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America's Beethoven
Beethoven in Film

Beethoven’s story has proved irresistible to Hollywood:  a universally recognized name; a deaf composer; a defiant, volcanic personality; a tragic love life; and finally music of great power and emotion.  In addition to several documentaries, feature films about Beethoven have appeared in the 1930s, 1970s, 80s, 90s, and the first decade of the twenty-first century.  Three in particular stand out: Un Grand Amour de Beethoven (The Life and Loves of Beethoven, 1936), Immortal Beloved (1993), and Copying Beethoven (2006).

Both Un Grand Amour and Immortal Beloved address the same issue, the still-contested identity of the unknown woman Beethoven called his “Immortal Beloved” (“unsterbliche Geliebte) in a long and passionate letter written in 1812.  Copying Beethoven deals with events leading to the premier of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and the creation of the late quartets.  The Beethoven of Un Grand Amour is wise, thoughtful and long-suffering.  In Immortal Beloved he is temperamental, angry and amorous.  In Copying Beethoven he is intimidating, mercurial and at times scatological.  In all three films Beethoven embodies the Romantic artist par excellence, one whose music transcends while compensating for his own personal shortcomings.

Un Grand Amour de Beethoven (The Life and Loves of Beethoven)
Publicity photos featuring Harry Baur as Beethoven, Jean-Louis Barrault as nephew Karl, Jany Holt as Juilietta Guicciardi, and other cast members
View scenes on YouTube: Un Grand Amour de Beethoven (1936)

Harry Baur as Beethoven Scenes from The Life and Loves of Beethoven
Scenes from The Life and Loves of Beethoven Scenes from The Life and Love of Beethoven
Scenes from The Life and Loves of Beethoven Scenes from The Life and Loves of Beethoven

Immortal Beloved starring Gary Oldman as Beethoven
View scenes on YouTube: Immortal Beloved (1993)

Gary Oldman as Beethoven Gary Oldman and Sir George Solti

Lobby cards with scenes from Immortal Beloved

Lobby cards for Meine unsterbliche Geliebte, the German-language version of the film

Scenes from the movie Immortal Beloved Scenes from the movie Immortal Beloved
Scenes from the movie Immortal Beloved Scenes from the movie Immortal Beloved
Scenes from the movie Immortal Beloved Scenes from the movie Immortal Beloved

Lobby cards for the Spanish-language version of the film

Scenes from the movie Immortal Beloved Scenes from the movie Immortal Beloved
Scenes from the movie Immortal Beloved Scenes from the movie Immortal Beloved
Scenes from the movie Immortal Beloved Scenes from the movie Immortal Beloved

Copying Beethoven starring Ed Harris as Beethoven

Props used for the film, including Beethoven’s hearing aids, a bundled stack of letters and quill pen, a conversation book with notations in pencil, a note requesting that Anna (the copyist) “come in and wait,” and a bound manuscript for the Ninth Symphony, and “Anna’s Etude."
 

Movie props for Copying Beethoven Movie props for Copying Beethoven
Movie props for Copying Beethoven Movie props for Copying Beethoven
Movie props for Copying Beethoven Movie props for Copying Beethoven
Movie props for Copying Beethoven Movie props for Copying Beethoven

Lobby cards for Klang der Stille, the German version of Copying Beethoven

Scenes from the film Copying Beethoven Scenes from the film Copying Beethoven
Scenes from the film Copying Beethoven Scenes from the film Copying Beethoven

Five Easy Pieces starring Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, and Susan Anspach

Five Easy Pieces (1970) depicts a coded Beethoven.  The central character, Bobby Dupea, whose middle name is Eroica, is an alienated piano prodigy from a musical family on the run from himself.  When the film was made the mood of the country was dark, and the idea of a traditional Romantic hero seemed anachronistic.  Bobby is ultimately a critique of the militaristic, all-conquering, raging, brooding personality type of Beethoven’s middle period, the image that has prevailed in American culture. 
View scenes on YouTube: Five Easy Pieces (1970)          

Lobby cards issued by Columbia Pictures, 1970

Scenes from the movie Five Easy Pieces Scenes from the movie Five Easy Pieces
Scenes from the movie Five Easy Pieces Scenes from the movie Five Easy Pieces
Scenes from the movie Five Easy Pieces Scenes from the movie Five Easy Pieces
Scenes from the movie Five Easy Pieces Scenes from the movie Five Easy Pieces

A Clockwork Orange, a film by Stanley Kubrick based on the novel by Anthony Burgess

Beyond biopics, Beethoven’s music has been used in hundreds of films, both diegetically and as underscore.  Most famous because of its notoriety was Stanley Kubrick’s use of the Ninth Symphony in A Clockwork Orange.  To an alienated young thug, Alex, the Ninth, which he loves, arouses in him sadistic thoughts and images. Later the authorities use the symphony in a brainwashing experiment to cure him of his aggression.  The irony is heavy:  Beethoven’s statement of universal brotherhood here becomes both a catalyst to violence and a tool of an Orwellian state.—Michael Broyles
View scenes on YouTube: A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Cover of the book A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange, a novel by Anthony Burgess

First American edition with Burgess’s signature on a card pasted to a preliminary page
W.W. Norton, New York, 1963

Signature of Anthony Burgess

Clockwork Orange pressbook
Warner Brothers, 1973

Pressbook for the film A Clockwork Orange
Recording for radio spots advertising the film A Clockwork Orange

Clockwork Orange radio spot announcements
45 rpm recording issues by Warner Brothers

Please see our Gallery for images of the movie posters