Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Phil Grabsky's "In Search of Beethoven"

A feature-length documentary on Ludwig van Beethoven, with rather more biography than music commentary, more panegyric than analysis. Van, which means the family came originally from Belgium, and not the aristocratic von. The son and grandson of court musicians, Beethoven was constantly wooing noblewomen who could not or would not marry beneath them. Although reputed to be a misanthrope in his later deaf years, he could also be generous, giving an English visitor a ten-bar composition, which was only discovered in Cornwall in the 1980's. I was surprised to learn that he prayed twice a day, according to the testimony of his nephew, to a God not of the established Church, but of his own interpretation.

I would have loved to be at the 1808 concert that he gave, entirely of his own music. The documentary mentioned only the Fourth Piano Concerto and the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, but this blog gives the entire program for that cold Vienna night. It included the Gloria and Sanctus from the Mass in C, and concluded with the Choral Fantasy.

Of all the music historians, conductors and musicians who spoke in the film, I was most impressed by Emanuel Ax. He frankly admitted that he did not have the technical ability to play a very difficult passage from one of the piano works. That kind of humility is so rare, and it underlines Beethoven's genius more firmly than any high-flown words of praise can.

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