Great Composers-Beethoven/Wagner (1997)

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Released 15-Apr-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Music Booklet
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1997
Running Time 117:58
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Jill Marshall
Kriss Rusmanis

Warner Vision
Starring Kenneth Branagh
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music Ludwig Van Beethoven
Richard Wagner

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    This is the second instalment of the excellent BBC documentary series on Great Composers to be released on DVD, featuring Ludwig van Beethoven and Richard Wagner. Other composers featured in the series include Bach, Mozart, Mahler, Tchaikovsky and Puccini.

    Each programme is just under 60 minutes in length and is narrated by Kenneth Branagh. Each programme examines the life and times of the composer, where he (there are no female composers featured in this series) was born, lived and worked, analysis of key compositions and commentary as well as performance excerpts from some of the most distinguished musicians in the classical music world who have performed (or indeed in some cases associated with) the works of the composer.

    I recognised some of the musicians featured on the programmes (indeed, I own some of the CDs that they have released) so I can definitely attest to the fact that the producers have selected leading interpreters of the composers' works. It's a pity that they have not captioned the names of the musicians interviewed on the programme - fortunately full credits for the contributors are provided in the accompanying booklet.

Programme 1: Beethoven (1:57:58)

    The programme starts with the bizarre story of how, when Beethoven died, all his friends arranged for his hair to be cut off so that each of them could keep a lock of his hair for posterity. We even get to see someone helpfully prising open one such sample (sealed in a glass bubble) for the viewer's benefit.

    After this, we get a more conventional documentary, starting with a mini-tour of the house in the small town of Bonn that Beethoven was born in. We are then told the story of how his father forced his son to develop his musical talents (at the expense of a normal childhood) in the hope that his son would be the next Mozart, his meeting with the real Mozart in Vienna, the development of his musical style, his improvisatory skills, his approaching deafness and how he coped with it, his romantic life (including speculation on who the identity of the "Immortal Beloved" of Beethoven's letter was), Beethoven's apartment in Vienna, and his efforts at gaining custody of his nephew.

    From a music perspective, we get to hear excerpts and analyses of some of Beethoven's well known and not so well-known works - including:

    Contributors include:

Programme 2: Wagner

    The programme opens with a number of sound bites about Richard Wagner from a number of people including Stephen Hawking speaking through his speech synthesizer as well as a New York taxi driver (Bruno Martini), and then moves to Leipzig where Richard was born.

    Wagner's notorious anti-Semitism is disclosed early, together with the fascinating revelation that Wagner was actually brought up by his step-father Ludwig Geyer (a Jewish painter) and he was called "Richard Geyer" until his teens. The programme then ventures to suggest that the roots of his hatred of Jews may have stemmed from his days in Paris where he was poor and in the shadow of Jewish composers and once was even mistaken for a Jew.

    The programme covers other aspects of Wagner's life, including his writings, his romantic attachments (including his numerous extra-marital affairs), his philosophical influences, his relationship with King Ludwig, his attempts to build his dream theatre, which would have been the world's biggest opera house, and what actually got built at Bayreuth.

    Musical excerpts skim through his early work, but soon gravitate to his earliest 'well known' work (The Flying Dutchman) and include:

    As is to be expected, a significant amount of time is spent on the Ring cycle, arguably Wagner's greatest gift and legacy to mankind. Other operatic analyses include Tristan and Isolde, Tannhäuser, Die Meistersinger, and his last opera Parsifal.

    Contributors include:

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Transfer Quality


    This is a full frame transfer in the original made-for-TV aspect ratio of 1.33:1.

    The transfer, from an interlaced analogue video source, is quite good, with vibrant colours, strong levels of detail, and is relatively clean of artefacts. There are numerous scenes in the Beethoven programme which contain close-ups of handwriting and printed material, and I had no problems reading the text (or, at least, I would not have had any problems if I understood German and in one instance was able to decipher Beethoven's scrawl).

    A number of minor video glitches are present here, but otherwise the video source is in relatively good condition. Interlaced video artefacts such as shimmering, aliasing and moire effects are present every now and then, for example around 18:45-19:08.

    The DVD authors have chosen to squeeze nearly two hours of material onto a single sided single layered disc. Surprisingly, this has not resulted in a lot of Gibb's effect ringing or posterization, although we do some instances of pixelization, for example around 30:38-30:43, and a few rather bad examples of macro-blocking during the fast dance routines around 94:30-95:09.

    This disc comes with a number of subtitle tracks. I turned on the English subtitle tracks briefly. It would be fair to say that the subtitle tracks paraphrase and simplify the dialogue rather than transcribing it word for word.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    Unlike the first disc which had five audio tracks in five languages, there is only one audio track on this disc, English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s).

    I've said it before and I'll say it again: NVC Arts makes d*** fine Dolby Digital 2.0 transfers which sometimes sound better than other people's PCM audio tracks. The audio track is very full bodied, rich, full range and well balanced.

    As is typical for a BBC documentary, the enunciation of the main presenter is excellent and in general the producers have chosen contributors who can articulate well. I did not detect any audio synchronisation issues with the disc.

    The musical excerpts come across very well on the disc.

    Obviously, there is no rear surround, centre channel or subwoofer activity in the audio track.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There are no extras on the disc itself, but there is an accompanying 16-page booklet.


    We are allowed to select from 5 languages for the menus, but the menus themselves are pretty basic.


    This is a 16-page booklet that provides chapter listings (in 5 languages) and recording recommendations. The chapter listings also provide details on the musical excerpts included in the programmes and credit the contributors by name.

    The recording recommendations mainly direct you to full versions of the music played in the programme, but unfortunately in most cases performed by musicians other than those appearing in the programme. This is because Warner of course wanted to recommend recordings from its own catalogue rather than its competitors, which is a pity. Although the recordings recommended by Warner are decent, I would have preferred that the booklet actually list recordings made by artists appearing in the programme.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The disc is multi-region coded for Regions 2-6, and does not appear to be available in Region 1.


    Great Composers: Beethoven & Wagner are two programmes from a BBC documentary series on the life and music of two of the greatest music composers of all time. It is presented on a DVD with high quality video and audio transfers, There are no extras apart from a booklet.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Monday, June 24, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS905V, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW11HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationDenon AVR-3300
SpeakersFront and rears: B&W CDM7NT; centre: B&W CDMCNT; subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

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