Life At The Top
Louis Van Beethoven
Stars: Tobias Moretti, Anselm Bresgott, Colin Putz, Ulrich Noethen, Johanna Gastdorf, Sabin Tambrea, Caroline Hellwig, Peter Lewys Preston, Cornelius Oyonya and Manuel Rubey
Director/Scriptwriter: Niki Stein
Cinematography: Arthur W. Ahrweller
Music Supervisor; David Marlow
Rating: no rating but could be PG 13
Running Length: Two hours and ten minutes
*Celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven, December 2020
The year 2020 has three films that deal with hearing loss or total deafness. “God of The Piano” was about what happens when a deaf child is born into a prestigious music family. “Sound of Metal” is about a young rock drummer who suddenly loses his hearing. This film is about the composer, Ludwig van Beethoven, sometimes called “Louis,” who is totally deaf in his later years.
250 years ago, December 17, 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven was born. His music genius was realized at an early age and he rapidly became one of the world-renowned composers, along with Mozart. Whatever they put on paper was revolutionary in music. In the film, Beethoven meets Mozart (Manuel Rubey) and, as depicted here, Mozart knows he, himself, is very good and ignores everyone else. Ludwig (sometimes known as Louis) was one of three brothers, with a caring mother and a drunken father. Life was not easy for them and this film uses flashbacks from an older Beethoven who is totally deaf, to a young boy, clearly ahead of his teachers in playing and composing music. Plus, he lets everyone know this, which does not make for friendships. Beethoven is played by three actors. Colin Putz is Ludwig as a child, Anselm Bresgott is Ludwig as a willful teenager and Tobias Moretti is the adult Beethoven, bad-tempered, impatient and trying to deal with being deaf. He watches the keyboard players to see if they are lifting their hands at the proper time for his tempos, because he can’t hear them. Of the three actors, Tobias Moretti is memorable.
The film begins as Ludwig (Tobias Moretti) and his nephew, Karl (Peter Lewys Preston) are going to stay at Ludwig’s brother’s home where they are welcomed by the brother but not by the brother’s wife (Johanna Gastdorf.) In one instance when Ludwig comes to visit, he asks for a carriage as it is winter. Instead, in freezing rain, the sister-n-law sends an open cart. During his stay, Ludwig reminisces about the past and through flashbacks we see his childhood, teen and young adult years. The background setting and instruments are beautiful. There is humor in the film too, when, as Ludwig is chosen to be a page turner for a prominent musician and can’t keep his eyes off the audience. When asked about Telemann’s music, he replies that it is “simple,” not endearing him to Telemann music lovers. As a young man, Ludwig is something of a revolutionary, and gets into trouble reading about politics. Do musicians always have to be subservient to the upper class for funds? His benefactor becomes a wealthy lady who recognizes his genius, but wants to keep him away from her daughter, Eleonore (Caroline Hellwig.) She can’t marry below her rank, and this bothers Ludwig. Throughout his life, he maintains his friendship to her. As a youth, Ludwig’s father embarrasses the family with his rants and non-payment of bills. The rent always seems to be due. In his twenties, Ludwig is offered a chance to study with Haydn, and as he is traveling, war breaks out and Ludwig never goes home again. However, his music is in the world for all to appreciate.
In his time period, how Ludwig dealt with growing deaf, was talking louder himself, having others speak louder, and then writing things down, usually only one sentence to guide in what to do. At the dining table, he couldn’t participate in conversation. Life, as a whole for a genius, was not good, hence a perpetual frown. His manners were rough in that society. In one instance, he was told to either show table manners, or eat in the kitchen instead of the main table. Gradually, he learned, though speaking against royalty was a main theme for him, and did not make him popular. In those times, musicians had to have a sponsor to survive financially, and he did not like playing mundane music for pay which took away from his composing time.
The transition between the three actors who play Beethoven, is smooth and takes you from the older Ludwig remembering, to what is actually happening as a youth. Arthur W. Ahrweller’s photography blends time periods well with lighting appropriate for that time period. No one would believe Ludwig wrote such music at an early age, thinking he copied from someone else. Humiliation was something you began to recognize, but not accept.
“Louis van Beethoven” gives us the composer from childhood, to young adult and older years. By going back and forth, director Niki Stein can bring back a memory that shows how the adult Beethoven developed his personality. He wanted to be in control of his talent and music and after meeting Mozart, saw that this music genius took it in stride. Play for the audiences what they want to hear, but write what you want to write. Present day, Beethoven’s most popular music is the “Moonlight Sonata” (Piano Sonata No. 14), “Fur Elise” (Bagatelle in A Minor) and the Ninth Symphony, referred to as the “Choral Symphony.” They give the word “forever,” new meaning.
The film takes you into a century where wars were fought to maintain, or gain, new borders. Women were expected to marry wealthy, have children and be good housewives. If they had musical talent, they taught their children. Men had the advantage of being the head of the household, though, as in Beethoven’s case, the father drank too much. We see scenes of apartment living for the average person who could afford an apartment, and then the lush settings of the wealthy with velvet draperies, servants, carriages and people bowing to them. The line between the two, though sometimes invisible, was always there.
What I was not expecting, and appreciated, was having Beethoven’s life divided into three sections. Each had personal incidents that built the man into what he was in later years. You see the life of a child prodigy and what happens in a society where there are upper classes and lower classes. Against a background of wealth and privilege, are musicians with just one thing to offer--their talent. Makes you think of oneself and when you had something to offer such as singing, painting, sports achievement. When the glory is over, back you go to your place.
Copyright 2020 Marie Asner