Ludwig van Beethoven's 'fifth' does not refer to a fifth of alcohol, even though this was a big part of Beethoven's life since his father was an alcoholic. Beethoven's Fifth is a symphony, one of the most recognized works of classical music, Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67—the "Fifth Symphony"—which received its world premiere on this day in 1808.
What is so astounding about this symphony is its composer gave his first public performance at the age of 7 1/2 and published his first work before the age of 12. Writing in 1810, the critic E.T.A. Hoffman praised Beethoven for having outstripped the great Haydn and Mozart with a piece that
"opens the realm of the colossal and immeasurable to us...evokes terror, fright, horror, and pain, and awakens that endless longing that is the essence of Romanticism."
The powerful four-note opening motif—three short Gs followed by a long E-flat—have become an instantly recognizable musical shorthand since they were first heard by the public in 1808.
Used in World War II-era Britain to open broadcasts of the BBC because it mimicked the Morse-code "V" for "Victory"
Used in the disco-era United States by Walter Murphy as the basis for his unlikely #1 pop hit "A Fifth Of Beethoven"
And the music goes on beating to the rhythm of the changing times...