Featured Document Display: 250 Years of Beethoven

Monday, November 16, 2020 - Wednesday, January 13, 2021

250 Years of Beethoven

December marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of renowned German composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven (1770—1827). Hailed as a musical genius, Beethoven wrote his first work at the age of 13 and went on to compose more than 700 pieces in his lifetime. His compositions stand out as much for their complexity as their personality. You might not be able to name one of his symphonies, but you’d probably recognize his music anywhere. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, beginning with its distinctive four-note strain “short-short-short-long,” is one of his most recognizable compositions. However, his Ninth Symphony, composed in 1823 when he was almost totally deaf, has long been regarded as his most accomplished work and is one of the most performed symphonies in the world.

Echoes of Beethoven’s compositions continue to radiate throughout popular culture. References to Beethoven can be found in Chuck Berry’s 1956 song titled “Roll Over Beethoven,” with the pianist Schroeder in the comic strip Peanuts, and as a role by the composer himself in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. His music also appears in numerous television shows and movies, including the Ninth Symphony in the 1988 action film Die Hard, and a disco adaptation of his Fifth Symphony named “A Fifth of Beethoven” can be heard in the 1977 movie Saturday Night Fever.

Beethoven's Syphonien, Fifth Symphony

Symphony No. 5 in C Minor

President Harry S. Truman was a pianist and known for his love of music. His personal music library featured an extensive sheet music collection and multiple recordings of Beethoven’s compositions. This page of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is part of the 1888 bound volume “Beethoven Symphonien zu vier Händen” (Beethoven Symphonies for Four Hands), given to President Truman by J.C. Breitling in 1951.
Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, Independence, Missouri

Visit the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum website for more information about the Sheet Music Collection.