Ludwig van Beethoven turns 250 this year. 2020 will inevitably be filled with performances of his music, and scholarship about his life and influence. But first, we thought it was time to indulge in a little fun by enjoying some of the fictional portrayals of the man onscreen.
There is a range from serious to comical for Beethoven in books, television, and movies. Some do attempt to show his life’s story in a way that is understandable to a modern audience. For example, the TV special Beethoven Lives Upstairs showed off the composer’s cantankerous personality through the eyes of a child.
Beethoven Lives Upstairs began as an audio recording, and then was a live piece for symphony orchestra before HBO developed this primetime Emmy award winning movie version.
Another movie that fictionalizes the writing of the 9th Symphony is a 2006 film called Copying Beethoven which starred Ed Harris as the composer. Diane Kruger plays the role of copyist Anna Holz, who is likely based on Karl Holz, a young violinist and copyist who may have actually helped with the piece.
Another movie speculates on the identity of Beethoven’s “Unsterbliche Geliebte,” which translates to “immortal beloved,” from letters at the end of his life. There is no general consensus among historians on the identity of the intended recipient of the letters. A recent exhibit at the Beethoven Center in San Jose, CA explores the possibilities.
But what if Beethoven had been able to step into a time machine? This fun thought experiment is answered by the film Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
Everyone is a critic. That’s including the composer himself, as Rowlf the dog learned on an episode of The Muppet Show.
That’s not the only late-night sketch comedy featuring the composer, though no music by Beethoven features in this Saturday Night Live sketch.
More recently on Saturday Night Live Beethoven graciously thanked his band. Click here to see the video.
And dear Ludwig puts his cantankerous personality on hold for his friend Peg in the PBS Kids show Peg+Cat as they solve math conundrums together.
Whether its speculative fiction, or letting this important musical figure become an actual cartoon character, Beethoven’s life is certainly interesting to viewers of all ages. Throughout 2020 we can look forward to taking a closer look at the real Beethoven – even beyond our popular culture.