Ludwig van Beethoven’s later works were mysterious when they premiered and remain mystical today. Late in his life, the towering genius, bereft of the ability to hear the world around him, began to experiment with tone and form in ways that still strike our modern ears as innovative, even after the revolution of modern, experimental music that took place in the 20th century.
Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor (that’s Opus 131, if you’re keeping track) is both the centerpiece and the backdrop of Yaron Zilberman’s drama “A Late Quartet,” starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Christopher Walken. The unusual composition is separated into seven movements that roam from key to key, and the performers are instructed to perform each section of the piece attacca—that is, without pause, in one marathon 40-minute sitting.
In Zilberman’s film, the music acts as a metaphor: the piece, which allows its performers no opportunity to pause, to take stock, to readjust, reflects the fault lines exposed in the relationships between the quartet’s members when one of them, Christopher Walken’s Peter Mitchell, is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
As part of the promotion for the release of the film on DVD and Blu-ray, Fox has developed an interactive web platform (which you can play around with below) highlighting the connection between Beethoven’s music and the emotional beats of the film.
In the graphic, the first few measures from each movement of the string quartet are included alongside a SoundCloud recording of the section and a short minute-plus scene from the film that, in Zilberman’s mind, correspond to the form and emotion of the string music.
Fox’s interactive graphic for “A Late Quartet” is intriguing and fun to play around with, albeit a bit wonky. This isn’t the only instance of a studio pushing the music of one of its films in an attempt to create buzz for the movie: DreamWorks sent out one-page copies of John Williams’s “Lincoln” theme for awards consideration. Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” was originally considered the overwhelming favorite for Oscar love this year, but has lost some of its awards luster as Ben Affleck’s “Argo” has raked in a series of accolades from critics and industry groups.