History of the World According to the Movies: Part 48 – The German-Speaking World of the 19th Century

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Here’s Gary Oldman as Ludwig van Beethoven in 1994’s Immortal Beloved which makes Amadeus look like a faithful biopic. Sure Oldman does look like Beethoven as you clearly see. Yet, let’s just say, he wouldn’t ask Metternich for favors, he didn’t love his sister-in-law Johanna, and he didn’t sire his own nephew Karl. Nor did he will his estate to his Immortal Beloved either.

The German speaking world of the 19th century was a key place during this time period. The Holy Roman Empire had collapsed in 1806 (partly thanks to Napoleon who probably had something to do with it) which left the Empire of Austria-Hungary which still had an Emperor that would last until World War I. Nevertheless, while Vienna was the home of the royal family as well as where the famous Clemmens von Metternich ran things from 1790 until he was forced to resign among the 1848 Revolutions. However, though many contemporaries think that the Austrian-Hungarian Empire was a backward, ignorant, and underdeveloped, they forget that this was Vienna was home to a lot of great 19th century German composers as well as Sigmund Freud. Then you have Germany which began the 19th century as a loose confederation of small entities until the Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck started a war with France in the 1870s and helped form these little countries into Germany which was ruled by the Kaisers. It was also a place for composers,  scientists, and other people of note. There aren’t a lot of movies made in this period save maybe a few Nazi propaganda films as well as those that take place in Vienna. Yet, there are plenty of inaccuracies in these films, nevertheless.

Austria:

Ludwig van Beethoven:

Ludwig van Beethoven’s will mentioned an “immortal beloved.” (She wasn’t mentioned in his will. Also, the mention of an “immortal beloved” was in a series of letters dating said to be written in 1812. Beethoven died in 1827 and probably wasn’t still hung up with her. Still, he had quite a lot of romances in his life so there are plenty of candidates. As to his will, he left the bulk of his estate to his nephew Karl who he loved with a sort of tormented horror in a parental fashion.)

Ludwig van Beethoven was deaf when he wrote the “Pathetique” sonata. (He wrote it in 1798 when he could still hear and was doing performances. He certainly heard it.)

Ludwig van Beethoven was a ladies man. (Contrary to what Immortal Beloved says, he was unlucky with women in general and often rejected by them. He also tended to form attachments with women who were unreachable {already married}.)

Ludwig van Beethoven stopped playing after his Eroica Symphony. (He stopped playing in 1814 due to his hearing loss. However, this was long after he wrote the Eroica {or Third Symphony} which was in 1805 and said to originally to be titled the Bonaparte Symphony. However, he changed it to Eroica when he found that Napoleon had declared himself Emperor according to one of his biographers. He was crushed and tore the title page in half.)

Ludwig van Beethoven died poor. (He may not have been a wealthy composer but he was a shrewd businessman and not above doing music commissions just for money. Still, he spent a lot of his money on his family, especially when it came to his brother Kaspar’s tuberculosis treatment and in a custody battle over his nephew. Not to mention, as a composer in his day, he was responsible for all the expenses in performing his work.)

Ludwig van Beethoven had an unkempt appearance, had terrible manners, and was emotionally unstable. (He had usually been a neat freak and was polite in public until his personal life and health problems began to take their toll in the 1810s. His hearing loss was also a factor. Still, he had a close circle of devoted friends all his life though there are accounts of him accusing them of cheating him only to later get over it and apologize to them the next day.)

Clemens Von Metternich and Ludwig van Beethoven met in person in which the latter offered to write an oratorio praising the former in return for the arch-conservative minister intervening on the composer’s custody dispute over his nephew. (For one, they didn’t meet in person. Second, to think Beethoven would propose such a thing to a guy who had secret police on him is not only absurd, it’s borderline slanderous because Beethoven was a passionate democrat who supported revolutions sweeping across Europe.)

Ludwig van Beethoven’s immortal beloved was his sister-in-law Johanna and was her son Karl’s real father. And the reason why he was so horrible and abusive to Johanna was that he was secretly crazy in love with her. (For fucking God’s sake, Immortal Beloved, Beethoven isn’t a sparkly vampire from Twilight! Besides, it’s highly unlikely that Johanna van Beethoven was the immortal beloved because he was completely awful to her, calling her a whore in public multiple times and questioning her fitness as a mother. It’s also likely that his nephew Karl had a lot of resentment for his uncle because of how he treated his mom. Not to mention, Karl wasn’t his son since Ludwig and Joanna were on bad terms from the start. His biographer Anton Schindler is said to allege that Giulietta Guicciardi was the most likely candidate who might’ve been engaged to Beethoven at one point but ended up dumping him for another guy mostly due to their different social standings. Nevertheless, if Johanna was the immortal beloved, Beethoven probably would’ve married her without a hitch which would’ve made things a lot easier for both of them as well as Karl.)

Countess Anna Marie Erdody saved Ludwig van Beethoven from public humiliation, gave him a place to stay, and took up with him. (All that’s known about her in Beethoven’s life was that she paid to keep him in Vienna when he threatened to leave.)

Ludwig van Beethoven wrote the “Immortal Beloved” letter in Karlsbad. (It’s fairly certain he actually wrote it while at a spa in Teplitz. The person he wrote to was in Karlsbad or Prague as far as he knew.)

Ludwig van Beethoven met Giulietta Guicciardi in 1804. (He actually met her in 1800.)

Ludwig van Beethoven’s music was way for him to express himself during times in his life. (Actually he was a man dedicated to his craft who composed music for its own sake. Yet, he didn’t always compose music that was inspired from his life. He also said that it was his music that kept him from committing suicide since couldn’t bear to leave his music unwritten.)

Ludwig van Beethoven’s relationship with Giulietta Guicciardi fell apart over a bet to see on whether Beethoven still knew how to play the piano. Giulietta also betrayed Beethoven by testing his deafness. (Beethoven’s main instruments were the piano and violin since he wrote a lot of music for them. Still, they more or less broke up due to their different social standings and he knew they had no future together. Also, it’s very likely that Giulietta’s cousins didn’t tear up their dresses in a public place to have sex with him. Still, Beethoven’s love life was hampered by class issues since he was a commoner who kept falling for aristocratic women way out of his league. Maybe he should’ve just marry girls like his brothers did.)

Anton Schindler was Beethoven’s executor. (He was his first biographer, secretary, and friend. Yet, he’d probably be executor, too.)

Ludwig van Beethoven had a female copyist and co-conductor. (He had two and they were both male and neither contributed or altered the score. Also, the person who assisted him with conducting the 9th Symphony was Michael Umlauf though Beethoven was on stage but the orchestra had been told to ignore him. Also, one of the soloists by the name of Caroline Unger had to turn him around to see the enthusiastic applause of the audience.)

In 1824, Ludwig van Beethoven was hard of hearing but quite capable of understanding people who spoke loudly. (Though he had never experienced permanent deafness, his condition fluctuated between total silence and terrible tinnitus. Also, his hearing had deteriorated severely by the time he composed his 9th symphony. Still, unlike many popular portrayals of Beethoven today, he was able to carry on conversations as long as they were facilitated by notebooks and that the person he was talking to looked directly at him since he could read lips.)

Ludwig van Beethoven was deaf for most of his life even in his youth. (He could hear perfectly fine until he started to lose his hearing at 26 this was gradual process due to having a “distended inner ear” which developed lesions over time. By 1818 he was almost completely deaf. As to what caused it, his hearing loss has been attributed to typhus, aut0-immune disorders {like systemic lupus erythematosus}, or his habit of immersing cold water on his head to stay awake.)

Ludwig van Beethoven’s 9th Symphony was an ode to himself escaping the oppression of his father. (Uh, Beethoven’s actual inspiration for his 9th Symphony was

Ludwig van Beethoven was private about his deafness. (His deafness wasn’t a secret and he was very public about it.)

Ludwig van Beethoven’s grave was an 8-foot obelisk. (His original grave was 2 feet tall and in a different Vienna cemetery. His body would later be moved next to Schubert in the 1880s at the site where the 8 foot obelisk in his memorial stands.)

Kaspar van Beethoven survived his famous brother Ludwig. (He died of tuberculosis in 1815 and was one of the reasons why Beethoven had a nasty custody battle with his widow. Heck, Beethoven had spent money for his care.)

Karl van Beethoven left his uncle Ludwig after he tried to commit suicide. (Yes, Beethoven did have a stormy relationship with his nephew who tried to kill himself. Yet, Karl didn’t leave his uncle until after finishing the metronome markings for his uncle’s 9th Symphony. And when he did, he left under his uncle’s permission {though reluctantly} to join the army.)

Sigmund Freud:

Sigmund Freud’s “Dora” case was in 1892, in which Freud had her strip naked for a back massage. (Freud had the “Dora” case for 11 weeks in 1900. Also, according to his published account of the whole thing, he never laid a hand on her. Not to mention, he never had his patients strip naked and never massaged anything other than their foreheads. Yet, there were some erotic undercurrents in Freud’s treatment of her. Still, Freud was a psychiatrist not a masseuse.)

Anna O. was Sigmund Freud’s patient. (She may have been the founding patient of psychoanalysis but she was the patient of Josef Breuer, Freud’s friend and patron. He reported the case to Freud in detail and often at his request. Yet, Freud never met this women, let alone treated her.)

Sigmund Freud hypnotized a female patient to get to the root of her traumatic experience in 1896. (He had given up using hypnotism by this time since he had discovered the value of sitting behind his patients instead. Though he did use both years earlier. Still, Freud didn’t pursue any of his female patients and was well known for being faithful to his wife.)

Signmund Freud’s theories of psychology revolved around sex. (Many did, but he also had theories on dreams. However, what cements Freud’s place in history is the use of his method of talking to people in order to cure their mental issues, his work concerning the subconscious, and his theory of the Id, Ego, and Superego were all considered groundbreaking and laid the foundations of what much is understood about psychology today.)

After discovering the Oedipus complex, Sigmund Freud felt horrendously guilty and was ready to abandon his practice because it revealed the latent hatred of his father. (There’s no evidence that his theory of the Oedipus complex depressed him. In fact, he was quite pleased with it saying that every man has been a little Oedipus at some time in his life. And, by Oedipus complex, he didn’t mean that guys are sexually attracted to their mothers, which it mostly implies in pop culture.)

Empress Elisabeth:

Empress consort Elisabeth was hated by her mother-in-law Dowager Sophie and brought the sun and love to everyone else by solving their problems with much class and sweetness. (She was more of a woman who was unable to withstand pressure coming from the Hapsburg Court and plagued by disgraces and mental illness. She never recovered from the loss of her son who died of a murder-suicide with his mistress at the Mayerling hunting lodge. Not to mention, in many ways, she was kind of strange to put it lightly. Also, Sophie was more of an ignored expert yet she was still a domineering woman who picked all grandchildren’s names. But she tried to make her daughter-in-law a good empress and was adamant about tradition. This clashed with Elisabeth’s free spirited nature. And though she was stern and strict, Sophie was very caring and actually worried about her daughter-in-law. Still, Empress Elisabeth was nowhere near the Disney princess mode a she’s depicted in the Sissi trilogy.)

Empress consort Elisabeth and Emperor Franz Josef were around the same age. (Well, they did have an eight year age difference like my grandparents. Yet, when they met Franz was 23 and Elisabeth was 15. Oh, and he met her while on a visit to meet her sister whom he was supposed to marry in the first place but fell for her instead.)

Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Elisabeth had a fairytale relationship. (They had a rocky marriage. However, Elisabeth would undergo mercury treatments {which were commonly used for treating syphilis} and soon had her teeth rot. She also displayed erratic behavior. So somebody wasn’t being faithful here.)

The “Emperor’s Waltz” was played at Franz Joseph and Elisabeth’s wedding in 1854. (It was composed by Johann Strauss Jr. in 1889.)

Empress consort Elisabeth met Maria Vetsera. (She probably didn’t since she had been the wandering Empress who shunned Vienna, the Court, the etiquette, and even the politics. However, she was in Vienna when Crown Prince Rudolf died.)

Johann Strauss Jr.:

Johann Strauss Jr.’s first marriage was to a baker’s daughter. (It was to a singer named Henrietta Trefz, who wasn’t a baker’s daughter.)

Johann Strauss Jr. composed “The Blue Danube” during his dad’s lifetime. (“The Blue Danube” was composed in 1866. Johann Strauss Sr. died in 1849 so he probably wouldn’t have been able to hear it.)

The Mayerling Incident:

Maria Vetsera lived to be 20. (She died at 17 in a murder-suicide with her lover the Crown Prince Rudolf at the Mayerling hunting lodge. Pretty sad story. Still, this incident was one of the reasons why Archduke Ferdinand would be assassinated since it practically made him heir to the throne of Austria after his dad renounced his claim.)

Maria Vetsera refused to bow before Crown Princess Stephanie at the German Embassy ball. (Contrary to the movie Mayerling with Omar Sharif, this was never mentioned by anyone who attended the party. The only account that does mention this is from the Countess Marie Larish who wasn’t even invited because her mother was an actress. She was also kind of a shady and perverse character despite being Empress Elisabeth’s protege.)

Crown Prince Rudolf and Maria Vetsera made a suicide pact because they couldn’t live in a world without love or prospects for peace. (Most historians agree this wasn’t the case. Actually, contrast with the movie Mayerling, the incident isn’t as romantic as it implies. Many historians think that Rudolf’s murder-suicide had more to do with Rudolf being a desperate man too afraid to die alone {though official reports say that it was due to Franz Josef’s demand that the couple end their relationship}. Also, Maria Vetsera wasn’t his only mistress nor was she the only one Rudolf asked to die with him. Still, though Rudolf did at least play with the idea of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire having a federal parliamentary democracy {though there’s doubt whether he really believed them} and clashed with his father, he was a jaded alcoholic who was seriously ill with some STD and used morphine to relieve his suffering as well as a weak and unsound man. Also, unlike his Omar Sharif portrayal, Rudolf didn’t leave a good looking corpse. As for Maria she was just a 17 year old girl desperately in love with a troubled man and was too young to understand her lover was using her as a helping hand to die. Not to mention, Rudolf died six hours after his teenage mistress.)

Crown Prince Rudolf took part in student demonstrations. (This is implausible since his dad’s henchmen watched him like a hawk day and night. Also, he was more interested in partying than political protesting regardless of what his ideas were.)

Crown Prince Rudolf was drawn into a treasonable attempt to dethrone his father as the King of Hungary mostly because he wanted to put his liberal ideas into practice and that he could divorce his wife Stephanie and marry his mistress Maria Vetsera. (Unlike the Omar Sharif portrayal in Mayerling, the real Crown Prince Rudolf would’ve done no such thing. For one, while Hungary had the right to self-govern within the Empire, most Hungarians were perfectly fine with the Dual Monarchy and would’ve never wished to replace Emperor Franz Josef as their king, especially with a divorced man, something that would’ve been totally unacceptable in a predominantly Catholic nation. Second, Rudolf may have had liberal ideas{or at least played with them} and probably toyed with the idea of divorcing his wife {since it was an unhappy marriage and that his wife had failed to give him a son and may have been rendered infertile due to contracting VD from her husband. Not to mention, his father-in-law was Leopold II who was famous for his brutality in the Congo}. Third, he probably had no plans on marrying his teenage mistress and it’s very likely he didn’t love her anyway. Fourth, he wasn’t serious enough about politics to even consider overthrowing his old man over anything.)

Maria Vetsera was blond. (Photographs indicate that she had dark hair.)

Other:

Richard Wagner was responsible for Nazism. (No, he wasn’t. Sure he was anti-Semitic but he died six years before Hitler was born. Still, the Nazis were a fan of his music and he gets a bad rap for that.)

Germany:

Kasper Hauser was a young man when he appeared in Nuremberg. (He was said to be 17.)

Albert and his brother Ernest lived in Saxe-Coburg-Gotha around 1837. (They were attending the University of Bonn as residents.)
There was a Prince of Brunswick at the Duke of Richmond’s ball during the Napoleonic Wars. (There was never a prince of Brunswick but there was a Duke of Brunswick who was 43 at the time of Waterloo.)

The Brothers Grimm wrote “Jack and the Beanstalk.” (It’s an old English tale and not well-known in Germany so it’s not one of them.)
Prussian General Blücher ordered his army to leave no survivors. (He actually told them to pursue the French until their last breath. It’s just that his army was in no mood in taking prisoners at the time.)

The Prussians wore black military uniforms. (They were dark blue. Also, contrary to Waterloo, the black-clad Leibhusaren weren’t part of Blucher’s army. )

Otto von Bismarck challenged Kaiser Wilhelm I’s authority. (No, because Kaiser Wilhelm I let Bismarck do whatever he wanted. Still, Bismarck was one of the reasons why Kaiser Wilhem was able to rule Germany though it was the Kaiser who appointed him prime minister. Unfortunately Kaiser Wilhelm I died in 1888 and his son Frederich III died of cancer after ruling Germany for 99 days which paved the way for Kaiser Wilhelm II who eventually fired Bismarck from his job after unifying Germany and running it for nearly 20 years mostly because Wilhelm II was fed up with being Bismarck’s puppet.)

Otto von Bismarck was a proto-Hitler. (No, he wasn’t despite being portrayed like that in Nazi propaganda films. Still, Bismarck was a sneaky bastard who enacted social welfare policies to reduce worker support for the socialist parties he loathed and set the retirement age to 65 thinking that nobody would receive benefits since a lot of people didn’t live past 50 at the time. However, though he had few scruples he wasn’t willing to override, Bismarck was a pragmatist more willing to find more expedient and effective ways to get what he wanted and didn’t pursue aggressive foreign policy.)

Albert Einstein was a patent clerk in 1899. (He was still in school at this point and wouldn’t become one until 1902.)

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One response to “History of the World According to the Movies: Part 48 – The German-Speaking World of the 19th Century

  1. Love those Germans- they left quite a legacy, from great music to psychology. Boy, Beethovens life was quite a soap opera.

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