MUSIC: An Amadeus for Ludwig

A new film rewrites Beethoven's love-life but stays faithful to his music. Georg Solti is the man to thank, says Michael White

WHEN Walt Disney first saw the sequence in Fantasia where centaurs dance to the "Pastoral Symphony" he turned to his chief cartoonist and said, apparently without irony, "This will make Beethoven". The director Bernard Rose may not have said as much when he saw the rushes for his new film, Immortal Beloved, but he probably thought it. And now Rose's movie on the life and loves of the great composer is making Beethoven on a cinema poster near you. The copyline runs "The genius behind the music. The madness behind the man", in an attempt to woo the not-so-music-loving public with the old, old clich that puts great minds in their place by certifying them insane. Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann ... hard to know what made them tick, but then of course they were all crazy, weren't they? QED.

What you might not notice from glimpsing the poster is that the latterday genius behind the music - as played on the soundtrack of the film - is none other than Sir Georg Solti, one of the supreme conductors of modern times, former music director of the Royal Opera House, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and London Philharmonic. And featured almost without credit are some of the glossier names of the international concert world: Gidon Kremer, Murray Perahia, Emanuel Ax, Yo Yo Ma, not to mention Bryn Terfel, Ann Murray and the London Symphony Orchestra. You don't see them in the film but you certainly hear them. And as everything has been specially recorded, at considerable expense, you might wonder whether the whole thing isn't a trifle over-cast. You might also wonder whether such illustrious names had any qualms about lending themselves to a project virtually guaranteed to misfire. Holly-wood, after all, has an uncomfortable history of dealings with the Great Composers. The results have usually been dire, distortive or didactic.

But Solti is bullish about his involvement as the film's music director. He regards Immortal Beloved as a kind of musical evangelism and doesn't feel compromised by it. Nor does he feel that Beet-hoven has been misrepresented. "Of course, a lot of what you see is fiction. A poetic invention. You either like it or you don't - and I've nothing against it. What is not invention is the music, which is there just as he wrote it. No playing around."

But only in fragments.

"That doesn't bother me either, so long as there is quality. And with these performers everything is first class. Everything. No one can say when they've heard the bits `Thank God it's finished'. They'll want more."

And how does Beethoven come out of it all?

"Fine, I think. As a musician I of course have a responsibility to composers. But he's not misrepresented here. You only have to read the letters: he was a difficult man. Explosive, violent."

Not necessarily mad.

"But he was difficult. The ears, the deafness. This was hard to live with."

The big issue in the film, though, is not the mental state of Beethoven (played by Gary Oldman) so much as the identity of the woman he appar- ently loved above all others. Beethoven's emotional life has always been a matter for debate. As a young man in the 1790s he was, according to his friend Franz Wegeler, a bit of a rake, "making conquests that an Adonis would have found difficult if not impossible". But Beethoven was no Adonis; and there is no good evidence to suggest that he ever enjoyed intimate relations with any woman. There were a number of recorded infatuations and a couple of marriage proposals, but they usually involved women of higher social rank - he had a penchant for countesses - who were in any case already married. Psycho- logists would have a view on this, and some contemporary evidence suggests he was a confirmed misogynist. He certainly had an irrational dislike for the women his brothers pursued, and a vindictive loathing for his sister-in-law Johanna. After her husband's death, Beethoven fought a four-and-a-half year legal battle to obtain custody of her son (his nephew) Karl on the grounds that she was of low moral character. Having destroyed her reputation he then proceeded to destroy Karl by smothering him with violent affection. The boy attempted suicide as a result.

But the excuse for the film's take on Beethoven as a great lover is a long and passionate letter found among his private papers after death. It was clearly never sent and isn't properly dated, although detective work has traced the year to 1812. Nor is its intended reader named - except as "Unsterbliche Geliebte" which strictly translates as "Eternally Beloved" but is customarily referred to with the adjective changed to "Immortal". Hence the title of the film, which plays like a detective story: cherchez la femme. As Bernard Rose points out, the femme has never been conclusively identified, so he allowed himself the freedom to invent a candidate, and came up with the surprising choice of Johanna the sister-in-law. It's a nice idea that could explain why Beethoven should have come to hate her and why he was so determined to have Karl (who here becomes his illegitimate son). Unfortunately all known facts discount this possibility. And while there is no conclusive proof, there is actually a strong consensus of scholarly opinion in favour of someone else: one Antonie Brentano, whose claim isn't examined in the film, presumably because it wouldn't clinch the ending. Immortal Beloved is, after all, a whodunnit. Or whoneverdunnit, if you prefer conventional wisdom.

Solti himself doesn't believe the ending of the film: "It's fiction, yes. Karl was never his son. And Johanna? No way. This is fiction." But he stands by the right to fabricate, and he has a point. Like Amadeus - though not as accomplished - Immortal Beloved is good entertainment, beautifully filmed in sumptuous settings.

For the musically literate, it even manages a few in-jokes. There's a gossipy concierge called Nanette Streicher (the name of a Viennese piano- maker). A romantic deathbed encounter occasions the mystery marking on the manuscript of Beethoven's last string quartet: "Must it be? It must be." To complain that the last quartet was written four months before Beethoven took to his deathbed is, I suppose, pedantic.

No doubt it's also pedantry to complain that the instruments you see on film are wildly different from the ones you hear on the soundtrack, or that there are dangers in attaching strong and seemingly authentic, seemingly explanatory images to music that has no real connection with them. Solti had little control over the way the sound and vision are matched up. "I knew roughly what they'd do and how they'd cut. I'm not being cheated here. No way. Choosing the instruments, this is a bigger issue than the film. I've always gone for modern instruments. Beethoven would have wanted the best available: so give him a Steinway!"

And the images? If your first experience of a Beethoven score is as an accompaniment to its composer beating up his brother, won't that colour how you hear it ever after? "No, I don't believe you. Music is stronger than image. You can erase the image and remember the tune; and this is what will happen. What makes me happy about the film is that thousands of people - young people especially - who know nothing about these things will come to the music for the first time and be hooked."

In other words, it will make Beethoven. And who's to say it won't.

! `Immortal Beloved' (15) opened in London on Friday, and is reviewed in the main paper.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone