10 Beethoven references in popular culture
From Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange to the comic strip Peanuts, the great composer’s reach stretches far beyond the concert hall
Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange was particularly renowned for its use of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The protagonist Alex is psychologically conditioned against this particular symphony.
Composer Michael Kamen later paid homage to Kubrick in his score to the 1988 film Die Hard, featuring the symphony’s ‘Ode to Joy’ theme in various guises.
Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' heard at 1:22
The 1992 film Beethoven tells the story of a St Bernard who is named after the composer when he barks along to Symphony No. 5.
The film’s main theme is a version of Roll over Beethoven, the 1956 song about composers rolling in their graves as rock ’n’ roll replaces classical music.
Beethoven himself appears as a character in the comedy film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, as the two heroes travel back in time to collect historical figures for their school presentation.
Away from the big screen, the comic strip Peanuts featured a Beethoven storyline. Schroeder, Charlie Brown’s best friend, is a Beethoven-obsessed pianist and commits to a life of singledom simply because Beethoven himself was a lifelong bachelor.
Authors and poets have also taken inspiration from Beethoven. Tolstoy’s 1889 novella The Kreutzer Sonata places the work for violin and piano at the centre of a story of love, jealousy and murder when the wife of Pozdnyshev meets a violinist and performs the sonata with him, with grim consequences.
EM Forster had a passion for the composer – references to Beethoven’s works are littered throughout his books, particularly A Room with a View, in which the protagonist, Lucy, plays Beethoven on the piano.
A few decades later, TS Eliot wrote his poetry masterpiece Four Quartets, believed to be based on Beethoven’s late quartets.
Words by: Freya Parr
Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.