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310: This Week: Immortal Beloved, Knute Rockne All American

In this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in these movies: Immortal Beloved, and Knute Rockne All American.

Events from This Week in History

Birthdays from This Week in History

Movies Released This Week in History

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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 29th, 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.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie Immortal Beloved.

That’s how the movie called Immortal Beloved portrays an event that might have happened this week in history. This is one of those scenes where the movie’s re-enactment makes it very hard to tell if it’s actually trying to be the event we’re talking about in this segment. That event, of course, is when Ludwig van Beethoven had his first-ever public performance as a pianist when he was 24 years old. That was on March 29th, 1795. 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 also 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 29th, 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.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie Immortal Beloved.

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. If we go by order of the day and not the year, 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.


March 31st, 1931. Kansas City, Kansas.

Our next movie is black and white. An airplane is flying in the sky. While I’m no aircraft expert, by the looks of it, this seems to be a Fokker F-10, a civilian passenger plane powered by three propeller engines. After flying for a few seconds, the movie fades to inside a building. Text on the screen tells us this is Kansas City, and we can see two men standing at a desk. One of the men writes something down on a pad of paper that he’s handing to a third man behind the desk. The sign behind the desk reads “Western Union”, leading me to believe the pad of paper is a message to be transmitted via telegraph.

The man says he’ll send it right away, and it’ll get there within half an hour.

The two men on the other side of the desk are both wearing hats. Since this is a black and white movie, it’s hard to know the color, but the one writing on the notepad is in a light hat while the other is in a dark hat.

Dark hat man tells the other a storm might be coming. Why don’t you wait for the next plane?

Nah, he can’t wait, says the light hat man. He has to be back in Florida by Monday. Then he laughs, besides, this is my vacation.

From behind them, an announcement is made: “Passengers for Los Angeles. Plane on field, ready for loading!”

The two men grab their bags and head toward the plane. They walk out onto the runway where the plane is ready for them to get in. At the back of the plane, the man with the light hat gets in. Behind him, the dark hat man wishes a happy trip. “Soft landing, Rock,” he says. The light hat man, who we can identify now as Pat O’Brien’s character, Knute Rockne, turns around to his friend. “You mean happy landing, don’t you?” says Rockne. He shakes the man’s hand.

That man, by the way, is simply cast as “Doc – Knute’s Friend at Kansas City Airport.” He’s played by the actor Edgar Dearing.

Knute and Doc shake hands, then Knute gets on the plane as Doc backs away to let the attendant close the plane’s door. As the plane taxis away, we can see this is the plane we saw flying earlier. Crowds of people wave goodbye to the passengers as the plane takes off to begin its journey.

On the plane, Knute Rockne looks out of the window at the land below. The movie cuts to a scene of a woman and four children opening a message. She mentions it’s from daddy, so I’m assuming this is the message Knute Rockne sent from Western Union a moment ago. Reading it must be his wife, Bonnie Rockne, as well as their children. She reads the message which says he’s practically there and he’ll wire again from Los Angeles. Love to all.

One of the boys says, if he’s practically there, why did he write? Bonnie replies happily, saying, because he knew we’d be worried, darling! Then, she turns and looks off camera. She shivers slightly, saying it seems to have gotten cold all of a sudden.

Back on the airplane, we can see the propellers turning as the plane continues its flight.

That scene fades away quickly and changes to a man plowing an empty field being pulled by two horses. The plane flies on, and the farmer looks up as we hear its engines roar over the field. Just then, as he’s looking up…we can hear what sounds like an explosion. He pulls on the reigns of his horses, causing them to stop as he watches in disbelief. His eye line goes from in the air where the plane used to be flying overhead to ground level as we hear a loud crash.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie Knute Rockne: All American

That portrayal comes from the classic 1940 film called Knute Rockne: All American. The event it’s portraying is when Knute Rockne’s plane crashed, which happened this week in history on March 31st, 1931.

While the movie’s depiction is heavily dramatized, as movies from the 1940s often are, it does get some key plot points correct.

For example, it is true that Knute Rockne was flying from Kansas City to Los Angeles on a Fokker F-10 aircraft owned by TWA. While we don’t see the crash itself in the movie, perhaps one of the reasons for that is because we don’t know for sure exactly what happened to it. By the time investigators got to the crash site, many people had taken pieces of the plane as souvenirs.

The movie’s mention of a storm is a possibility, and that really is one of the proposed causes of the crash. But, there’s no record of a storm in the area that day. The most likely scenario is that, over time, water got into the wing. Over an unknown period of time, that moisture had softened the glue that bonded the wing to the structure. The turbulence of the flight, then, just happened to be enough to cause a wing spar to fail and the wing separated from the aircraft while it was in the air.

All six passengers and two crew on board were killed.

The most popular of these was, as the movie shows, Knute Rockne. At the time of his death, Rockne was just 43 years old, but he had already secured a name for himself as one of the greatest coaches in the history of college football. He was the head coach at Notre Dame from 1918 until 1930 where he coached players such as George Gipp, Red Grange, and Jim Thorpe. In those years, Notre Dame racked up a record of 105 wins, 12 losses, five ties, and three national championships: 1924, 1929, and 1930, respectively. Both the 1929 and 1930 teams were undefeated in their successful quest for the championship, which only added to Rockne’s popularity when he died the following year.

That popularity was a big reason why there were a number of new additions to aircraft security to ensure it didn’t happen again. In fact, it was partly because of that crash that the Fokker Aircraft Corporation of America decided to discontinue the F-10—the American public simply didn’t trust the airplane anymore, and understandably so.

If you want to watch how the movie portrays this event, check out the 1940 film called Knute Rockne: All American. The crash event happens about an hour and 29 minutes into the movie.



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