July 1, 2013

Beethoven on the Big Screen

Beethoven's Seventh Symphony has resonated with audiences of all kind since its premiere. As these program notes describe, the symphony's early performances were met with multiple encores and rapturous applause that "rose to the point of ecstasy," according to one newspaper account.

The symphony is equally popular with modern audiences. In particular, the symphony's slow second movement (Allegretto) has enjoyed mass appeal, and has been a popular choice for filmmakers. Listen to how it's used in this scene from Mr. Holland's Opus (1995):

Most recently, the second movement was featured in 2010 Academy Award–winner The King's Speech. Here it is, providing the perfect accompaniment to the film's climactic moment:

Beethoven's Allegretto is a great musical choice for this scene, mirroring what's taking place. The king's tentative start is accompanied by the quiet opening chord (which is actually played twice, reinforcing the king's hesitance). As George VI becomes more self-assured, the music grows louder and more regal, punctuating the king's personal triumph, but also reflecting the bittersweet nature of what he's saying.

It is, of course, a different listening experience when the music is left to stand on its own. While the pairing of King George's speech and Beethoven's Allegretto enhances the scene, and expresses some specific things to the audience, the music--when left on its own--expresses an infinite variety of things to each listener. You can hear the RPO perform this wonderful symphony live and in its entirety, July 19.

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra performs Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 July 19, 2013, at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, under the direction of Ward Stare. The program also includes Wagner's Overture to The Flying Dutchman, and Mozart's Clarinet Concerto (Kenneth Grant, clarinet).

PS The Seventh Symphony is not the only Beethoven symphony to be used on the big screen. The Ninth has been used in several films, including Dead Poet's Society, Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and, of course, Die HardThe RPO performs Beethoven's Ninth Symphony next season.