Arts and Commerce: Part II - Composers

Posted on 4/19/2016

Austria, Belgium, France and Poland are just a few countries that depict famous composers on their banknotes.

In case you missed Part I of my article, you can find it here. There are many famous and notable individuals on paper money that could be showcased in these articles, but rather than list every poet, athlete or philosopher, it is important that the final article of this series include a group that has set themselves apart. I would be remiss if I did not include some of the composers whose music has lived on long after their passing. Their compositions are instantly recognizable, and their place on their nation’s currency is well deserved.

Austria P-153, front
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Austria P-153, back
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is one of the world's most famous composers, maybe second only to Ludwig van Beethoven. But the latter never appeared on an issued banknote as far as I can tell, so at least Mozart has a banknote in his favor. Mozart’s most famous compositions were written in the final three years of his life, following his move to Vienna from Salzburg. Modern listeners will be familiar with Eine kleine Nachtmusik, the third movement of his Piano Sonata No. 11, titled “Rondo Alla Turca”, as well as his unfinished Requiem. Mozart appears on the Austrian 5,000 Schilling note (pictured above) with a date of January 4, 1988, even though the note was issued the following year. The back of the note features the Vienna State Opera.

Austria P-138a, front
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Austria P-138a, back
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Johann Strauss II is the second Austrian composer on this list, and like Mozart, Strauss was based in Vienna, where he composed his most recognizable works. Strauss was the oldest child of Johann Straus I, who was also a composer, although his father disapproved of his son following in his footsteps.1 Strauss’ most famous works include his waltzes The Blue Danube, Vienna Blood and Tales from the Vienna Woods. Strauss appears on the 100 Schilling note (pictured above) with a date of July 1, 1960, with an issue date of the following year. The back of the note features the Schönbrunn castle.

France P-151, front
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France P-151, back
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The next composer is a personal favorite of mine. Claude Debussy was a French composer whose style is linked with the Impressionist movement from 1875-1925. He was known for his compositions for piano, including the Suite bergamasque, specifically the third movement, titled “Clair de lune”, the orchestral Images pour orchestre and Deux arabesques, one of the earliest examples of Impressionist music. Debussy appears on the French 20 Franc note (pictured above), first issued in 1980, and in circulation until 1997. The waves behind Debussy on the front are a reference to his operatic composition La mer (The Sea). The back of the note features a painted image of Debussy with a lake scene, which appeared in the opera Pelléas and Mélisande, which he scored.2

Poland P-150, front
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Poland P-150, back
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Frédéric Chopin was a Polish composer of French descent who was known for his virtuosic piano compositions. Chopin was a child prodigy who began composing and performing publicly at the age of seven.3 It is believed that after attending a concert by celebrated violinist Niccolò Paganini that Chopin began work on his Études,4 which includes most notably the Étude Op. 10, No. 3. Another famous work is “Marche funèbre” from his Piano Sonata No. 2, which has been performed at the funerals of world leaders from John F. Kennedy,5 Margaret Thatcher,6 Leonid Brezhnev, as well as Chopin himself.7 Chopin appears on the Polish 5,000 Złotych note (pictured above), first issued in 1982. The back of the note features an excerpt of the sheet music for one of Chopin’s Polonaises.

Belgium P-148, front
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Belgium P-148, back
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As a bonus, I am showcasing the undated Belgian 200 Franc note (pictured above), first issued in 1995, featuring Adolphe Sax, who as his name suggests, invented the saxophone in 1846.

In conclusion, if you listen to the compositions linked throughout the article, hopefully you will agree that the music these men created are timeless classics. Their genius and skill have been saved for posterity, and their music will certainly continue to stir our emotions for many years to come. In addition to their music, these composers will also live on through the paper money of their native countries. Thanks to the world of numismatics, one can build collections for composers, painters, authors, and the many figures who have left an indelible mark on the world.


1. Gartenberg, Egon. (1974). Johann Strauss - The End of an Era. Penn State University Press.
4. Zamoyski, Adam. (2010). Chopin: Prince of the Romantics. London: Harper Collins, pg. 35.

PMG is an independent member of the Certified Collectibles Group (CCG).

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