“‘In Search of Beethoven’ plays like a good, if necessarily condensed critical biography,” writes the Village Voice’s Andrew Schenker. “Drawing from archival letters, interviews with contemporary musicians and historians, and a generous selection of live music, Phil Grabsky’s film takes us through the life and work of its imposing subject, moving from Beethoven’s days as the ‘piano virtuoso of Vienna’ in the 1790s through his establishment as that city’s leading composer and his subsequent personal troubles and declining production.” The film opens today at Cinema Village in New York City, following a record-breaking run at the Siskel Center in Chicago.
“Beethoven’s painful insecurities and petty squabbles are deftly balanced with generous musical examples,” notes Time Out New York’s Steve Smith. “The results do justice to a complex genius whose impact can scarcely be overstated.”
“The film stretches on too long — the worshipful comments begin to pile up, and Mr. Grabsky gets bogged down in ‘Fidelio’ (Beethoven’s only opera) and a few other areas,” observes Neil Genzlinger in the New York Times. “But the music soothes away a lot of complaints.”
Variety’s Joe Leydon: “A notable improvement over ‘In Search of Mozart,’ documaker Phil Grabsky’s previous biographical portrait of a legendary composer, ‘In Search of Beethoven’ manages a much defter balance between words and music, commentary and concertos… Like many works in a minor key, it has a way of commanding and sustaining attention.”
“At a two-hour-and-forty-minute length, this documentary packs in a wealth of information, the most interesting of which, for me, came from hearing so many different musicians talk at length and fascinatingly about why Beethoven’s music was so spectacular in its time — and remains so today,” blogs GreenCine’s James van Maanen. “As a film, however, it has its slow points and odd moments… and after awhile, all the snippets read from various letters, as musicians play the composer’s work, begins to tire.”
The Guardian’s Andrew Pulver calls the film an “exhaustive – and to be honest, exhausting – trawl through the life and works of Ludwig Van, as Alex from ‘A Clockwork Orange’ liked to call him. Director Phil Grabsky relies rather too much on vacuous sonorities from the collection of distinguished musicians and musicologists he has assembled, so that any excitement he may want to generate about Beethoven’s musical achievements is largely dissipated.”
“The wonderful thing about ‘In Search of Beethoven’—a sort of follow-up to Grabsky’s 2006 ‘In Search of Mozart’—is that it finds ways to show us how the music looks; it explains what makes a piece of music extraordinary and then allows us to see it played,” writes Time Out Chicago’s Ben Kenigsberg. “Covering both fact and rumor, the wonkier aspects of the music and the emotions it stirs in even the most accomplished musicians, this sprawling (if somewhat overlong) film finds a level of discussion that should please aficionados and newcomers alike.”
Dominic McHugh has a lengthy interview with Grabsky on MusicalCriticism.com.
Watch the trailer for “In Search of Beethoven” on YouTube.