Walter Anthony Murphy, Jr. (born December 19, 1952) is an American instrumentalist, songwriter, and arranger who rose to cult status with the hit instrumental “A Fifth of Beethoven”, a disco adaptation of some passages of the first movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, in 1976, when disco was at the height of its popularity.
Born and raised in Manhattan, Murphy attended the Manhattan School of Music and studied jazz and classical music. Upon graduation, Murphy served as an arranger for Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show Band. In the early 1970s, Murphy wrote jingle music for television advertising and acted as the frontman of WAM, a soul-R&B band who frequently performed in New Rochelle.
During the 1970s, Murphy developed interest in adapting classical music into disco, and mailed a demo tape to various record labels in New York. Although response was unimpressive, a rendition of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5 In ‘C’ Minor” generated interest amongst the owner of Private Stock Records, Larry Uttal. Murphy agreed to produce the song under contract and recorded it in 1976, creatively dubbing it “A Fifth of Beethoven”. The record was credited towards “Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band” upon encouragement from the company, who believed it would become a hit if credited towards a group rather than an individual. However, two days following the record’s release, Private Stock discovered the existence of another Big Apple Band; the record was later re-released and credited towards “The Walter Murphy Band” before dropping the tradition altogether.
The song was a smash hit, and reached number 80 on the Hot 100 on May 29, 1976, eventually reaching number 1 within nineteen weeks, where it stayed for one week. An album under the same name was released later during the year; the album notably featured a rendition of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” entitled “Flight ’76”, which reached number 44 on the Hot 100. He released four albums within the following six years, and in 1982, released his final single, a medley of “Themes From E.T. (The Extra-Terrestrial)” which climbed to number 47 on the Hot 100.