When I was a child, I studied music theory at camp every summer, that in addition to learning bits of it over the school year. Well--that's one of the things they teach young musicians. Most grade school music classrooms of my experience include large posters of the major composers of the various eras of musical history. You know, Bach for the Baroque and so forth. And what was always drilled into our heads was that Ludwig van Beethoven was a member of two eras. He was both Classical and Romantic. I suppose many of us assumed that it was because of when he lived. I don't think it was generally explained that he [i]created[/i] the Romantic era, that it is, by many, considered to date from the first performance of this, his Third Symphony, the Eroica.
This is not about the first performance. This is about the first rehearsal, arguably a better landmark. Beethoven (Ian Hart) is showing his completed work to various of his noble patrons, including Prince Franz Joseph Maximillian Lobkowiz (Jack Davenport) and his wife (Fenella Woolgar). The prince has gathered an orchestra according to Beethoven's specifications, and this is to be a demonstration of the piece as much as a rehearsal.
Of course, that's horrible, musically. I've sight-read music in my time, and generally, the orchestra muddles through. However, when I did it--when we as a group did it--there were all sorts of mangled notes and horrible foulings of the rhythm--and the music we played through was always [i]far[/i] simpler than the Eroica. Generally, when a group is called upon to play a work for the first time, there is much starting and stopping, much going back over various phrases. About the only times I've ever played a work all the way through the way this orchestra is shown to do is when that was what the competition required. What's more, the music we played was not as revolutionary as the Eroica would have been to these men. Beethoven would have [i]expected[/i] uncertainty, even complete breaking down.
Oh, there's other plot to this story--Beethoven's proposal to Josephine Deym nee Brunsvik (Claire Skinner), for example. The appearance of Haydn (Frank Finlay). And, always, the discussion of Napoleon. The discussion among the musicians and how it differs from the discussion among the nobles. Beethoven's belief that Napoleon will be a saviour of the poor, an inspiration to the masses. In 1803, it was still possible for Beethoven to believe that.
This is not a conventional story. In place of dialogue, for most of the film, we have music--but what music! I think perhaps you must have a certain amount of musical training to understand how revolutionary this piece is. I don't know if the average person can get it from just comparing Mozart, or even the earlier Beethoven, to the Eroica. However, as Haydn himself observed, music was never to be the same again.