+ “Peanuts” Music Scholars Find Much in Schroeder’s Beethoven

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April Dembosky, in the NY Times, writes that musicologists and art curators have learned that there was much more than a punch line to Charles Schulz’s cartoons dealing with the Beethoven-obsessed music nerd, Schroeder.

“If you don’t read music and you can’t identify the music in the strips, then you lose out on some of the meaning,” says William Meredith, director of the Ira F Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies at San Jose State University, who has studied hundreds of Beethoven-themed “Peanuts” strips.

 In many  panels, as Schroeder pounds away on his piano, a select bar or two of a music score is dropped into the air above him. 

“The music is a character in the strip as much as the people are, because the music sets the tone, ”  says Meredith.  In one strip, Charlie Brown asks Schroeder why he’s wearing an overcoat as he listens to his hi-fi.

“Shh,” says Schroeder.  “I’m listening to Beethoven’s Ninth.  The first movement was so beautiful it gave me the chills!”

To understand what gave Schroeder chills, says Meredith, you have to listen to the musical passage.  “When you actually hear the symphony, the whole thing feels completelydifferent.”

In Santa Rosa California, an exhibition at the Charles M Schulz Museum and Research Center is offering “Schulz’s Beethoven: Schroeder’s Muse.”  The exhibition was jointly organized with Mr Meredith’s  Beethoven Center.

It continues through January 26 at the Schulz Museum, and then will reopen in San Jose at the Beethoven Center on May 1. 

Meredith spent more than a year identifying the compositions, gathering recordings and reinterpreting the strips.  Jane O’Cain, the museum’s curator, researched Schulz’s artistic process and music-listening habits.

Visitors can gaze at the Beethoven strips, then tap a number into their audio guide and hear the music Schroeder is playing.

Writes Demosky

In a strip fron 1953  Schroeder  embarks on an intensive workout.  He does push-ups, jumps rope,  does sit-ups (“Puff, Puff”), boxes, runs, (“Pant, Pant”) and finally eats (“Chomp! Chomp!).  In the last two panels, he walks to his piano with determination and begins playing furiously, sweat springing from his brow.

The eighth notes above Schroeder’s head are from the opening bars of Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata (Op. 106), a piece so long, artistically complex and technically difficult that it is referred to as the “Giant” Sonata.  When Beethoven delivered it to the publisher in 1819, he is believed to have said, “Now you will have a sonata that will keep the pianists busy when it is played 50 years from now.”

The exhibition notes  inform us that classical music was as much a priority for Mr Schulz as drawing was when he was in art school in the 1940s.  He once said, talking about that period, “We all collected classical albums, which we frequently shared on evenings when we got together to listen to music and challenge each other in wild games of hearts.”

Sue Broadwell worked as Schulz’s secretary from 1963 to 1968.  She said he played classical and other records (he had a weakness for country-western) in his studio while he worked.

“He encouraged me to take a music appreciation course, which I did,” she said.  “Every once in a while as I was learning different pieces, he’d whistle some for me and I had to guess them.”

Schulz and his family also regularly attended classical music concerts in Santa Rosa.  Says Jeannie Schulz, his widow, “He could sit almost perfectly still the whole time, without squirming, without crossing his legs.”  During concerts he would pull a notebook out of his pocket and write something down.

“Later in the car, he would say, ‘How would it be if Marcie and Peppermint Patty were at a concert and…’  He was always thinking about his characters.”

We are somewhat disappointed to learn, from the program notes, that although Schulz admired Beethoven hugely, his favorite composer was Brahms.  He simply found that the name Beethoven — the way it sounded and the way it looked on the page — was funnier.

  Ms. O’Cain says that accuracy and authenticity are hallmarks of the strips, not simply the ones dealing with music but also sports or medicine, for example.

“With figure skating, he would carefully study books to make sure the jumps or spins that he had characters portraying…were correct,” she says.  He would then add subtle twists or inside jokes for readers familiar with skating or surfing or shorthand.

Schulz also mined Beethoven’s life for material, buying numerous books in which he underlined details about the great man’s love life, clothing, and even his favorite recipe (macaroni with cheese).

In 1975 Schulz said, “I have read several biographies of Beethoven — being strangely fascinated by the lives of composers, much more so than the lives of painters.”  Schulz fans like to point out that the strips are as educational as they are entertaining.

“What you thought was a funny tagline was an absolutely true story out of Beethoven’s life, ” says Karen Johnson, the museum’s director.

Beethoven’s birthday was always a major “Peanuts” event.  For 49 years, Schroeder appeared in the strip, and the composer’s birthday was acknowledged in 27.  And sometime in the ’60s, Schulz hosted a real-life birthday party for Beethoven in his home in Northern California. 

He drew Beethoven sweatshirts for each of the guests.  Two have been tracked down, and one of them, with a portait of the composer, is in the exhibit.

The other sweatshirt (owned by Lee Mendelson, the producer of the Peanuts animated specials),  shows a full-body drawing of Beethoven wearing a Schroeder sweatshirt.

 sole source: April Dembosky’s article in the NY Times on 12/14/09.   www.nytimes.com   Want to take a music appreciation course?  Visit The Teaching Company at www.TEACH12.com for a selection of courses on DVD or CD!

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email   aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com


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