If the Lord is indeed merciful, Beethoven’s hearing has not been restored in the hereafter. Possibly it was justifiable to lift the first four notes of Ludwig’s Fifth Symphony (duh-duh-duh-dum) for the inspirational V-for-Victory theme of World War II. But ever since it’s been strictly V for Venality. Like, for example, the Vanquish headache pill commercial, and, ubiquitously these days, a danceable disco-beat rendition, cutely titled A Fifth of Beethoven, that just turned gold after 16 weeks on the charts.
The perpetrator is an otherwise engaging young musician from Yonkers named Walter Murphy, who, before A Fifth, was probably doomed to go down in history as the piano accompanist of Peter Lemongello. In fairness to Murphy, he had previously also, by the age of 24, done Tonight Show arrangements for Doc Severinsen and composed (with no help from Beethoven) commercial jingles for Lady Arrow shirts, Revlon and Woolworth’s. Naturally, Walter had classical training and was a boy organ prodigy. Over the objections of his real estate agent father (“He wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer—or something you can depend on”), Murphy enrolled in the Manhattan School of Music.
When they were both 20, Murphy married his wife, Laurie, who worked in the plastics industry until her at least temporary retirement a few weeks ago. On projected royalties of A Fifth (fortunately there is no composer around to take his cut), the Murphys have moved out of their two-room apartment and into a rented ranch house in the same Westchester neighborhood. Walter, whose next ambition is a movie score, feels no Weltschmerz over it all and finds “it’s really sad that the kids today can only relate to Beethoven via a rock version of his music. I keep hoping,” he professes, “that maybe if they’ve heard this much of his symphony, they’ll go out and buy the original.”