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Copying Beethoven

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Title: Copying Beethoven  
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Subject: Ludwig van Beethoven, Films directed by Agnieszka Holland, Agnieszka Holland, Heiligenstadt Testament, Biamonti Catalogue
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Copying Beethoven

Copying Beethoven
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Agnieszka Holland
Produced by Sidney Kimmel
Stephen J. Rivele
Michael Taylor
Christopher Wilkinson
Written by Stephen J. Rivele
Christopher Wilkinson
Starring Ed Harris
Diane Kruger
Cinematography Ashley Rowe
Edited by Alex Mackie
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • November 10, 2006 (2006-11-10)
Running time 104 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $6,191,746[1]

Copying Beethoven is a 2006 dramatic film released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and directed by Agnieszka Holland which gives a fictional take on the triumphs and heartaches of Ludwig van Beethoven's last years.


A fictionalized version of the last three years of Ludwig van Beethoven's life, beginning with the composition of the Ninth Symphony. It is set in 1824 as Beethoven (Ed Harris) is finishing his new symphony. He is plagued by deafness, loneliness and personal trauma. A fictional character, a new copyist, Anna Holtz (Diane Kruger) is engaged to help the composer finish preparing the score for the first performance. Anna is a young conservatory student and aspiring composer. Her understanding of his work is such that she corrects mistakes he has made, while her personality opens a door into his private world. Beethoven is initially skeptical, but slowly comes to trust Anna's assistance and eventually grows fond of her. By the time the piece is performed, her presence is a necessity and she helps him conduct the premiere from a spot hidden amongst the orchestra.

After the premiere, they collaborate and become closer. His eccentricities become more and more troublesome, but Anna continues to provide companionship. She eventually transcribes his compositions as he simply talks her through them.


Artistic license

The working manuscript of the score is attributed to two copyists,[2] both of whom were male, not a single female as depicted in the film.

The actual copyists neither contributed to nor altered the score, and as shown in the film were berated by Beethoven for any deviation that occurred from the original score.[3]

The movie is set in 1824 during the composition of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Throughout the movie Beethoven is shown to be hard of hearing but quite capable of understanding people who speak loudly. In reality, Beethoven had lost much of his hearing seven years earlier (1817). Beethoven never experienced permanent deafness; his condition fluctuated between total silence and terrible tinnitus. The Ninth Symphony was composed at a time when Beethoven's hearing had deteriorated severely. At this point in his life, most of Beethoven's conversations were facilitated by the use of notebooks. It can be argued, however, that he was also able to read people's lips, evidenced by his insistence that people face him when they spoke to him.

In the film, Beethoven makes an allusion to the Moonlight Sonata. This is an anachronism as the Sonata No. 14 "quasi una fantasia" was not referred to as "Moonlight" until 5 years after his death. The reference to the Appassionata piano sonata in the same scene is similarly anachronistic.

The Ninth Symphony premiere

Much of the film centers on Beethoven's insistence on conducting his own work, particularly the premiere of his Ninth Symphony (1824). The arrangement of sharing the work of conducting so that Beethoven could appear on the podium and influence the performance despite his deafness, actually did take place. Beethoven's colleague was Michael Umlauf, the musical director of the Kärntnertor theater where the premiere took place. The two stood together on the podium; Umlauf did not lurk secretly amid the orchestra players as in the film.

The tale that Beethoven had to be turned around to be aware of the audience's applause is apparently authentic.

For further details on the premiere, see Symphony No. 9 (Beethoven).

Critical reception

The film received 6.8 out of 10 on IMDB from users, on Metacritic it received a score of 59 and negative reviews of 28% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 80 reviews.


  1. ^ "Copying Beethoven". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 9, 2014. 
  2. ^ BBC News (22 May 2003). "Beethoven's Ninth fetches £2.1m". BBC. 
  3. ^ Fischer, George Alexander (1905). Beethoven, a Character Study: Together with Wagner's Indebtedness to Beethoven. Harvard University Press. p. 188. "He might write about patience in his note-book, but it was exercised very little when dealing with copyists. There were times in this connection in which the situation became so strained that they refused to work for him."

External links

  • Copying Beethoven at the Internet Movie Database
  • The Times Film Review: Copying Beethoven
  • Biography
  • Copying Beethoven at
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