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By the time the first public performance of Beethoven's Symphony No.3 (Eroica) took place in Vienna in 1805, a privileged few had already heard the work at a private play-through at the Lobkowitz Palace in June 1804. Nick Dear's award-winning period drama, starring Ian Hart as Beethoven, brings to life the momentous day that prompted Haydn to remark ‘everything is different from today’. Filmed in 2003.
BONUS FEATURE: Performance option
Sir John Eliot Gardiner's outstanding surround sound recording of Eroica, made with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique exclusively for this film in the Eroicasaal in Vienna, is available to view as a stand-alone music performance feature.
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 'Eroica'
"You could not hope for a stronger cast." (The Times)
"A clever and beautifully made dramatisation." (The Sunday Times)
"This was thrilling stuff, as exciting visually as it was aurally." (The Sunday Telegraph)
"Ian Hart is brilliant as Beethoven, a volatile, magnetic figure of genius and uncouth charm…not to be missed." (The Daily Mail)
"They use what we know of the people and places concerned to invent a plausible narrative of politics, love and anger that, most importantly, centres on the music. In fact the domestic scale of the setting is a powerful reminder of the work's vast reach and capacity to shock." (The Gramophone)Cast
Ian Hart (Ludwig van Beethoven)
Tim Piggott-Smith (Count Dietrichstein)
Claire Skinner (Josephine Deym)
Jack Davenport (Prince Lobkowitz)
Frank Finlay (Joseph Haydn)
Fenella Woolgar (Princess Marie Lobkowitz)
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique; Sir John Eliot Gardiner
Company: BBC Worldwide
Stage Director: Nick Dear
Catalogue Number: OA0908D
Date of Performance: 2003
Running Time: 129 minutes
Sound: LPCM Stereo; DTS Surround
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Anamorphic
Subtitles: EN, FR, DE, ES, IT
Label: Opus Arte
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And, in general, this succeeds in its aims. Beethoven as flesh and blood during the first rehearsal of one of his most "flesh and blood" masterpieces. Well executed period performances by Sir John Elliott Gardiner and his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, dressed up in period costumes.
The script is (as others have observed) a little tepid, and the acting seemed more a study in pastels than primary colours... both on the part of Ian Hart and the others. I would have expected more expressive performances. Also, (some musical "expert" please jump in here): would the very first run though have been as smooth as this (especially with Beethoven hanging about?). If, indeed, the assembled musicians had just received the score, I would have expected more stops and starting, and many more false starts as they grappled with what Beethoven had in mind. Obviously, staging an agonizing, repetitive rehearsal of a new musical piece wouldn't make for good TV, but it might have made the whole thing just a shade more realistic.
"If I were the director"...(and of course production money was unlimited!) it would have been almost equally dramatic--and maybe more telling--to partner the initial reactions from the private rehearsal with those of the initial audience when the piece was performed in public. While it doesn't seem like there was a "Rite of Spring" type riot at the first performance, the story that's been handed down is of a number of audience members reacting in stronger terms to what they were hearing than what was expressed in the genial confines of a nobleman's house.
Al that aside......this is a worthwhile film to see, whether on DVD or other format. The DVD also comes with Gardiner's orchestra doing a full run through of the symphony, without the film dialogue. Its a great performance, and in some ways the accompanying film clips showing (just) the facial expressions and body movements of the actors work as well as the scripted film.
And by all means consider finding Gardiner's full Beethoven symphony set with the ORR...a mainstay of my collection.
Lastly, I'd also call attention to another (audio only) portrayal of the shock value of this wonderful symphony when it was first introduced, you could do no better than to turn to Jordi Savall's magnificent and extremely edgy rendition of the "Eroica" with Le Concert des Nations, recorded in 1994. He turns the "revolutionary" aspects up even several notches further than Gardiner. Are all Savall's musical choices strictly "accurate"? Who knows? But it doesn't really matter...he gets the "shock and awe" quotient up pretty high; fitting for this piece. (Sortof like the first time you heard the Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols and wondered if it meant the world was ending.....)
''You have to admit, dear friend, it is rather difficult.''
''That, Serene Highness, is the most lavish praise that can be given to an artist.''
''Really? How paradoxical. Why?
''Because difficult is good. Difficult is beautiful. Difficult is closer to the truth.''
The old prince just stares in response.
Difficult is good! Where has this idea gone?
This disc of 129 minutes includes the entire presentation of Beethoven's Symphony No. 3.
What really adds interest and context is the dialogue and focus on the observers. Even the kitchen staff are affected.
The reactions, both positive and negative, are an outstanding feature of this video.
The drama of the music is matched by the intense confrontation of Beethoven and the countess. He loves her. She loves his music. She will not marry him.
''Your music frightens me. So turbulent, so warlike. I want peace.''
He is crushed and returns to express his feelings in the music.
This music is really a political statement in favor of the common man and against the nobility.
''If Bonaparte is defeated we will return to the dark ages.''
He is told Bonaparte crowned himself emperor today. He tears up the title sheet with napoleons name.
Hayden's music works for perfection of form. Balance between emotions and intellect.
Restraint is key. 'I am not good at restraint', responds Beethoven.
'You are not Handel or 'Goethe. Why? No one like them is any longer being born.'
Later Herr Hayden arrives. Comments when departing . . .
''Done something no one attempted, placed himself at the center of his work.''
''Gives us a glimpse into his soul''
''But it is quite, quite new - the artist as hero.''
''Everything is different from today.''
Viewer will need some interest in Beethoven and/or this historical period.
Well done and accurate history, as far as I am aware.