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Leading performers and experts on Beethoven reveal new insights into this legendary composer. The romantic myth of the heroic, tormented figure struck down by deafness and who searched for his 'immortal beloved' but remained unmarried is also addressed, delving beyond the image of the tortured, cantankerous, unhinged personality, to reveal someone quite different and far more interesting. Line up of performers and interviewees includes Gianandrea Noseda, Sir Roger Norrington, Riccardo Chailly, Claudio Abbado, Fabio Luisi, Frans Brüggen, Ronald Brautigam, Hélène Grimaud, Vadim Repin, Janine Jansen, Paul Lewis, Lars Vogt, and Emanuel Ax.

Review by Louise Keller:
If like me, you adore the music of Beethoven, you will be enthralled by this fabulous and insightful doco that humanises the man behind the genius. It's an encore performance from British director Phil Grabsky, whose 2006 film about Mozart follows a similar structure. A filmmaker specialising in the visual arts, Grabsky makes sure we don't get bogged down by forensic facts: historic information is in perfect harmony with the music. Performances from 55 world acclaimed artists are indeed highlights, but it's the context in which they are presented that makes the film worthy of a standing ovation.

Listening to the music, it is hard to disagree with the sentiments expressed about Beethoven. "If we are to pick ten things that are great about humanity, there would probably be several Beethoven works amongst them,' we are told. 'He is one of the gods; he defines what music is; the greatest composer who ever lived; his music is rooted in everything human.'

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson, it is through Beethoven's letters, that we get a sense of his life and thoughts. Class was always the barrier that stopped him finding happiness in love. He dedicated the Moonlight Sonata to Countess Juliette. For teenager Therese, he wrote a piano piece (mistakenly called Für Elyse) and there was his adulterous affair with Antonie Brentano (his 'Immortal Beloved') 'It's almost as though he was living his life through his music,' cellist David Waterman observes.

The son of a court musician, the film traces his life from his birth in Bonn in 1770 to his death (aged 56) in 1827, after spending most of his working life in Vienna. Fame, fortune and more commissions than he could fulfill came his way and his aim to outdo his contemporaries Mozart and Hayden were unequivocally successful.

But ill-health and Beethoven's deafness were the bane of his existence; he wished for nothing greater than to be healthy. In later years he became reclusive and difficult. Although he contemplated suicide, he was surprisingly the ultimate optimist (his Ode to Joy in his original, iconic 9th Symphony is 'about a dream of joy,' says conductor Louis Langree).

There is so much that can be said about his music. There are passages that are dramatic and explosive, like his famous 5th Symphony (with its four confident opening notes - pah-pah-pah-pah), or others that are restrained, melodic and so beautiful in an ethereal way, we are moved to tears.

It seems apt that the film begins with a close up of nimble fingers on the keyboard. Beethoven himself was a virtuoso pianist. Like Mozart, he could improvise. He also seemed to delight in writing pieces that are almost impossible to play. There are nice anecdotes to illustrate this. A contradiction in terms, Beethoven was the epitome of both chaos and control. He music illustrated the control his life lacked, communicating drama, despair, love, beauty and hope. Just as Beethoven's composing process is equated to that of a sculptor like Michelangelo, Grabsky has sculpted a mesmerising film ripe with crescendos and modulations that allow us an even greater appreciation of the man's music.

DVD special features include interview with Phil Grabsky and six complete orchestral movements.

Published September 3, 2010

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(UK, 2009)

CAST: Documentary with Emanuel Ax, Jonathan Biss, Alban Gerhardt, Roger Norrington, Ilona Schmiel, Lars Vogt

NARRATION: Juliet Stevenson

DIRECTOR: Phil Grabsky

SCRIPT: Phil Grabsky


EDITOR: Phil Reynolds

MUSIC: Ludwig van Beethoven


RUNNING TIME: 139 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 15, 2009


SPECIAL FEATURES: Interview with Phil Grabsky, 6 complete orchestra movements


DVD RELEASE: September 3, 2010

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