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Classical Composer Serves as Inspiration for New Historical Drama 'Copying Beethoven'


One of classical music's greatest composers and his final great work are the inspirations for a new historical drama from Polish-born filmmaker Agnieszka Holland. Alan Silverman has a look at Copying Beethoven.

It is Vienna in the early 1820's. Ludwig Van Beethoven is struggling to complete what he hopes will be his masterwork: the ninth symphony of his already storied career. In an effort to assist the ailing and deaf maestro, his publisher sends for a music student to copy the original charts.

Young Anna Holtz is awed to be in the presence of a musical genius; but she nevertheless lets him know her opinions.

Maestro and student forge a relationship through the music as she helps him complete the seminal work and conduct its premiere performance in 1824.

Every beginning music student has seen the stern-faced bust of Beethoven glowering over their first notes on the keyboard. It is an iconic image that Ed Harris says he needed to overcome to play the great composer.

"You have to pay certain homage to the image because that's how people know him - just from a physical standpoint in terms of a wig or whatever you're going to try to do facially," Harris says. "I tried to put on some weight in the months I had prior (to shooting) for preparation. Then, once you do that, the most important thing is that this is a human being. However much of a genius he might have been, arguably the greatest musician that ever walked the planet, he still lived and breathed and had his feet on the ground. You have to get down in there and try to find out where he lived and do the best job."

The character of Anna Holtz is pure fiction and Harris admits he had some misgivings at first.

"I actually asked the writers 'why bring this fictitious character into what is a pretty interesting situation with this guy anyway in the last years of his life?'" he says. "They basically said we really wanted to give Beethoven an opportunity to express himself and to talk about what it was he was trying to do, how he felt about it (and) where it was coming from ...and felt we needed a person for him to talk to that he trusted."

She is played by German-born actress Diane Kruger.

"I could really relate to Anna," she says. "She is obviously a woman of her time, but she is also modern. She really knows what she wants to do with her life and I can only compare it to, like, a young woman of our time meeting Mick Jagger, for example. She is in awe of him, but she also admires his talent and tries to learn as much as he, in the end, learns from her."

Director Agnieszka Holland describes the music as a character in the film and the fictitious relationship with Anna as a means of understanding the character of the man who created it:

"The journey during the film is to learn about the music, but also to learn about a man come closer and closer to the music and to the man," Holland says.

The screenplay for Copying Beethoven is by Christopher Wilkinson and Stephen Rivele. The film was shot in Hungary with locations in Budapest doubling for nineteenth century Vienna.