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Title... 'Copying Beethoven' : a film about Beethoven's last period
Copying Beethoven

We are very pleased at the Beethoven Reference Site to have been in discussions with Stephen Rivele, co-writer of the screenplay for one of the new movies about Beethoven, concentrating on the last years of his life in which he produced some of his sublimest and spiritual music. After many setbacks and difficulties, filming finally begins in April 2005 and is being shot in Budapest with post-production in London.

We have had very lively discussions on our forum with regard to authenticity, and Mr. Rivele has explained just how difficult copying Beethoven is to achieve on a limited budget. For example, did the violinists use chin rests? Did the cellos have tailpins? Did the horns have valves? What music would have been played in the taverns? There can be no doubting Mr. Rivele's sincerity and desire to present a Beethoven film covering the last years of the composer’s life as accurately as possible, but in order to create a viable project certain artistic license has had to be taken.

Cast and credits:

Ed Harris, Ludwig Van Beethoven

Diane Kruger, Anna Holtz

Ralph Riach, Wenzel Schlemmer

Nicholas Jones, Archduke Rudolph

Joe Anderson, Karl Van Beethoven

Phyllida Law, Mother Canisius

Director: Agnieszka Holland

Screenplay by: Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson

Producers: Michael Taylor, Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson, Sidney Kimmel

Production Company: Myriad Pictures


Ed Harris : Beethoven
Diane Kruger: Anna Holtz

Title... An introduction to the film 'Copying Beethoven' by Stephen Rivele
Copying Beethoven

"Like many movies about Beethoven we are taking certain liberties with the facts, but our intention is to get at something like the truth of Beethoven's last period. We originally wrote the script for, and at the suggestion of, Anthony Hopkins, who ultimately decided not to do it. Ed Harris was the only American actor we would have considered for the role, and to our delight, he agreed to play it. When I asked him at our first meeting how he felt about playing Beethoven he replied, "Terrified." Now, let me make a point about this project... Our script has been widely admired, but we have, nonetheless, had the devil's own time raising money to make it.

Copying beethovenThe great problem in copying Beethoven and his last years is that he really had no one to talk to. His deafness was profound and his relationships were, therefore, hindered. Also, he had withdrawn into an artistic isolation which few artists ever experience. And so the problem is, as we say in the film business, "Where do you put the camera?" We have to give the audience - especially the non-classical music audience - something to identify with, characters they can empathize with, situations that can be dramatized.

That is our job as filmmakers. I, personally, want to bring the late works, particularly the last piano sonatas and string quartets, to as large an audience as I can; make them aware of the works, of which they are almost totally unaware. As I am sure you will agree, the late works are the most arcane, sublime and inaccessible of all Beethoven's music. Creating a drama that will make them available to a general audience is no mean feat. 

Our Beethoven film begins in April of 1824 just before the premiere of the 9th Symphony. Beethoven has had a falling out with his copyist, Wolanek, and Schlemmer is desperate to find someone to replace him, to prepare the parts for the premiere. He sends to the Vienna Conservatory for their brightest young composition student, and they send, in return, our fictional heroine, Anna Holtz. In fact, they sent two young men, but we asked ourselves: What if it had been a woman? This is what enabled us to create a Beethoven film that could actually get financed. Anna goes to work with Beethoven, helps him prepare for the premier, conducts with him from the wings, and then summons the strength to show him some of her own work. He mocks it, sending her into despair.

Later he comes to apologize, and to ask her to help him with the composition of the last string quartets, his legacy to the future of music. In doing so, she learns the deepest meaning of music, and finds the strength to become a composer in her own right. There's more to it than this, of course, but that's the gist of it. There is a lot of humor, much soul-searching, a great deal of talk about the meaning of art and the role of musicians, and, of course lots of wonderful music. We start shooting April 5, and I expect it will reach the theaters either at the end of this year or early next.

I must make a distinction between the soundtrack of the film and the playback used in the film. The soundtrack is the background music which will be copied from studio masters, or, in rare cases, recorded by us, and edited to accompany the actual scenes in the film. The playback refers to the music that the performers are playing within the scenes. The playback, of course, has to match the instruments being played by the actors. The big exception is the 9th Symphony, which will be played on screen by a Hungarian orchestra, but which will be played on the soundtrack by the Concertgebouw.

The reason for this is simply quality. We could never manage copying Beethoven in the Budapest concert hall with the musicians available to us and the recording devices on the set the quality of recording required for the sound track of the film. The same will be true of the on-screen performances of the late quartets, which will be filmed in two salons in Budapest. We will get much better quality by using the Tacas recordings, copied directly from the Decca master tapes and synchronized in the editing to the images of the on-screen players. This is, of course, what they did in the film Amadeus, with great success. Such are the compromises one has to make in film, especially in movies about Beethoven."

Stephen RIVELE

Copying Beethoven
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