On this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in Immortal Beloved and The Highwaymen.
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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.
March 29, 1795. Vienna, Austria.
We’re in a very ornate room. The camera is angled so it’s shooting up, meaning we can see a huge, crystal chandelier hanging on the right side of the frame. It looks like it’s over the wooden piano that’s on the bottom right of the frame, although it’s obvious that’s just the way the camera angle makes it look. The chandelier is actually hanging in the room behind the piano.
On the left side of the frame is a young man, who is sitting up straight as he’s playing the piano.
With a closeup of his hands, we can see as they dance around the keyboard, making lovely music. He’s obviously a very accomplished musician.
The camera cuts to a woman running through a field with hedges and into woods nearby. In an unexpected move—at least, I didn’t expect it while I was watching for this episode—she takes off her dress as a man follows her into the woods and they embrace. The piano music continues as a backdrop as the scene cuts to a woman in a bath now as her voiceover explains that she was invited to a musical performance at Prince Lichnowsky’s palace, and Beethoven was going to be there.
Then, we’re back in the room with the man playing piano. That is the palace and Beethoven is the man playing the piano. He’s played by Gary Oldman in the movie.
This scene comes from the 1994 movie called Immortal Beloved, and…well, to be honest, the movie is quite vague about the timeline here so there’s a good chance this isn’t actually depicting an event that happened this week in history. But, it might be!
What we do know from history, though, is that it was during this week in history, on March 29th, 1795 when Ludwig van Beethoven had his first-ever public performance as a pianist when he was 24 years old. And it was in Vienna, Austria, just like the scene we see in the movie.
There’s also truth to the mention of Prince Lichnowsky, although that is a clue for why the performance we see might not have specifically been the first public performance in 1795.
You see, Beethoven’s first public performance as an adult took place at a charity concert in the Burgtheater in Vienna. It was a series of performances that was scheduled for March 29th and 30th, but then a third performance was added as a charity event put on by Mozart’s widow—he died at the end of 1791.
So, looking back on the event with a historical lens, it was on March 29th that was the first public performance for an adult Beethoven performing one of his own pieces, Piano Concerto No. 2 in B♭, Op. 19, as it would become known later when it was published. Although, some have suggested it may have been Op. 15 in C.
One of the reasons we’re not entirely sure is because Beethoven himself didn’t seem to be so sure of what he was going to play.
According to one of his friends who was there, Beethoven wasn’t feeling so well and he was running late on writing the pieces for the concert. So, he kind of had to wing it and do some improvisation on day two. That friend, a man by the name of Franz Wegeler, said, “Not until the afternoon of the second day before the concert did he write the rondo, and then while suffering from a pretty severe colic which frequently afflicted him. I relieved him with simple remedies so far as I could. In the anteroom sat four copyists to whom he handed sheet after sheet as soon as it was finished.”
Records then suggest that on the second day of the charity event, on March 30th, Beethoven did some improvisation.
On the 31st, Beethoven performed again but as we just learned that last day was technically a different charity event organized by Mozart’s wife. So, Beethoven didn’t perform one of his own pieces, but rather played one of Mozart’s concertos.
As a fun little side note, since Beethoven was a child prodigy his first-ever public performance almost happened this week in history, too! It was on March 26th, 1778 when Beethoven was seven years old. He performed with another of his father’s students.
Back to the movie, though, the mention of Prince Lichnowsky still has some historical accuracy to it because in the true story, Prince Karl Lichnowsky was one of Beethoven’s earliest financiers. In fact, Beethoven lived with Lichnowsky in a room at his palace and many of his compositions were dedicated to Lichnowsky.
So, the scene we see in the movie is rooted in some truth.
If you want to watch Beethoven’s early performance recreated on screen this week, check out the 1994 movie Immortal Beloved and it starts at about the 18-minute mark.
March 29, 1827. Vienna, Austria.
For our next story this week, we’ll be staying in the same movie.
We’re not in Prince Lichnowsky’s palace anymore. There’s a group of people standing outside. The first thing that’s noticeable about the group is they’re all wearing black. Behind them are lush green plants and four torches burn in the background, something also noticeable since it’s daytime.
Between the four torches, the camera angle frames Jeroen Krabbé’s character, Anton Schindler, as he explains Beethoven to the people gathered.
He says things like, “He was an artist,” and “The thorns of life wounded him deeply, so he stuck to his art.”
While Schindler’s voice continues, the scene cuts to four pallbearers wearing black suits and top hats as they carry a casket through a street filled with throngs of people.
Then the camera cuts back to the scene at the grave and now we can see the casket lying there. Behind the casket is a mausoleum with the initials “LvB.” There are somber looks on everyone’s faces as they listen to Schindler continue to talk about Beethoven’s life. There are more scenes of the procession as the casket makes its way through the street. It’s lined with soldiers now, and the casket is on a carriage pulled by a pair of beautiful, black horses.
Reaching its destination, soldiers help the casket off of the carriage so it’s back under the power of the four pallbearers. They carry it to a doorway where a V-shape formation of priests in white robes contrast everyone else wearing black clothing.
The music swells as the pallbearers walk inside to the richly decorated church interior. On either side of the aisle the casket is being carried down are pews filled with people. There doesn’t look to be an empty seat.
Everyone is wearing black as the camera cuts around to a few solemn-looking faces in attendance.
Just like our last event, this scene also comes from the 1994 movie called Immortal Beloved. Unlike the last event, however, this one is a little more obvious about its timing and it was this week in history that Ludwig van Beethoven was buried on March 29th, 1827 in Vienna, Austria.
The movie’s portrayal of the event is very dramatized, but it does hit on some key truths. Probably the most accurate thing we see in the movie is the idea that Beethoven’s funeral procession was a big deal in Vienna.
According to accounts of the event, somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 people attended. So, the scene we see in the movie of streets lined with people to watch the casket being carried was true.
What’s not true about the movie is the prominent portrayal of the man who we see giving the speech at the funeral in the film. That’s Jeroen Krabbé’s character, Anton Schindler.
Schindler was a real person and he was a friend of Beethoven’s for many years, even working as Beethoven’s secretary for a time. After Beethoven’s death, Schindler was the one who owned most of Beethoven’s conversation books where he’d communicate with his friends. So, it stands to reason that Schindler would be the best person to write Beethoven’s biography.
And, he did. That was first published in 1840, 13 years after Beethoven’s death.
However, most historians now don’t believe many of the things in that biography. You see, Schindler made a lot of it up. For example, Schindler said he was very close to Beethoven for 11 or 12 years but further research into it revealed that number was more likely half that at five or six.
Since Schindler had the conversation books, we can assume he’d pull a lot from that, but over the years it became evident that Schindler also fabricated many of those and burned many of the pages to cover it up.
The first scholarly biographer came along in the form of Alexander Wheelock Thayer, who sailed to Germany from the United States in 1849 after realizing there were some discrepancies in Schindler’s biography. Thayer spent the first two years learning German so he could do the research required to write a truthful biography of Beethoven.
That was first published in 1866, with subsequent volumes being added in 1872 and 1879. That told Beethoven’s life up until 1816. Then in 1907 and 1908 the fourth and fifth volumes were published, which covered the remainder of Beethoven’s life and completed the overall work.
So, just as a recap, this week is a great one to listen to some Beethoven as it was on March 26th, 1778 that a seven-year-old Beethoven had his first public performance. And while we didn’t talk about this yet, it was exactly 49 years later on March 26th, 1827, that Beethoven died at the age of 56.
On March 29th, 1795, a 24-year-old Beethoven had his debut performance as a pianist, launching his career. And then it was precisely 32 years later on March 29th, 1827 that Beethoven’s funeral attracted between 10,000 to 30,000 attendees.
That scene in the 1994 biopic about his life called Immortal Beloved starts at about 2 minutes into the film, but if there’s ever a week to watch a movie about Ludwig van Beethoven, this is the perfect time…so, I’d suggest just watching the whole thing!
And maybe throw some of his music on your playlist this week, too! If you’re looking for a recommendation to start with, I’d have to go with my favorite piece of his that’s probably his most common composition: Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor for solo piano. Or, as it’s more commonly known, Für Elise.
Oh, and as a fun little side note, Beethoven never knew how successful that would become because it wasn’t even published in his lifetime. Although Beethoven composed the piece in 1810, a man named Ludwig Nohl discovered the manuscript that he composed it on in 1867, 40 years after Beethoven died. Ludwig Nohl said the manuscript he found had the dedication of the piece as being “For Elise on April 27 in Memory by L. V. Bthvn.”
That’s why it’s called Für Elise. There have been a few suggestions as to who Elise might be, but because this was all done after Beethoven’s death, no one really knows for sure.
April 1, 1934. Grapevine, Texas.
There’s a white stone building that’s been stained and discolored by years of farm use. Two cows stick their noses out of the open windows as a man in overalls emerges from the open doorway. The windows don’t have any glass, just like the doorway doesn’t seem to have a door to it.
On the left side of the frame is a fenced-in pasture covered in mud and hoof prints, no doubt made by the cows in the window and plenty more.
The man is wearing well-used pair of blue overalls and sporting a beard with gray hair that’s sprinkled with white. He’s carrying a white pail as he exits the building, going about what we can only assume are his morning chores.
As he walks further out of the building, the camera pans around him and we can see there’s also a horse in the pasture behind the building. The man continues on his way, walking past the building he just came out of and to the pasture on the other side of it. That side has more green grass than it does mud.
The man stops in his tracks.
On the dirt road in the distance, just beyond the pasture, he can see a car. It’s stopped. In front of the car, facing the opposite direction, are two motorcycles. No one is on the motorcycles, though, but instead there are two uniformed policemen walking from their parked motorcycles toward the stopped car.
The farmer watches from a distance as the door of the car opens.
We can hear one of the police officers ask if the people in the car are all right.
Just then, gunfire erupts. Smoke can be seen in the distance as the farmer in the foreground of the camera angle instinctively ducks for cover. He drops the pail, spilling the milk inside, but he doesn’t run. He drops to his knees as he watches the event unfold in front of him.
The camera looks a little closer now and we can see two figures beside the parked car. One is a man dressed in a suit, the other a woman in a red dress.
On the ground between the car and the motorcycles are two bodies lying still—the police officers who were approaching the car. The woman in the red dress walks up to one of the policemen on the ground, points her shotgun at the man’s face and without hesitation, from the farmer’s perspective we can hear the sound and see the smoke from the gun blast.
This scene comes from the 2019’s The Highwaymen and it depicts a very real event that happened this week in history when Bonnie and Clyde murdered two Grapevine police officers on April 1st, 1934.
And the movie was correct to show the two officers were approaching a stopped vehicle. It was also correct to show there was a witness, although the movie leaves out the farmer’s two daughters who were also there that Easter morning.
William Schieffer was doing his normal Sunday morning chores around the farm just like we see in the movie when he saw two people driving by in a car very slowly—they appeared to be looking at the grass as if they were searching for something. He recalled later it was a young man and a young woman, she had a white rabbit in her lap.
Schieffer’s daughters, Isabella Schieffer and Elaine Adams, came outside to help their dad at about the same time as the sound of motorcycles could be heard. There were two of them, and they stopped near the now parked car that the young couple had been driving.
They didn’t know it at the time, but looking at this from a historical lens most believe the two patrolmen thought the stopped Ford had broken down, so they were going to help out the young couple inside. After all, it was 1934, and it’s not like cell phones or even telephones, in general, were popular in rural Texas.
This all took place on Dove Road just off Highway 114 in what’s now Southlake, Texas.
While we only see one person watching, in truth it was three onlookers, who stood some 100 yards or so away as the two patrolmen walked up the car. Before they could get close, the sound of a gun rang and one of the patrolmen, Edward Wheeler, fell to the ground. He was killed instantly. The other, Holloway Murphy, wasn’t killed. He fell to his side on the ground.
And that’s when, just like we see in the movie, Bonnie walked up to the man and shot him at point-blank range.
Or maybe it was both Bonnie and Clyde who walked up, there are some conflicting reports of Schieffer and his daughters’ account, but most agree it was Bonnie who pulled the trigger killing the other patrolman.
We don’t see it in the movie, but there were other witnesses to the event as well. Although the Schieffers were the best witnesses since it was near their farm. But Jack Cook, another resident who lived nearby, happened to see the young couple just before the shootings. Then shortly after, another couple—Mr. and Mrs. Giggals—were on a Sunday morning drive on Highway 114 and had just passed Dove Road when they heard the shots. They turned around to see what happened and, according to them, the shooters saw them, got in their car and sped away.
In the aftermath of the event, Texas law enforcement reached out to Frank Hamer, a former Texas Ranger who, as it turned out, was already on the hunt for Bonnie and Clyde.
If you want to watch the event that happened this week in history, check out the 2019 movie The Highwaymen. The Grapevine killings are at about 45 minutes and 20 seconds into the film. And if you want to learn more about the true story behind the hunt for Bonnie and Clyde, check out episode #178 of Based on a True Story.