world), described with much scrupulous precision. Result: Beethoven’s hair has a lead concentration of up to 100 times what is usual. The late Beethoven must certainly have been lead-poisoned. According to current research, however, Beethoven did not die of lead poisoning, but of cirrhosis of the liver (alcohol abuse; wine splashing about in lead-crystal goblets). The film’s attempt to put Beethoven’s deafness in causal connection with acute lead poisoning is unconvincing, not to mention the master’s supposedly primarily lead-poisoned, choleric nature, because the hair analyses provide a maximum of information about the past 1-1½ years of the deceased’s life in March 1827. It is simply not possible to prove whether there was lifelong lead poisoning, as is ultimately too luridly asserted.
The documentary is deftly edited without a chronological red thread and thus entertaining every minute, breathlessly following the innumerable persons and places that show up. Ira Brilliant’s sympathetic amateur enthusiasm and (collective) passion for Beethoven are immediately infectious. The highly emotional moments of many rationally cool scientists in the course of the documentary (here Ken Kemner, Argonne) show us that it is not about just any hair.

Recommendation * * *

 

 

Ludwig van Beethoven. Genius on the Edge

Title Ludwig van Beethoven

Subtitle Genius on the Edge

Genre Docufiction

Country Germany (3SAT)

Language German

Director ?

Script Jürgen Büscher and Gero von Boehm

Actor (Beethoven) Uwe Ochsenknecht

Release date 2007

Duration ca. 58 minutes

YouTube Film 

IMDb Film details

Further Information --

DVD --

Comment
A well-intentioned docufiction suitable for a mass-audience about Beethoven’s life and its musico-historical significance, told from the retrospective of recent years. Uwe Ochsenknecht largely, convincingly puts on a brave show as a courageously defying, seriously ill Beethoven. Most dialogues are superficial and often seem simply implausible. All the clichés and rumours are dealt with: such as Beethoven’s two allegedly-illegitimate children (by Josefine Brunsvik and Antonie Brentano); Antonie Brentano allegedly identified as an “Immortal Beloved”; the alleged syphilis; Beethoven’s heroic “struggling for every note”, even the “fight to the end”; etc. A pharmacologist named Richard Ludwig also knows the cause of the deafness as well as Beethoven’s death: encephalopathy, caused by massive lead poisoning (see above: “Beethoven's Hair”, (c) 2005). Those speaking are: Anne-Sophie Mutter, Kurt Masur, Rita Steblin, Nancy Tanneberger, Klaus Martin Kopitz, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Isabella Rosselini.

A greatly acted scene is Beethoven’s dialogue with his nephew Karl, sketching the 9th Symphony at the piano (from approx. 30:00ff.). All very entertaining, but nothing more.

Recommendation * *

 

 

Der junge Ludwig van Beethoven

Title Der junge Ludwig van Beethoven

Subtitle --

Genre Docufiction

Country Germany (WDR)

Language German

Director Michael Meert

Script Miachael Meert

Actor (Beethoven) Gabriel Denhoff

Release date 2007

Duration 54 minutes

YouTube Film 

IMDb Film details

Wikipedia Article

DVD --

Comment
A very sedate docufiction with average acting actors, set in many beautiful places in Bonn (and in Holland) for Beethoven’s youth in Bonn – in 5 chapters, each of about 10 minutes. But at least well-founded facts come up thanks to the close collaboration with the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn (Andreas Eckhardt, Margot Wetzstein, Julia Ronge, Michael Ladenburger).

Recommendation * * *

 

 

In Search of Beethoven

Title In Search of Beethoven

Subtitle --

Genre Documentary

Country UK

Language English (DVD with subtitles in German, French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese)

Director Phil Grabsky

Script Phil Grabsky

Actor (Beethoven) --

Release date 2009

Duration 139 minutes

YouTube Trailer

IMDb Film details

Wikipedia Article

DVD Amazon

Comment
As already in his documentary “In Search of Mozart” (2007), Phil Grabsky also manages splendidly to bring off before us his Beethoven approach of 2009, both biography and work in detail, well-founded and yet entertaining. From offstage, Juliet Stevenson tells the story of Beethoven’s life. “Beethoven” (a speaker) again and again reads from his letters (including, of course, also the “Heiligenstadt Testament”, “Immortal Beloved”). In his over 2 hours (!) of documentary, Grabsky combines interviews (musicians, historians, etc.), live music and beautiful pictures/films of original locations with clever editing and a plausible narrative thread, so that it never becomes boring, but despite the enormous wealth of facts, always remains exciting and moving. The camera always seems to want to get enormously close to faces and hand of speakers and musicians, becoming rather annoying in the long run.
Almost all of Beethoven’s essential life stages are discussed, although sometimes the now known details are smoothed off a little too benignly (such as the “nephew conflict” or Beethoven’s alcohol abuse).
A magnificent cross-section of Beethoven’s compositions is offered in fabulous live recordings, although – given the detail of this documentary – I would prefer to have heard excerpted some of the lesser-known works (e.g., one of the nearly 200 traditional folk song adaptations or one of the superb string trios); not to mention that the complete absence of the enormous “Diabelli” variations is unforgivable. Performed (in order of occurrence) are:
“Great Fugue” op. 133, a piano piece by Christian Gottlob Neefe (Beethoven’s Bonn teacher), “0.” Piano Concerto WoO 4, Cantata on Joseph II, Piano Concerto 2, Piano Trio op. 1/1, Piano Sonatas op. 2/1 and 2, Cello Sonata op. 5/2, Piano Sonata op. 10/2, String Quartet op. 18/6, 1st Symphony, Violin Sonata op. 24, “Moonlight Sonata”, Violin Sonata op. 47, 3rd Piano Concerto, 3rd Symphony, “Waldstein Sonata”, “Appassionata”, Triple Concerto, “Leonore/Fidelio”, 4th Symphony, Violin Concerto, String Quartet op. 59/2, Coriolan Overture op. 62, Cello Sonata op. 69, 6th Symphony, 4th Piano Concerto, 5th Symphony, 5th Piano Concerto, “Les Adieux” op. 81a, “Harp” String Quartet op. 74, “For Elise”, “Wellington's Victory” op. 91, 7th and 8th Symphonies, “Adelaide” op. 46, Cello Sonata, Op. 102/1, Piano Sonata op. 101, “Ferne Geliebte” op. 98, Piano Sonatas op. 110 and 111, “Missa solemnis”, 9th Symphony, String Quartet op. 130 and “Great Fugue” op. 133.
Many wonderful musicians play this music, some of them appearing several times in the course of the documentary (e.g., Norrington, Brautigam), some also as commentators on music interpretation. In the order of their appearance:
Brautigam, Norrington, Biss, Vogt, Bezuidenhout, Ax, Gerhardt, Endellion String Quarter, Chailly, Jansen, Brüggen, Noseda, Abbado, Donzen, Parrott, Repin, Harwood, Grimaud, Masur, Gerhaher & Huber, Lewis, Andsnes, Luisi.
Many, predominantly Anglo-Saxon musicologists, present us with particular biographical and work-specific details (in chronological order) in varying degrees of comprehensiveness and quality, some of them even as constant commentators and interpreters throughout the whole film (e.g., Cliff Eisen); in order of their appearance:
Northcott, Schmiel, Kongen, Eisen, Bietti, Waterman, Jeffrey, del Mar, Marston, Kraus, Cooper, Langrée.
Highlights (of the production rich in interesting scenes) are, for example: the detailed report on the famous 4-hour Beethoven concert in 1808: chapter “An Epic concert” (with Cliff Eisen, Frans Brüggen, Hélène Grimaud, Kristian Bezuidenhout and others): 1:12:50-1:27:10; or Paul Lewis and Leif Ove Andsnes on the Piano Sonata op. 110: 1:50:55-1:54:05.
Given the time and requisite interest, this is certainly one of the best productions on Beethoven’s life and work that we have.

Recommendation * * * * *

 

 

Iubiri imposibile

Title Iubiri imposibile

Subtitle Ludwig van Beethoven si Jeanette d’Honrath

Genre Docufiction

Country Romania (TV Timisoara TVR 3)

Language Romanian

Director Brindusy Armanca

Script Daniel Spataru

Actor (Beethoven) Adrian Korek

Release date 2014

Duration 53 Minutes (2nd part starting at 27:35)

YouTube Film 

IMDb --

Wikipedia --

DVD --

Comment
Romanian TV production about a Beethoven biographical sideshow, unfortunately in a language (Romanian) that I do not speak. Narrator, Prof. Luciana Ianculescu, takes us to numerous locations in Temesvar (Romania) and shows us several documents on Beethoven’s supposedly first great Bonn love and her later centre of life in Temesvar: Maria Johanna Sibilla von Honrath, later wife of General Carl von Greth, fortress commander in Temesvar (Wikipedia).

Release date *

 

 

Mythos Beethoven

Title Mythos Beethoven

Subtitle Documentary in 6 parts

Genre Documentary

Country Germany (ZDF & 3 SAT)

Language German

Director Steinaecker, Wübbolt, von Karstedt

Script Steinaecker, Wübbolt, von Karstedt

Actor (Beethoven) --

Release date 2016

Duration ca. 180 minutes (6x30 minutes)

YouTube
Teil 1 Der Revolutionär; 2 Der Verliebte
Teil 3 Der Virtuose; 4 Der Kranke
Teil 5 Der Unternehmer; 6 Der Unsterbliche

IMDb --

Wikipedia --

DVD jpc

Comment
Six-part, reasonably worth seeing Beethoven documentary by Thomas von Steinaecker (parts 1 and 4); Georg Wübbolt (parts 2 and 3) and Carl von Karstedt (parts 5 and 6). The Dutch Beethoven biographer Jan Caeyers acts as a rather avuncular narrator in all six parts; as an engaged actor, Uwe Bohm reads from numerous Beethoven letters; and the stupendous pianist Rudolf Buchbinder is shown with both numerous excerpts from Beethoven sonatas, recorded live in the Great Hall of the Salzburg Mozarteum, as well as in terse, consistently interesting private statements on Beethoven’s work and life. Various specialists speak in front of the camera as guest professionals: in (1) Eva Gesine Baur (cultural historian), in (2) Rita Steblin (music historian); in (3) Olaf Kirsch (specialist in historical keyboard instruments; in (4) Eckart Altenmüller (musician-physician), Olga Neuwirth (composer) and Michael Ladenburger (curator of the Beethoven Museum, Bonn); in (5) Andrea Komlosy (economic historian); in (6) no “guest” besides the three main actors mentioned.
In this detailed, methodically and stringently constructed documentary, one learns, rather blandly and without very much diversity or even suspense, many biographical, contemporary and historico-cultural aspects of Beethoven’s life, always cleverly intertwined with his compositions. A not to be ignored weakness of the documentary is the almost exclusive focus on Beethoven’s piano sonatas; it’s certainly true, as Caeyers puts it, that Beethoven “always” (?) regarded the piano as his “natural biotope”, therefore innovating new compositional paths from the piano. At best, symphonies, concertos, chamber and sacred music and suchlike are briefly alluded to in the sound background. This is simply not enough and probably owing to a slim budget. A background voice (Sandra Voss) summarises facts, with Jan Caeyers walking through original locations (camera usually running ahead of him), unfolding his profound biographical knowledge in rather simple explanatory sentences. Another dramaturgical, but convincing film “trick” is the thumbing through of an evidently large folio, in which are mounted countless Beethoven portraits, letter and music-text documents, etc. This is cost sparing, yet still sufficient for a documentary.
If you only want to glance at it, I’d recommend part 5 “The Entrepreneur”. This 2016 production cannot keep up with the BBC’s documentaries and docufictions, either cinematically or in terms of content.

Recommendation * * *

 

 

Beethoven, Living History

Title Beethoven, Living History

Subtitle --

Genre Docufiction

Country USA

Language English

Director Dennis Kobray

Script Dennis Kobray

Actor (Beethoven) Dennis Kobray

Release date ca. 2016

Duration ca. 10 Minuten

YouTube Film

IMDb --

Further Information Article

DVD Meet the Musicians

Comment
In his multi-part series “Living History”, Dennis Kobray plays Beethoven moderately convincingly in historical costume. “Beethoven” reports retrospectively about his first Viennese years (“I ...”) and even plays the beginning of the “Pathétique” on the piano. Too many important aspects raised in quick succession, everything played a bit too “excitedly” and “accusingly” (perhaps for children?). In full length on DVD, Vol. 2. Expendable.

Recommendation *

 

 

The Secret of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony

Title The Secret of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony

Subtitle --

Genre Documentary

Country UK (BBC)

Language English

Director Guy Evans

Script John Eliot Gardiner

Actor (Beethoven) --

Release date 2016

Duration ca. 90 minutes

YouTube Film

IMDb Film details

Wikipedia Article

DVD --

Comment
This BBC production is one of the best on Beethoven’s life and work existing to this day. The focus is, in fact, on the famous 5th Symphony and its musical and hermeneutical-historical interpretation, though the authors do cover a lot of ground to present the essential aspects of Beethoven’s biography in a scholarly sound and consistently entertaining way.

John Eliot Gardiner conducts Beethoven’s 5th Symphony with his phenomenal “Orchestre revolutionnaire et romantique”, leading us at the same time through the work that he believes contains a “hidden radical message”, that is, Beethoven’s deep sympathy for the ideals of the French Revolution (freedom, equality, fraternity). Since an open commitment to these ideals in Vienna would have been extremely dangerous at the time of the symphony’s creation (in 1807), he hides the message in tones and quotations.

Ian Hislop leads us like a tour guide, superbly moderating even whilst the music is heard, in intermediate cuts to the various scenes of Beethoven’s life in Bonn and Vienna, and to the roots of the French Revolution in Paris and Fontainbleau. Excellent camera and motifs.

Coming up, amongst other things, are the “correct tempo” of the first movement (very fast!); the orchestral scoring with “period instruments” (and why these produce such a different, “more exciting” sound than a modern orchestra); the “Storm on the Bastille” and Napoleon’s self-crowning as emperor; the Pantheon in Paris and Cherubini’s revolutionary music; Beethoven’s Bonn birthplace and his musical instruction there with Neefe, going far beyond normal music lessons; the great influence of Schiller's works (“The Robbers”) and thinking on Beethoven; the noble patrons in Vienna (Lobkowitz, Lichnowsky and others).

Besides the extraordinarily intelligent and sympathetic John Eliot Gardiner, important Beethoven researchers and historians, journalists and musicians have their say in the original interview at various locations (in the order of their appearance): Philipp Wagner; John Suchet; Michel Noiray; Julia Ronge; Peter Hanson (concert master); Michael Harrison (trumpet); Lewis Lockwood; William Kinderman; Peter Becker; Birgit Lodes; Sheila O'Connell.

Recommendation * * * * *