Tuesday 30 May 2023

Eroica - A first rate 2003 BBC TV movie about Beethoven's Symphony Number Three

I regard Beethoven's Third Symphony (the Eroica) as the best Symphony ever composed; and one of the handful of best pieces of music. 

But until yesterday, I didn't realize that there exists a really excellent movie (posted below) about the first rehearsal of the Eroica, during which the whole symphony is performed (the recording is by John Eliot Gardner conducting an original instrument band called Orchestre R√©volutionnaire et Romantique).  

It is one of very few first rate movies I have seen closely focused on music, and with a music-appreciation enhancing effect (others include Ingmar Bergman's Magic Flute, and Thirty Two short films about Glenn Gould). 

As well as the 'drama' that surrounds and permeates the performance; the actual rehearsal performance within the movie is filmed in such a way as to bring-out all kinds of details and aspects of the music that I hadn't noticed in the scores of times I had listened to it. 

A few of the musicians were actors, but I think most of them must have been specialist musicians who were playing-along-with what we saw and heard performed. 

The camera roved around the band; and the particular instrument being focused on, at any particular moment, would be subtly brought forward in the mix, so it was as if we were approaching and standing a bit closer to the player.

The drama element was interesting and effective. Haydn was featured as visiting the last movement of the performance and commenting: It is something quite new. Quite new. The artist as hero. Everything is different from today.

Perfectly correct - From the first two chords to its astonishing finale - after the Eroica, music never was the same again. 



cecil1 said...

Its fascinating to see this post.

I love Eroica. It is THE Symphony. From the first time I heard it late high school I was struck by it - its complex, layered and beautiful.

I still remember my thoughts when I heard the opening movement: 'the music can speak, almost in the detail of a technical manual. There's so much here you never knew. All without words!'

The cyclical nature of the whole work also is striking, as the end of the final movement naturally returns to the opening in the first. AS it ends it returns-- like a dream, like history. I always thought the story in the symphony doesn't actually begin in the opening movement, but picks up immersed in the rising action.

The natural start of the story cycle is in the 3rd movement, but like in any story, you don't realize where you are until you've gone some way along a path. You only see this after.

Its strangely neglected relative (at least proportionately) to his other famous symphonies #5,#9, but I agree it is his defining and greatest work. I remember learning that Beethoven wrote it with Napolean in mind, only to disparage that attribution as he realized what Napolean had/was becoming.

I can see why musical experts say #5 is a perfect symphony, in that it is structured in such a perfectly balanced way. And obviously most of his symphonies are masterpieces.

But Eroica is a gift.

Bruce Charlton said...

@cecil - I always enjoy it, but have never felt much depth in the fifth symphony.

But ever since I was about 20, the third seems (from its very beginning) like a miracle of sustained musical creativity.

This came across in the movie - the first movement seems to unfold inexhaustibly. The second, slow, movement I enjoyed more in the movie than ever before - I felt I could grasp what Beethoven was doing, what he was getting-at.

The scherzo is shorter, lighter, but tremendously exciting - and refreshing; necessary between the second and fourth movements; again the movie brought out details I had missed.

The fourth movement is just astonishing. That it is in variations form, would usually mean repetitive - but no. It keeps on amazing, over and again; and the climax builds up to a level of knife-edge excitement that is unsurpassed anywhere in music - I don't think anything like it had ever been attempted before, and it succeeded.

That was said/ implied in the movie - very well I thought. Beethoven's third was extremely original in multiple ways, was very long and complex, and emotionally-spiritually Beethoven was trying to attain something novel - and yet *artistically*, it succeeds as completely as can be imagined.

How rare it is in art for something really new also to be something really good! Maybe Lord of the Rings is another example of that; but there aren't many. More often, it takes several attempts before something new is made good, and often it is by someone else other than the originator.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post and link. I hadn't heard this symphony in a long time (I've always been more partial to his piano concertos), and I heard it afresh: I felt the creative power and the force of his personality and love for life. The actor did a great job, and the musicians, too.

Curious, I looked up the widow who refused him. Her story is a gut-wrenchingly tragic one, full of drama, worthy of a Balzac or Hardy novel.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Anonymous 13:11 - Thanks for the response - but I seldom publish 'anonymous' comments, so please use a pseudonym next time.

Caio said...

That movie was spectacular. Thank you for posting this. Do you have more posts about cinema, sir?

Bruce Charlton said...

C - Just word-search 'movie' in the box on the upper left corner.