Brilliant's collection led to the creation of a Beethoven research center at San Jose State University in 1983, the only such center in the U.S. It houses, among other things, 300 first-edition manuscripts dating to the 1780s, a reproduction of a 1795 Dulcken fortepiano, letters in the composer's hand and two fragments of his skull.
Brilliant also helped the center acquire two original fortepianos from the 1820s, a copyist's manuscript of the Fifth Symphony from the Breitkopf and H‹rtel lending library from circa 1808-10, and the famous lock of hair immortalized by Russell Martin in his book, Beethoven's Hair, according to the SJSU website.
A statement on the website says Brilliant always loved Beethoven's music; his first date with his future wife in 1947 was to a Beethoven concert. Brilliant began collecting Beethoven manuscripts in 1975 and was a prolific reader of Beethoven literature. In the 1970s, he sought out important antiquarian dealers in Europe; by 1983, with their help, he had assembled one of the finest collection of Beethoven first editions owned by a private collector.
He wanted his collection to be available for research; his donation to SJSU funded the building of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven. He had initially approached Arizona State University about housing the collection, but administrators there weren't interested.
Brilliant was born in 1922, in Brooklyn, the second of three sons. Harry, his father, founded a business making cleaning rags from surplus fabric. Brilliant was expected to help run the business and earned a bachelor's degree in textile chemistry from Lowell Textile Institute. His interest in Beethoven grew during his college years.
He graduated in 1943 and served in the army in Europe, researching chemicals that could be used to treat soldiers' uniforms to protect them from gas attacks — research that was never used, according to the Times.
In 1963, Brilliant sold his family business and moved from Long Island (New York) to Phoenix. He developed commercial real estate in Scottsdale, according to the paper, which adds that his interest in Beethoven was rekindled by a Father's Day gift from his son in the early 1970s: the book The Beethoven Companion.