Vienna, 1824. In the days before the first performance of the Ninth Symphony, Beethoven needs help with copying out the charts, so a promising student of composition, Anna Holtz, 23, is sent to assist him. She not only aids the transcription of the notes, she provides guidance from the orchestra pit as Beethoven conducts the work's debut. During the next two years, the final ones of Beethoven's life, Anna provides assistance to the deaf, temperamental, ailing man. In return, he tutors her in composition and explains to her the ideas and principles of Romanticism. He tries to speak for God.Written by
The film depicts Beethoven conducting the premier of his Ninth Symphony with Anna's help and at the end her turning him around at the podium to see the thunderous applause. In reality, Michael Umlauf conducted and although Beethoven was on stage keeping tempo, the orchestra had been told to ignore him. At the end of the performance it was one of the soloists, Caroline Unger, who turned him around to see the enthusiastic applause of the audience. Indeed, it's hard to see the point of what Anna is doing as depicted in the film. Beethoven would know all the correct tempi and where he is in the score himself. If the orchestra goes wrong, they can't see Anna, who's the only person who could put them right again if Beethoven can't hear them. See more »
Fine film about music, with a superb Ed Harris performance
As a professional musician I'm tired of seeing movies that claim to depict the lives of musicians, but just don't "get" it. This one, with all its poetic excesses and liberties taken with the "real" story, does "get" it, and more. The writing has some good scenes, the acting for the most part is good. The scenes of music being written and made are quite true to the reality of the doing. In certain ways adding a fictional character to heighten the story weakens the integrity of the film, especially as the film clearly depicts Beethoven's unrequited love for his nephew Karl. Beethoven's real copyists at this point in his life were men. So what was the point of turning them into a young woman, except to sell the picture and make a political statement?
But no matter. The picture has its moments of real beauty visually and emotionally. It captures the look and sound of a world lit only by daylight, candles and firelight, and in which the loudest sounds heard are those of church bells, added by the sound designer at very telling points in the story.
But the strongest thing about the film is the performance of Ed Harris. This is an amazing theater artist. He totally inhabits the character as written, with no tricks, no Method-izing, no self-conscious showing off, as do his contemporaries, DeNiro and Pacino. He totally disappears into the character, and unlike the actors I mentioned, is totally different in each role, in appearance and in voice. It's done so simply, too, without any extra attention-grabbing flourishes. As I've said elsewhere, his work reminds me most of classic film actors like Tracy, Fonda and Stewart in that respect.
I was astounded by the way he acted the role of a musician, which was incredibly accurate, in ways I would expect from this actor, but still it surprised me. The only other performance on film that I've seen which equals it in this respect is that of Claude Rains in the 1946 melodrama "Deception". But then, Harris' father was a musician, singing in the most famous small chorus of his time, Fred Waring's "Pennsylvanians". So Ed Harris grew up around musicians, accounting for his accurate portrayal and his singing voice.
So do see this film, for the music of course, but also for Ed Harris' riveting performance.
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