Louis van Beethoven

Did Mozart and Beethoven ever meet? Probably not, but we can’t be certain. Beethoven probably did hear Mozart play on (probably) a fortepiano (an early version of what became the pianoforte, or what we now call the piano), and he expressed his opinion.

Louis van Beethoven DVD“He had a fine but choppy way of playing—no legato.” 

In other words, Mozart had not adapted his harpsichord style of playing to the piano.

Then again, at other times Beethoven claimed never to have met or heard Mozart play.

Who knows? Certainly not I.

But I have no problem if, when making a biopic of Beethoven, the creators incorporate a meeting of these two musical giants, especially when the imagined meeting remains so true to their different personalties.

And that’s what the German movie Louis van Beethoven does.

Others are not so tolerant, which presumably is the reason for the rather low rating the movie has received. Oh, well, their loss, not mine.

The film follows Beethoven at two stages of his life—his final year and his early years—cutting back and forth between the two time periods, sometimes rather confusingly. By the way, “Louis” is the nickname Beethoven’s intimates sometimes called him.

Anyway, the hypothesized meeting between Ludwig and Wolfgang starts like this.

The teenage Beethoven is sent to Vienna by his aristocratic patrons in order to study with Mozart, but the visit is cut short by news of the final illness of his mother (so far, that’s all historically correct).

While in Vienna, Mozart attends a piano recital by Beethoven and interrupts Ludwig’s playing by shouting, “A little too much legato.” This leads to a confrontation between the two and Mozart challenges Beethoven to improvise on a theme, whereupon Mozart is duly impressed and invites Beethoven to visit him. (That’s based on the mythology common in the 19th century, but we have no firm basis for declaring anything like that actually happened. Who cares?)

Over the course of the next few days, Mozart repeatedly humiliates the young Beethoven, until he is finally recalled to Bonn.

No, it probably didn’t happen. But if it did, it would certainly explain Beethoven’s subsequent ambivalence about Mozart.

By contrast the scenes of the final year of Beethoven’s life conform pretty closely to the facts as we know them. Oh, other than the nonsense about the letter from a long lost love, but even that contains a kernel of truth, and it seems to be a reasonable way of dramatizing Beethoven’s frequent hopeless loves of women who were “above” him on the social ladder.

In any case, I enjoyed the film, and recommend it heartily. It’s available on DVD and at Amazon Prime. German language with English subtitles.


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