Immortal Beloved (1994 film)

Immortal Beloved is a 1994 film about the life of composer Ludwig van Beethoven (played by Gary Oldman). The story follows Beethoven's secretary and first biographer Anton Schindler (Jeroen Krabbé) as he attempts to ascertain the true identity of the Unsterbliche Geliebte (Immortal Beloved) addressed in three letters found in the late composer's private papers. Schindler journeys throughout the Austrian Empire interviewing women who might be potential candidates as well as through Beethoven's own tumultuous life.

Immortal Beloved
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBernard Rose
Produced byStephen McEveety
Bruce Davey
Written byBernard Rose
Music byGeorge Fenton
Ludwig van Beethoven
Gioacchino Rossini
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • December 16, 1994 (1994-12-16)
Running time
121 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
United States
Box office$9.9 million[1]


When Ludwig van Beethoven dies, his assistant and close friend Schindler deals with his last will and testament. It reads that his estate, music and affairs will be left to his "immortal beloved", but there remains a question as to who is Beethoven's "immortal beloved", an unnamed woman mentioned in one of his letters. Schindler embarks on a quest to find out. He meets the women who played a part in Ludwig's life; through their stories, retrospective footage of Beethoven from his younger years until his death is featured as the film progresses. The conclusion ultimately is that the individual is Johanna Reiss, the daughter of Anton Van Reiss, a prosperous Viennese upholsterer. In the film, she becomes pregnant by Beethoven; when by an accidental turn of events he does not marry her in time, she marries his brother, Kaspar. The love turns to hate, worsened by the long legal battle between Beethoven and Johanna over custody over their son, Karl van Beethoven (whom everyone believes is Beethoven's nephew), following Kaspar's death. Finally, Ludwig gets custody over his 'nephew', but the strict upbringing and promotion of the boy as another child prodigy—which Karl himself knows all too well he is not—leads to Karl attempting suicide. Beethoven is blamed and his reputation is ruined.

Schindler finally speaks to Johanna, who says she has made her peace with him. She met him at his deathbed, where he gave her a signed letter, giving her custody over Karl. She tells Schindler about their intentions to elope, but Beethoven never showed up, and she felt betrayed. Schindler realizes what happened and gives her the letter to the "Immortal Beloved" in which she finally reads what happened that night they were supposed to meet. Shocked to find out how an unfortunate event and misunderstanding has kept them apart, she visits the grave of Beethoven in the closing scene.


Historical background

After Beethoven's death in 1827, a three-part letter was found among his private papers addressed to a woman whom he called "immortal beloved". Written in the summer of 1812 from the spa town of Teplice, the letter has generated a great deal of speculation and debate amongst scholars and writers as to her identity. Among the candidates, then and now, are Giulietta Guicciardi, Thérèse von Brunswick, Josephine Brunsvik, Antonie Brentano, and Anna-Marie Erdödy, some of whom are portrayed in the film.

The film's writer and director, Bernard Rose, though not a historian, claimed that he had successfully identified the addressed woman as Beethoven’s sister-in-law Johanna (Reiss) van Beethoven, a claim no scholar on Beethoven has endorsed. The film also implies that Karl, Beethoven's nephew, was in reality the couple's son. Biographer Gail S. Altman disputed Rose's claim in a book[2] devoted specifically to the question of the woman's identity and Beethoven's relationships in general.[3]


(in order of appearance)

  • Symphony No 5, Op. 67.
  • Für Elise (complete).
  • Symphony No 3 In E-Flat Major Op.55 Eroica.
  • Piano Sonata No 14, Moonlight: Adagio Sostenuto.
  • Symphony No 6, Op. 68, Pastoral: Storm.
  • Piano Trio No 5 In D Major, Op. 70, No 1 Ghost.
  • Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61.
  • Piano Sonata No 8, Pathetique.
  • Piano Concerto No 5, Emperor (love theme, ending credits).
  • Missa Solemnis: Kyrie.
  • Symphony No 7, Op. 92: Allegretto (Karl's theme)
  • Violin Sonata In A Major, Op. 47, Kreutzer: Adagio sostenuto- Presto.
  • Symphony No 9, Op 125: Ode to Joy.
  • String Quartet No 13 in B-Flat Major, Op. 130


Critical response

Reviews for Immortal Beloved were mixed. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 56% based on 54 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2/10.[4] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade A- on scale of A to F.[5]

Emanuel Levy gave the film a "C" rating, calling it a "speculative chronicle" that lacks the "vibrant energy and charm" of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart biopic Amadeus (1984). He praised the "wonderfully recorded and inventively used" Beethoven compositions as well as the casting of Oldman, whom he felt was "the perfect actor to portray the arrogant, irascible musician".[6] Roger Ebert was highly complimentary of the film. He gave it 3½ stars out of four, stating in his review: "Immortal Beloved has clearly been made by people who feel Beethoven directly in their hearts". He asserted that Oldman "at first seems an unlikely choice...then we see that he is right".[7] Janet Maslin also offered a positive review, stating: "thanks to its hugely effective use of Beethoven's most thrilling, tumultuous music, this film exerts much the same hypnotic power". She praised the performance of Oldman, writing that "he captures Beethoven as a believably brilliant figure struggling with his deafness and other demons".[8]

MSN Movies, in a 2011 publication, wrote: "Oldman's performance is unimpeachable. He dives deep into the role with powerful passion and makes the audience feel the pain of the genius as he loses his hearing and fails to shape his nephew into a similarly talented musician. In the year of '[Forrest] Gump', Oldman was overlooked for a well-deserved Oscar nomination."[9] Also that year Josh Winning of Total Film named Oldman's portrayal of Beethoven as one of the five best performances of his career, saying: "Immersing himself fully into the role of the German composer, Oldman is here damn near unrecognisable. The fact that he remains silent for the first 20 minutes of the film while simultaneously emoting for England is a small triumph in itself."[10]

Box office

The movie debuted strongly[11] and was a modest success, generating $9,914,409 in a domestic-only release.[1]

See also


  1. "Immortal Beloved (1994)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 4, 2018.
  2. Altman, Gail S. Beethoven: A Man of His Word – Undisclosed Evidence for his Immortal Beloved, Anubian Press 1996; ISBN 1-888071-01-X
  3. See also Lewis Lockwood: "Film Biography as Travesty: Immortal Beloved and Beethoven." The Musical Quarterly 81/2, 1997, pp. 190–198.
  4. "Immortal Beloved (1994)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  5. "IMMORTAL BELOVED (1995) A-". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on December 20, 2018.
  6. Levy, Emanuel. Immortal Beloved. Wayback Machine. 2006. Retrieved 11 August 2014.
  7. Roger Ebert (January 6, 1995). "Immortal Beloved". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved April 3, 2012.
  8. Maslin, Janet (December 16, 1994). "Movie Review: Immortal Beloved". New York Times. Retrieved April 3, 2012.
  9. Immortal Beloved (1994) - Ludwig van Beethoven Archived October 6, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. MSN Movies. 2011. Retrieved December 17, 2012.
  10. Winning, Josh. Best Movies: The film chameleon’s greatest moments. Total Film. 11 April 2011. Retrieved 11 August 2014.
  11. Natale, Richard (January 17, 1995). "Holiday Spurs Record-Setting Movie Weekend". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
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