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BBC – Being Beethoven (2020)

BBC Being Beethoven

Grapples with the living, breathing human being often lost behind the myth of the Romantic genius. Beethoven emerges as a man of contrasts and extremes — driven by love, anguish, fury and joy — qualities woven through both his life and his music.

By returning the composer to the context of his own time and place, telling his life story in the present tense, Being Beethoven reveals how the composer’s life frequently appears to follow an entirely different trajectory to his art. What emerges is a complex and often contradictory individual living a life marked by isolation, ill-health and deafness. A man who, despite the frequent wretchedness of his personal circumstances, manages to create musical masterpieces that have enthralled and uplifted the world for 250 years.

Chapter 1:
Explores Beethoven’s childhood, the crucible in which the man and his music are formed, and his subsequent rise to fame as a piano virtuoso, then composer, in late 18th-century Vienna. Groomed as a prodigy by a demanding and often violent father, Beethoven’s psyche is also marked by the death of his mother when he is 16 years old. Beethoven emerges as a great but troubled talent, an unstoppable force of nature until the onset of deafness tears his world apart.

The realisation that Beethoven is losing his hearing — the sense upon which not only his career is built, but his very sense of self — leads to a devastating psychological collapse and a letter, written to his brothers Carl and Johann, known as the Heiligenstadt Testament. In it, Beethoven not only contemplates suicide but also looks at his future and accepts that he will have to create his art under extraordinary circumstances.

Chapter 2:
Beethoven returns to the town of Heiligenstadt, where the year before, devastated by the loss of his hearing, he had written the Heiligenstadt Testament; a document in which he contemplates suicide before finally resolving to embark on a new creative path. The works that he produces during this period — from the earth-shattering Eroica through to his Seventh Symphony — amount to one of the most extraordinary outpourings of creativity in the history of music.

However, as is so often the case, Beethoven’s life follows a very different trajectory to his art. The composer’s repeated attempts to find love with the same type of woman – young, beautiful and aristocratic – will result in his letter to the ‘Immortal Beloved’, a woman whose identity remains mysterious to this day.

Chapter 3:
The composer unmoored and – personally and creatively – desperate to regain control in his every aspect of his life. In 1815, the death of his brother is the catalyst for a long and bitter legal battle for custody of Beethoven’s nephew, Karl. What follows is a protracted period during which the composer’s desire for love and family tip over into obsession. Beethoven will, of course, embark on the extraordinary flowering of the late music – the Missa solemnis, the late quartets and the Ninth ‘Choral’ Symphony – but he doesn’t know that yet.

Musical highlights include Paul Lewis exploring the beauty and brutality of one of the greatest works of the piano repertoire, the Diabelli Variations, and the Tak?cs Quartet playing the sublime Hymn of Thanksgiving.

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