Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The music of "The King's Speech"

Last night seeing "The King's Speech" -- I expound on the experience on the, ahem, Leonard Pennario Web log -- I was struck by their choice of music. The original music seemed to me as your usual piano-based movie score, so bland you hardly noticed it. Perhaps it was that way on purpose.

But boy, when the King gave his speech, they gave you that glorious Allegretto from Beethoven's Seventh.

Is there any better music in the world? That Allegretto, it builds to the point where it gives me a kind of vertigo. It is as if the sky and the ground are switching places.

And when the King of England, played by Colin Firth, was speaking as an exercise while listening to music, the music was the heated, breathless overture to Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro."

Again you are thinking: Is there any better music in the world?

Then at the end of the movie they bring in the slow movement from the "Emperor" Concerto. I started to cry. It had nothing to do with the movie. It is just that I always cry when I hear this music. It is as if it pulls the tears out of me. It is nothing I can control.

You also hear Mozart's Clarinet Concerto. And part of Brahms' "German Requiem."

A strange aspect of all this is that "The King's Speech" deals with the rise of Nazism, this evil force. That is the king's big challenge, having to confront the prospect of war with Germany. So it says something that there is all this German music. Maybe it is supposed to bring out both sides of the German people. Maybe it reflects that the British royal family was German, and the confusion and sadness of that.

Then again, maybe it is just that this music belongs to the whole world.

I think that is the explanation I like best.


  1. I believe you're right at the end—it's the music of the whole world, and Mozart and Beethoven can reasonably be seen as citizens of all nations at this point because they are so beloved by all. Their music represents no country, unlike Wagner who so clearly represents Germany or Debussy who so clearly represents France. And it's fitting they would provide the background for a story of triumphant against the odds.

  2. I thought the Emperor concerto was stupid. There was a king rallying his country to fight the germans to the strains of a German extolling Republicanism. Absurd

    1. Music transcends, my dear, you missed the whole point of both the music and the film

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  4. Truly their lineage came from the Saxe-coburg-gotha prince Albert, and thats also my impression at the end of the movie especially at the start of the credits - thats a mozart song i remember it so much then thinking back I do remember so many mozart songs... how ironic they have to defeat this evil thing coming from the same land where this great music was created. It creates a great undertone and symbolism this music part of the movie.

  5. Although Beethoven was born in what is now Germany (there was no Germany at that time), his family was Belgian. Mozart was Austrian. Therefore there is no reason to see any conflict between the music and the story of the film.

    But then, Hitler was not German either. He was Austrian, and just obtained German citizenship a few days before being elected to the German parliament.

    We only harm ourselves if we despise the language or the music of a nation because of some aberration in its history.

    George A. Marquart

  6. Fabulous post... I was hoping others were just as moved by the music in the movie as I was... problem is, I still don't know what the final speech was about... The allegreto spoke much more loudly... I'll buy the movie and use the CC feature... :))

  7. Thank you, Anonymous!! I had the same problem as you... I listened to the music more than the speech. The music was effective but, to those of us who love it, a little too good to be used in that context. It reminds me of once when I saw a wonderful dance company dancing to Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde"... I ended up closing my eyes!

  8. George Marquart up above, I wish I had answered you earlier! About Beethoven, I had heard he was part Flemish but wasn't Bonn part of a German state? And I think he considered himself German. I do know Mozart considered himself German. His father was from Augsburg and his wife was from Mannheim so the Austrian business definitely gets muddied. In any case I agree with your last statement. Music belongs to the world and in the end all this other business does not really matter. Thank you for reading what I wrote!!

  9. But in England we have such wonderful composers who would easily, and more aptly, fitted this movie. I believe that Elgar or Handel would each have provided the emotional music required and what about the Russian composers? The popular music of the Germanic composers was unnecessary against a backdrop of the Blitzing of London. I am surprised that Wagner was not represented!

    I would assume that the comments posted largely came from American audiences and their naivite and ignorance of the suffering in Europe at that time is glaring. The music, taken from German composers, was offensive to those who lived though these years.

    As a musician I adore the music of Beethoven and Mozart but found it inappropriate for that particular time and in that particular place. It was out of context and, with so many other wonderful composers to choose from, I do not know why the filmakers did not see this.

  10. Excuse me for interrupting, but where do you think, Händel was from?
    And maybe the makers exactly wanted NOT to go on about nationalities when choosing their music, but about emotion and - music!

  11. Previous Anonymous commenter, from Feb. 27, I am just wondering, did you live through those years? If you did, I would imagine that you would have a perspective we did not. I still believe though that Beethoven and Mozart belong to everyone. Also, about both the World Wars, it is tragic that England and Germany wound up at war with each other. England was always so good and so welcoming to German composers -- Handel, Haydn, and they were trying to get Mozart over there at the time that he died. I wish he had lived to go over there -- he was thinking of taking them up on it.

  12. During World War II no evening concerts were held in London as the concert halls, like everything else, were blacked out because of the German bombardment. So the pianist Myra Hess instsituted a now legendary series of lunchtime concerts at the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. The total attendance was over the six years of the war was about 750,000. For this huge contribution to the morale of London at that dreadful time she was honoured by King George VI in 1941. And what music was the biggest draw for the Londoners who endured nightly German bombing raids? Er... Beethoven... and Bach (oops)... and (oh dear), Mozart. And Myra Hess's own performances of Brahms and Schumann were especially well regarded. So it doesn't seem that 'those who lived through those years' were all that offended.
    Looking at another musical genre, it's interesting that the wartime German song 'Lilli Marlene' was massively popular with troops on both sides.
    Finally, during WWII when the BBC were broadcasting to Nazi-occupied Europe their call-sign was the opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony...

    You are right Mary, music, especially that of Mozart and Beethoven (and 'Lilli Marlene'!) speaks to us as human individuals.

  13. Concerning nationalities:
    Beethoven could not very well have been a Belgian as there was no Belgium in his time. What is nowadays Belgium was part of the Austrian Netherlands. (Don't ask, otherwise I might be seduced to tell.) Anyway: His family was Flemish, he was born in Bonn.
    Bonn was the residential town for the Prince Elector and Archbishop of Cologne (who had to have two residences, as Cologne was a Free City of the Realm and the burghers liked it very much to forbid the Archbishop entry into his town when he arrived in the regalia of the Prince Elector).
    The Archdiocese of Cologne (yes, with Bonn as a minor town in it) belonged to the Holy Roman Realm of the German Nation.
    The Archdiocese of Cologne went under when French Revolutionary troops occupied the Rhineland (1796 or around then). It took some time for the Emperor (of the Holy Roman Realm of the German Nation), who resided in Vienna (yes, that also was part of the landscape) to take notice or action. But whatever he did, what he is best noted for is him dissolving the aforementioned empire in 1806. After that there was no "Germany" until 1871, when a new empire was founded in Versailles, where the victorious German Generals assembled under the leadership of Prussia after the Prussian-French war. Austria became an Empire of its own (until 1918), when it changed to a republic.

  14. If Beethoven was no Belgian and if there was a German Empire of which Austria still was a part, what nationality was Mozart?
    His father came from Augsburg - another "reichsfreie Stadt" meaning there was simply nobody between the town officials and the emperor (yes, the one of the Holy Roman Realm of the German Nation, quite a mouthful, I agree). Wolfgang Amadé Mozart was born in Salzburg. So, with the "Sound of Music" in our inner ears, we assume he must be Austrian? Naaa. Salzburg, too, was one of those pesky little capitals with a Prince Archbishop to rule it. So, Austrian? Salzburg became a sacularized electorate in 1803 on Napoleons orders, was added to Austria in 1805, Bavarian in 1810 and Austrian again in 1816. No bother for the cosmopolitan Mozart lying in his grave for some time then.

  15. For those with a yen to know about Hitler: He was born Austrian, fought in the German Army during the First World War and was promptly expatriated as he had actively eluded Austrian military service by moving to Munich (Bavarian Kingdom, port of the German Empire). Whether you want to call him a "sans-papier" or simply stateless is up to you.
    Later on he was trying to become a German citizen in order not to be deported to Austria. Having already some notoriety as an agitator and party official, he tried his luck in the Free State of Thuringia (1925) and in the Free State of Bavaria (1929)- of course, both Free States part of Germany, or the now so-called Weimar Republic.
    Having failed again, Hitler tried to become an art professor at Weimar (in Thuringia). Professors had to be "Beamte" (civil servants) and to be a be-amte, you had to be German. If they made you a professor, they made you a German. Automatically. Guess what? The attempt failed. In the same year Hitler became a police officer in Hildburghausen (Thuringia) and thus a civil servant and thus a German.
    Unfortunately Herr Hitler did not like being on the very bottom of the police structure. He tore his certificate as a civil servant, those who had made him a subaltern policeman tore his citizenship certificate.
    Next round: Free State of Brunswick (part of the German Republic, of course), 1931. Failed. 1932. Failed. 1932 - yes, finally, just in time to be able to become a candidate in the next election.
    The rest is history, too.

    Best regards from Switzerland, from a German living and working here

  16. I could't have said it better!!! Mary Kunz Goldman expressed my thoughts exactly - only she, being a music critic, has the talent and experience of writing it down so clear and concise!!! Good job, Mary!

  17. I've never seen this site before, but I happened upon it and enjoyed reading through the discussions.

    Perhaps the best summary of what you're talking about is found in the words of Arletty, a celebrated French actress who starred in patriotic WWII movies but was later imprisoned for having had an affair with a Luftwaffe officer in occupied France. The quotation may be apocryphal, but she is supposed to have said: "Mon coeur est français, mais mon cul est international!"

    My apologies if this post is a little racy, but I couldn't resist.

    -- Tom Fuller, not "anonymous" but I don't have one of the listed profiles

  18. Tom Fuller, I love that racy story and you are right, it does reflect some of the basic truths we have been discussing. I just looked up Arletty on YouTube and she is there... I am going to have to write about her!

    Also thank you for signing your name! I do not mind that these anonymous commenters are anonymous -- I enjoy the comments -- but it gets confusing when I try to answer them. You find yourself saying, "Anonymous from March 17.." "Anonymous from Dec. 31..."

  19. BTW I saw "The King's Speech" again and I have new thoughts. They make the point, which I sort of missed the first time, that there were some upsetting aspects to the king's childhood that might have led to his developing that stutter. One thing was that he was left-handed but was made to become right-handed. It seemed that he was always being made to adapt even when it was against his nature. He had to do that when he became king. And even then he had to deny himself and choose a new name because, they told him, Albert was "too Germanic." He was always being turned upside down. The Beethoven may have been a comment on that.

    Then again, maybe the movie makers just thought it sounded pretty. We will probably never know!

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  21. Part of the reason the BBC used Beethoven's Fifth, was that the opening four notes also formed the letter "V" in Morse code (dit-dit-dit-dah). "V for Victory!"

    (This is alluded to in the movie "V for Vendetta", during the first confrontation between V and Creedy in Creedy's hothouse.)

  22. I didn't think about that, about the Morse Code! We should decode the Seventh Symphony. I wonder what the Allegretto is saying!