Fact and fantasy in Immortal Beloved

Like Amadeus, Immortal Beloved (Amazon.ca, Amazon.com), the biopic about Beethoven, plays fast and loose with the facts. Bernard Rose’s hypothesis about the identity of Beethoven’s mystery addressee is not widely accepted. Not only that, but the dates don’t add up. The letters in question date from 1812, when his nephew Karl was already five years old; Karl’s suicide attempt occurred two years after the premiere of the Ninth Symphony (whereas in the film Beethoven appears considerably older in the latter scene). And Napoleon’s attack on Vienna occurred six years after the Third Symphony. And so forth.

(But then Mozart didn’t die the evening of the premiere of The Magic Flute, either, and and in fact went on to write one more opera. And Salieri didn’t try to kill him. So go figure.)

Even so, Immortal Beloved makes interesting use of contemporary texts by or about Beethoven. The letters, of course, exist and are quoted. The funeral oration outside Währinger cemetery, given by Schindler in the movie, was written by the playwright Franz Grillparzer and actually delivered by Heinrich Anschütz, but the text is more or less the same. And in the scene after Beethoven’s deafness is revealed, a voice-over reads from Beethoven’s own Heiligenstadt Testament, written despondently in 1802 when he realized his deafness was incurable.

It was an interesting experience for me to watch the movie while checking my old copy of Hamburger’s Beethoven: Letters, Journals and Conversations (Amazon.ca, Amazon.com), which includes all these texts. It’s a sneaky way to build verisimilitude when you’re otherwise playing at fantasy.

(They even had an explanation for the appearance of “Muß es sein?” and “Es muß sein” in the manuscript of String Quartet No. 16 — how much Beethoven geekery is that?)