The King’s Speech – and Beethoven

We’ve all heard about it, and many have seen it – this Oscar-winning film. The scene that struck me was the one pictured left, towards the end. It’s a climactic scene, but it was the music that gripped me – an excerpt from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, second movement, then some of the second movement of Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto.

And I found myself wondering – why this music? Why Beethoven, a German composer, in such an English film set around the time of WW II; would Elgar be more appropriate?

Probably not; the film is not all Pomp and Circumstance, and such a strongly nationalistic, instantly recognizable musical flavour  could weaken the story’s broader remit, eclipsing the many personal themes that weave through the film against the backdrop of the oncoming global conflict.

In any case, it is well known that the opening of Beethoven’s 5th  Symphony with its Morse code allusion to ‘V’ became ‘V for Victory’ for the Allies, so Beethoven’s music was in use during that period, ironically, for Allied morale-building.

The music works well in the scene, with the sombre tread of the the symphony giving way to the sublime beauty of the concerto. There’s probably no deep underlying reason for the choice; perhaps just a need for a soundtrack that matches the solemnity of the occasion.

But it’s a nice touch to use the music of a composer who overcame the challenge of deafness in a scene with a speech-making King who has the challenge of a speech impediment.

And Beethoven crossed out his Symphony No 3’s dedication to Napoleon when Napoleon declared himself Emperor; perhaps Beethoven’s voice is the one to choose when facing those who would rule the world, in any century.

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3 Responses to The King’s Speech – and Beethoven

  1. geelong365 says:

    I was really impressed with the ‘choreography’ of the final scene to Beethoven & have played the Liszt transcription many times since the film. There are a few things that become obvious – it’s a funeral march of sorts, and it contains an ostinato which is reminiscent of Morse code and defines the rhythm of the speech (btw the original broadcast is on YouTube). From a filmic perspective it couldn’t be a better choice and pays homage to some of the other great uses of Beethoven in films. Politically, it’s a good choice too: 1) given the background of the Windsors and 2) Beethoven’s abhorrence of Napoleon. I’d go so far as to say it’s probably the best use of ‘composed’ music – as in not specifically film music -since Kubrick’s Richard Strauss in 2001: A Space Odyssey; Ligeti’s ‘Musica Ricercata’ in ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ (Kubrick again) & Milos Forman’s ‘Amadeus’. HelenO

  2. cpianist says:

    Yes indeed, Helen – George VI’s German great-grandfather is another link, and George was born on the anniversary of Prince Albert’s death. Interesting choice of ‘composed’ music used in films; I would add the Puccini aria from Gianni Schicci used at the opening of ‘A Room with a View’, both set in Florence.

  3. Pingback: Birthday Blog | notesfromapianist

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