Eroica follows the canons of the Wiener Films, in which elegant costumes and the world of the upper middle class become the main actors. Yet, this important film by Kolm-Veltée shows a marked personality, focuses mainly on the genius of Beethoven and cleverly avoids any possible clichés.
Genius at work
A film with a decidedly problematic making process, Walter Kom-Veltée’s Eroica. Made in 1949, shooting had already begun two years earlier and, after its theatrical release and premiere at the Salzburg Festival 1949, the film was accused of plagiarism by playwright Hermann Heinz Ortner, who saw in Kolm-Veltée’s film several similarities with a work based on the life of Ludwig van Beethoven he had written in the mid-1930s and in which the actor Ewald Balser played the role of the famous composer, just like in this film. These accusations, however, were later dropped by Ortner himself, as the film otherwise could not have been presented at the Cannes Film Festival 1949.
However, despite numerous controversies and production difficulties, Eroica was well received by audiences and critics alike. This is due to the undoubted charm of the life of one of the world’s most renowned composers and to his timeless music. And this is also due to the excellent directorial approach of Walter Kolm-Veltée (and in some scenes also of Karl Hartl, who was entrusted with the art direction) and Balser’s talent. And today, the film is finally considered a true milestone in Austrian film history.
The story begins when in Vienna the news that Napoleon Bonaparte is about to enter the city spreads. Beethoven was thrilled and decided to compose a symphony (Eroica, in fact) in his honour. This symphony pleased Napoleon so much that he wanted to meet Beethoven. When, however, the composer was warned that the general, a luxury-loving man, would have liked him to dress appropriately, Beethoven was disappointed by his idol’s superficiality and decided to leave for Hungary with his pupil, Countess Therese Brunsvik and her cousin, Countess Giulietta Guicciardi. The composer fell in love with the latter and the two decided to marry. But what had destiny in store for him?
Eroica deals with a period of central importance in the life of Ludwig van Beethoven. His ideals, his talent, his romantic torments and, finally, his deafness inevitably influenced his art. It is in this period, in fact, that works such as Eroica, but also Moonlight Sonata or the famous Symphony No. 9 were composed. It was during this period that Beethoven’s life would take a decisive turn.
Walter Kolm Veltée, for his part, perfectly staged all this thanks to a well-structured screenplay, but also to intense close-ups of Ewald Balser’s face, sophisticated fades and, of course, timeless music as perfect accompaniment. Eroica follows the canons of the Wiener Films, in which elegant costumes and the world of the upper middle class become the main actors. Yet this important film by Kolm-Veltée shows a marked personality, focuses mainly on the genius of Beethoven and cleverly avoids any possible clichés. And so we are immediately reminded of another important film focusing on the life of another famous composer: The House of Three Girls, directed by Ernst Marischka in 1958 and based on the life of Franz Schubert. Here, sentimentality prevails over the story. Here, despite a good directorial approach, there is relatively little focus on Schubert’s own work. Everything is different in Eroica. And this important feature film first and foremost shows us a period of central importance for music history and the 19th century. History comes to life on the screen and knows how to involve and move us from beginning to end.
Original title: Eroica
Directed by: Walter Kolm-Veltée
Country/year: Austria / 1949
Running time: 95’
Genre: drama, biographical, musical
Cast: Ewald Balser, Marianne Schönauer, Judith Holzmeister, Oskar Werner, Dagny Servaes, Ivan Petrovich, Ludmilla Hell, Auguste Pünkösdy, Alfred Neugebauer, Hans Kraßnitzer, Karl Günther, Gustav Waldau, Richard Eybner, Erik Frey, Franz Pfaudler, Hans Hais, Helmut Janatsch, Julius Brandt, Karl Kalwoda
Screenplay: Walter Kolm-Veltée, Franz Tassié
Cinematography: Günther Anders, Hannes Staudinger
Produced by: Neue Wiener Filmproduktion, Wiener Kunstfilm