What is it About Beethoven?

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In 1993, I was on the air for my first WQXR Classical Countdown – our annual showcase of classical music favorites chosen by our listeners. The number-one favorite that year was Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (the "Choral.") And Beethoven’s Ninth has been number one ever since, as far as I can recall.

In fact, Beethoven often fills four or five of the top ten positions on the list every year. His Third Symphony (the "Eroica"), his Fifth Symphony (bah, bah, bah, BAH...you know the one), and his Sixth Symphony (the "Pastoral") are hugely popular as is his Piano Concerto No. 5 (the "Emperor"). If these works don't all make it into the top ten, they make it into the top 20, for sure!

So, what is it about Beethoven anyway? Is it name recognition or familiar melodies? Or is his music really so much better than all the others that he deserves this honor year after year? Shouldn’t we think about giving one of the other guys a shot at the top? And, how about voting a living composer into the mix?

I'm throwing all of this out there without having a clue what any of the answers are. The whole Beethoven "thing" has always been a mystery to me. I'm just hoping you will have some interesting ideas to share.

And, thanks!