Eroica (2004)



Directed by Simon Cellan Jones
Produced by Liza Marshall
Written by Nick Dear
Starring Ian Hart
Tim Pigott-Smith
Anton Lesser
Frank Finlay
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozartand Ludwig van Beethoven
Edited by Joe Walker
Distributed by BBC
Release date


Running time
83 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Eroica is a BBC television film that dramatises the first performance of Beethoven’s third symphony, the Eroica. It carries the tagline ‘The day that changed music forever’.

The film was directed by Simon Cellan Jones, written by Nick Dear and starred Ian Hart, Tim Pigott-Smith, Anton Lesser and Frank Finlay. The music was played by Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner. It won the Prix Italia for Performing Arts in 2004.


The film is set in Vienna on 9 June 1804, the date of the private, first performance of Beethoven’s third symphony, later to be known as the ‘Eroica’. The performance, and most of the action in the film, takes place at the palace of one of Beethoven’s patrons, Prince Franz Lobkowitz. Midway during the performance, Beethoven tries to get his lover, a widow named Josephine von Deym, to marry him, but she refuses because of the unfair laws regarding child custody — she is a member of the nobility, and cannot marry a commoner without losing custody of her children. Later, composer Joseph Haydn, now old and feeble, arrives just in time to hear the last movement of the symphony.

During the last few minutes of the symphony, the film flashes forward, and we see Beethoven going to dinner with his pupil, Ferdinand Ries, where he is told that Napoleon has just declared himself Emperor of France, thereby completely betraying Beethoven’s faith in him. In a rage, he crumples up the title page of his symphony, which he originally intended to call the “Bonaparte”. As he leaves the performance, Haydn is asked his opinion of the symphony, which he describes as “quite new”, and then utters his now-famous and prophetic comment, “From this day forward, everything [in music] is changed”. The film ends on a grim note; as the performance of the Eroica ends, Beethoven looks at his audience and is momentarily unable to hear any natural sounds — an ominous sign of his approaching deafness.


  • Ian Hart as Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Tim Pigott-Smith as Count Dietrichstein
  • Jack Davenport as Prince Franz Lobkowitz
  • Fenella Woolgar as Princess Marie Lobkowitz
  • Claire Skinner as Countess Josephine von Deym
  • Lucy Akhurst as Countess Teresa von Brunswick (Josephine’s sister)
  • Frank Finlay as Joseph Haydn
  • Leo Bill as Ferdinand Ries
  • Peter Hanson as Wranitzky (leader of the orchestra in the film and of Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique)
  • Robert Glenister as Gerhardt (one of the prince’s servants)
  • Anton Lesser as Sukowaty (Beethoven’s copyist).


The sound in this production, as I would expect, is excellent and when we watch the symphony being played, the balance is very carefully handled and true to life, but is spoiled somewhat in a scene `downstairs` when Beethoven has just been turned down by Therese. We can hear the orchestra begin to play the third movement in the distance, and there is absolutely no difference between the volume of the quiet and loud passages. This leads me onto another very slight irritation, but only as I know the piece so well and I want to get things out of my system (ok, I`m a jealous fiddler who would have jumped at the chance of playing in a production like this!)
For the amount of players used in this production, the sound is far too rich and loud, and so I suspect (using some clever digital trickery, or whatever the technical term is) the orchestra most likely played live, but have been overdubbed by the recording which was produced side-by-side with this programme. I suspect this was the only way to have the women in the orchestra involved, as it`s only the men allowed on film (understandably so, if we need some historical accuracy).

However, we do see a glimpse of what probably did happen when they first played through the first movement (it all falls apart), and the `false` horn entry is given due prominence when Beethoven`s pupil shouts at the poor soloist for getting it wrong (he didn`t), but from then on everyone suddenly knuckles down and plays through the whole thing rather too much as if they know the piece backwards, which they obviously do. Everything is too tidy, and the fact that all the violins are doing the same bowing is a dead giveaway! There are plenty of well-rehearsed bemused faces in certain passages though, and David Watkin (principal `cello) has perfected the concentrated frown.

The DVD comes with a booklet containing an essay by Misha Donat on `Beethoven, Napoleon and the Eroica Symphony`. For those who are unfamiliar with the life and times of Beethoven, then this is definitely worth a read before watching the main programme.

The only extra on the disc is a complete performance of the symphony (not interrupted by dialogue). It would have been nice to have a proper filmed performance (in modern dress), but we are left with the recording being played over the same scenes in the film in which it was played, tied together by some camerawork following what looks to be Beethoven`s original score and some handwritten orchestral parts. How they sight-read that first time is a miracle! (but more on that later).

Again, as with other Opus Arte disks, menus are unfussy and easy to navigate.


The acting in the non-musical sections (and indeed while much of the performance itself is going on) is probably as good as it could be, given a fairly dire, and sometimes acutely embarrassing script by Nick Dear, although one or two moments almost rescued it, namely the one horn player`s comment “Bloody Hell!” when he has a peek at what`s been written for them in the third movement (something that`s been echoed by horn sections for 200 years!), and a footman`s aside halfway through the first movement, “A Haydn would have been over by now.”

Unfortunately, the same footman (who seems to have a fine grasp of classical symphonic structure – which may well have been the case of course in households where they employed their own orchestra and paid for private performances of new pieces) comes out with “He`s buggered about with it hasn`t he…you know, the shape and that.” And this doesn`t ring particularly true. It seems that Nick Dear has gone a little too far in trying to explain the connection Beethoven has with `the common man` (whoever that is) and shots of servants hanging around the palace crying at the sad bits and smiling and dancing at the happy, dancy bits (you can tell I`ve got a music degree can`t you) seem to be reinforcing someone else`s ideas about what we should be feeling when listening to a piece such as this. And if he has run out of sub-GCSE `descriptions` of the music, then the director treats us to surprised looks and shocked stares at anything which may have seemed out of the ordinary within the music. The reactions were probably more severe in real-life, but here they just seem patronising to the viewer.

Jack Davenport plays Prince Lobkowitz as the nicest bloke in Vienna, who insists that his musicians refrain from standing when he enters the room, and makes sure they have plenty of beer on hand (always a good ploy with orchestras). Unfortunately, despite squandering most of his family`s fortune on his orchestra and commissioning new works, he doesn`t appear to know too much about music.

This is left to his very smily, and highly annoying wife (or perhaps that`s just my reaction to Fenella Woolgar), who at any mention of Beethoven, appears to react as a young girl would around someone slightly famous who`s been on TV once, and appears to reach orgasm at any hint of excitement or unexpected harmonic change in the music.

Tim Piggot-Smith plays Count Dietrichstein as a supporter of the old-school with the necessary disdain for anything new, but of course, almost comes around to appreciating what he`s just heard by the end.

Frank Finlay (Haydn – generally known as `the father of the symphony`, so they had to bring him into the story somehow) is unforgiveably underused. He enters the programme just before the Finale begins and sits there, apparently not understanding what`s going on in the piece (highly unlikely), to deliver what is obviously meant to be the tag-line of the whole programme, “Everything is different from today”.

Ian Hart, as I have mentioned, does a fine job in bringing the character of Beethoven alive, despite the limitations of the script, which drips cliches in trying to squeeze in everything we know about the man somewhere along the way. The understated discussion about his deafness (he already knew his hearing was going completely) is actually quite moving, and he even manages to stand in front of the orchestra and `conduct` the piece without looking out of place, most of the time.

The Symphony though, is quite rightly the centrepiece of the film, and we are treated to a complete performance in amongst the dialogue. I would definitely recommend this DVD as an exercise in musicianship (on the part of Beethoven and the orchestra), it`s just a shame the script gets in the way.

GTIN13: 0809478009085
Verschijningsdatum: 23. mei 2005
Aantal discs 1
Product Type: DVD


Verenigd Koninkrijk 2003. Simon Cellan Jones. Met o.a. Claire Skinner, Jack Davenport, Ian Hart en Tim Pigott-Smith.

Wenen 1804. Beethoven repeteert de eerste uitvoering van zijn derde symfonie, Eroica. Wat zal de reactie zijn van familie, vrienden en publiek op dit nieuwe werk? L’Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique speelt de symfonie op authentieke instrumenten olv Sir John Eliot Gardiner.


regie: Simon Cellan Jones
cast: Claire Skinner, Jack Davenport, Ian Hart, Tim Pigott-Smith
scenario: Nick Dear
camera: Barry Ackroyd
jaar: 2003
trefwoorden: Televisiefilm
landen: Verenigd Koninkrijk

On June 9, 1804, Ludwig van Beethoven and his pupil Ries assemble a group of musicians to give the first performance of his Third Symphony, ‘Bonaparte’, to his patron Prince Lobkowitz and his guests, including hypercritical Count Dietrichstein, in Vienna. The piece provokes political arguments among players and audience as to whether Bonaparte is a tyrant, or, as Beethoven believes, a liberator. The composer is also rejected by his former love, the recently widowed Josephine von Deym, though the visiting elder statesman of composers Haydn pays him a strange compliment. Leaving the gathering, Beethoven confesses to Ries that he is losing his hearing and later he reads that Bonaparte has declared himself the French emperor. As a result he will lose all respect for Napoleon and will change the symphony’s title to ‘Eroica’.

Het leven & de muziek van Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) op Compact Discs, DVD's en Boeken

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