Riswold had been working on the image of Beethoven since at least 1906, when he displayed a plaster study of the composer at an Art Institute exhibition. The bust that remains in Midway Studios is large and simply named Beethoven, without reference to its relationship to busts as an art form or to its unusual size. For some of its history, a bronze plaque was installed on its left side, identifying the work as Riswold’s, making it unclear as to why it is occasionally credited as belonging to Taft. Riswold’s depiction of Ludwig van Beethoven most closely matches an 1820 portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, in which Beethoven is captured, stern–faced, in the process of composition.
It is Beethoven’s size that draws the most interest and makes it noticeable and workable as the central figure in programs such as the summer lecture series. Although Riswold favored a classical style and lifelike depictions of his subjects, the scale of Beethoven offered the sculptor an opportunity to do an incredibly detailed work on an historical figure that only exists in representational art. In developing Beethoven Riswold was able to stretch his commitment to depictions of reality, given that he must have relied on paintings and descriptions of the composer, as well as some of his own imagination, when it came to finer details such as the curve of his lips, the shape of his collar, and the waves of his hair.
Beethoven has been re–sited within the complex of Midway Studios several times. It likely moved during the Studios' 1929 shift one block west to its present–day location, where it would rest seemingly directly on the ground with grass growing around its base, to Harold Haydon's befuddlement. At some point between Haydon's comment and the mid–1970s, it moved again to a low cement base outside Taft House along 60th street. And in 2008, development for the adjacent Logan Center temporarily put Beethoven, Wolf Vostell's Concrete Traffic, and Lorado Taft's Shaler Memorial Angel into storage. Beethoven was cleaned, removing as much of the accumulated biological material from its 82 year tenure outside as possible, and then placed on a taller, polished granite base inside of the Midway Studios, where it still rests today. The present day Studios contains the Department of Visual Arts faculty studios, the Gray Center Lab, and some classrooms. Years of weathering have worn away many of the finer details that Riswold carved into it, and part of Beethoven's nose is missing; immediate recognition can be difficult. Its move inside protects the integrity of the sculpture, though it must be said that the current site makes it a far less curious sight than when it seemed to emerge dramatically from the grass outside.