Westhampton, MA – October 14, 2009
Richard Ammon –GlobalGayz.com

In Search of Beethoven – A Documentary Film
Long deceased great artists are lost to our modern minds even as their art lives on. Yet what of the sentient person behind a great opus? The art of film often tries to connect old history and modern times; several versions of Beethoven’s life and character have been made over the years: Gary Oldman in Immortal Beloved (1994) and Ed Harris in Copying Beethoven (2006) offered portrayals of worthy credibility.

The most recent version is by Phil Grabsk in his 2+hour enchanting documentary that has been described as “one of the finest movies about a great musician.” Punctuating the dominating music are speakers–musicians, critics and musicologists, “all of them lucid, informative and unpretentious, their comments carefully illustrated sometimes by themselves at the piano. There are no dramatized sequences or narrative reconstructions and the music is magnificently recorded, concluding with an excellent performance of the Ninth Symphony by the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century conducted by its founder, Frans Brüggen.” (quoted from Philip French in the Sunday Observer, April 19, 2009)

I sat enthralled through this wonderland display of Beethoven’s genius and I was sorry when it ended, although where can you go after the finale of the 9th symphony? This movie offers a depth of understanding and feeling for the composer as no other film has achieved. There are no actors showing you the facial or vocal emotions of Beethoven’s excitements and frustrations.

The observer is exposed to the tempos, dynamics, harmonics and melodies of the music interspersed with personal expressions of musicians who produce the sounds of Beethoven and reveal what it feels like to translate the written dots and lines into sounds that evoke the master’s sentient meanings.

The observer is led inside a string quartet or sonata or concerto by the ear and by frequent very-close-ups of the performers’ fingers on a Steinway or Boesendorfer or virtually inside the voice box of a cello. The person of Beethoven is not drawn by the filmmaker but is drawn out by the viewer being engrossed in the musical expression, assisted by the insights of those who bring him to life on the concert stage. The length of Beethoven’s life is told in music, from opus 1 to opus 137, from birth in Bonn to death in Vienna at the age of 56 in 1827.

This is very much a film who those who love Beethoven’s music and who loved being infused with it meanings and feelings–without fully understanding all of it.

(It is estimated that between 10 000 and 30 000 people attended his funeral. Franz Schubert, timid and a huge admirer of Beethoven, without ever having become close to him, was one of the coffin bearers, along with other musicians. Schubert died the next year, aged 31, and was buried next to Beethoven.)

  1. In Search of Beethoven
  2. Production year: 2009
  3. Country: UK
  4. Cert (UK): U
  5. Runtime: 138 mins
  6. Director: Phil Grabsky