America’s Beethoven is a first-of-its-kind exhibit exploring the arrival of Beethoven's music in America in 1805 and his continuing presence in American culture through popular music, film, theater, cartoons, art, and concert halls. Ranging from World War II comic books and “V for Victory” pins to Club Risque’s 1996 rap swingbeat song “Beethoven was Black,” the objects in the exhibit demonstrate the myriad ways that Beethoven permeates American culture. Iconic images of the composer from N.C. Wyeth and Andy Warhol reflect the spirit of the times in which they were created. Portrayals of Beethoven and those obsessed with his music appear in Clockwork Orange, Five Easy Pieces, Immortal Beloved, and Copying Beethoven. Charles Schulz’s beloved character Schroeder appeared in hundreds of cartoons about Beethoven during the fifty-year run of the strip from 1950-2000, including the nine classics in the exhibit. Original letters from Beethoven’s greatest biographer, the American A.W. Thayer, and concert programs from two centuries help tell the story of America’s passion for the composer and his music. Taken together, the exhibit shows that Beethoven has captured the American imagination in ways that no other classical musician has—he remains a Protean icon in American culture, deeply embedded in American consciousness.
The physical exhibit was installed in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in San Jose, California, from October 1-December 21, 2011. It was presented in coordination with the first book-length study of Beethoven in America by award-winning music historian Michael Broyles, Professor of Music at Florida State University and former Distinguished Professor of Music and Professor of American History at Pennsylvania State University. In his book published by Indiana University Press in November 2011, Broyles seeks to understand the composer as he exists in the American imagination and explores how Beethoven became a cultural icon. Broyles was co-curator of the exhibit with William Meredith and Patricia Stroh, staff of the Beethoven Center (see other acknowlegements in the credits). For photographs from the physical exhibit, see the Photo Gallery.
In the summer of 2012, the Beethoven Center launched this online version of the exhibit.