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Thread: Schulz's Beethoven: Schroeder's Muse

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    Senior Member Lunasong's Avatar
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    Default Schulz's Beethoven: Schroeder's Muse

    The following is excerpted from

    Charles Schulz's use of Beethoven's musical scores in the Peanutscomic strip was groundbreaking in three ways:

    1. He was committed to accuracy: "Sometimes drawing the musical scores that Schroeder plays can be very tedious," Schulz once commented, "but I love the pattern that the notes make on the page. I have always tried to be authentic in this matter."

    2. Schulz often did not identify the music in the strips, thereby playfully setting up a game of "name that tune" for his readers.

    3. In Schulz's most sophisticated strips, those readers who recognize what the music is and what it symbolizes have a richer appreciation of the strips' meanings.

    While Schulz did include relatively unknown works, he paid particular attention to Beethoven's most popular and greatest compositions. Since Schroeder is a pianist, he of course has to play beloved works like the "Moonlight" Sonata - but he also gets in shape to be able to perform the "'Mount Everest' of all piano sonatas" the Hammerklavier.

    And while he loves the Eroica Symphony (Beethoven's Third), Schroeder holds the most special place in his heart for the Ninth Symphony and the touching story of its premiere in 1824.

    The concept of an exhibit that explores the role of Beethoven's music in Peanuts came to co-curator William Meredith, director of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, one morning in October 2004 when he was reading the comics and discovered a Peanuts strip that contained parts of a Beethoven music score but no mention of the composer's name and no identification of the music notes. Believing that the character and history of the music were indispensable parts of the humor and meaning of the strip, he began to wonder how Schulz had treated Beethoven's music in other strips. He immediately wrote to Jean Schulz, President of the Board of the Charles M. Schulz Museum, to propose an exhibit that would marry Schulz's strips with Beethoven manuscripts, first editions, and art from the Center's collection. She replied that the Museum had hired a new director in mid-October (Karen Johnson) and was in the process of hiring other staff, and that they would be delighted to propose it to their exhibit committee once the new staff had all had some time to settle into their positions. In August 2005 curator Jane O'Cain joined the staff. Two months later Meredith and graphic designer Tom Fairbanks met with Schulz and O'Cain at the Museum for a tour of the facilities and to begin discussion of the concept. A formal proposal - complete with the opening of the Hammerklavier Sonata played on a boombox - was presented to the Museum's exhibit committee on November 10, 2006. The proposal was approved, and planning began in earnest between O'Cain and Meredith.

    The first major task was locating and identifying all of the strips that mentioned Beethoven's name or biography and those that contained his music. The major database of the Peanuts strips contains nearly all the 17,897 strips created by Schulz. It can be searched by dates or by key words in the caption or description of the strip. However, it does not include references to the music if Schulz did not identify the music or composer in the strip, information he often omitted. O'Cain identified all the Beethoven strips she could locate in the database and began to comb through all other available resources as well. Stacks and stacks of photocopied strips arrived in San José for Meredith to collect and organize, including strips with unidentified music. Meredith spent months creating what the team dubbed the "Schulz-Beethoven bible," a fat binder that contains all of the Beethoven or Beethoven-related strips that have been identified to date. The binder is divided into these themes: strips with music quotations of Beethoven's works by opus or WoO (work without opus) number; strips where music genres (like symphonies or sonatas) are named; strips with quotations of music by other composers (very incomplete); strips that mention Beethoven's biography and love life; strips mixing Beethoven with baseball; Schroeder's adoration of Beethoven; strips comparing Beethoven to Davy Crockett; strips in which Schroeder is teased or teases; Beethoven busts; Lucy's courtship of Schroeder; Lucy's destruction of the toy piano; Beethoven's birthday strips; and a catch-all miscellaneous section.

    Once the binder was created, a copy for made for O'Cain, and the two exhibit co-curators went to work to settle on the six themes for the exhibit which are on the sidebar of this website. The selection of the individual strips was difficult because they are all so wonderful. Some were chosen because the Museum owns the original drawing, many were selected because they demonstrate the role of music in the strips, and others were included because the Center or the Museum owned items that could be paired with the strips to bring them further to life. The groundbreaking aspect of the exhibit was the creation of an audioguide that allowed visitors to listen to the music in the strips as they read the captions and cartoons.

    Four years after the idea first came to Meredith and after two years of extensive planning, the exhibit opened at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa on August 17, 2008 and ran through January 25, 2009. Over 26,000 visitors viewed it there. On May 1 the exhibit opened in San José in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library (jointly run by San José State University and the City of San José). It ran through July 31, 2009. Over 8,000 people enjoyed the exhibit in San José. Because the music of Beethoven and the Peanuts strips of Schulz are beloved around the world, Meredith proposed that the two institutions work together to create a web version of the exhibit. The web version contains the same wonderful recordings of the piano sonatas by Craig Sheppard, but takes advantage of the possibility of linking the cartoons to related websites. The creation of the website has depended on the creativity and skills of designer Tom Fairbanks. We offer the web version to the world as our birthday present to Beethoven on December 16, 2009.

    Charles Schulz knew that musicians appreciated his painstaking reproduction of Classical music in the strip, but exhibit co-curator William Meredith theorizes that Schulz actually took the use of music a step further. He believes that Schulz intentionally selected the music in many cartoons to enhance the meaning and humor of the strips. In some cases the music plays a critical role and, in fact, Schulz's meaning is only partially understood or lost if the reader does not read music.

    Schulz was no fan of Classical music in his early life, a fact that was well known to his World War II Army buddies. It wasn't until he went to work at Art Instruction, Inc., in Minneapolis after the war that he developed an appreciation and love of the genre. At Art Instruction, Schulz was surrounded by college-educated colleagues who loved literature, art, and Classical music. It wasn't long before he wrote to his Army friend Frank Dieffenwierth, "... I have not only turned modernist in art, but am now a lover of classical music. Boy, what a change. They'll never know me in the next war." In the stimulating and challenging milieu at Art Instruction, Schulz and his co-workers played games with Classical music in which they would quiz each other about the music or whistle a melody in turns as it went around the room. These kinds of games may have been in Schulz's mind when he began to use music without identification in the early 1950s.

    We also know that Schulz, like many visual artists, liked to listen to music when he drew. In the first two years after World War II, he built up an extensive collection of Classical music records and splurged a "minor fortune" on a huge Zenith radio-phonograph player that could play the new "long-playing" records.

    Surprisingly, Schulz could not read music. He was, however, committed to copying the scores as accurately as possible. Occasionally, errors such as missing accidentals or extra ledger lines crept in.

    One of Schulz's great inspirations was to show the passage of time by using music from different spots in a single movement or from using music from two different movements. In a Sunday strip published on February 24, 1963, for instance, Lucy is listening to Schroeder play the first movement of the Sonata in F Minor, Opus 2, no. 1, in the first panel (mm. 119-20). In the second or third panels Schroeder has advanced to the second movement (mm. 3-5). The music from the first movement is about one minute from the end of the 7 1/2 minute piece. The music from the second panel starts at 10 seconds into the movement.

    Meredith also discovered how extensively Schroeder knew Beethoven's piano sonatas and other works. Here is a list of the works he plays in strips over the years from memory (he never plays from a music score). Eleven of the 32 sonatas, which is not at all bad for an eight-year-old!

    Piano Sonata in F Minor, Opus 2, no. 1
    Piano Sonata in A Major, Opus 2, no. 2
    Piano Sonata in C Minor, Opus 10, no. 1 ("Little Pathétique")
    Piano Sonata in F Major, Opus 10, no. 2
    Piano Sonata in C in Minor, Opus 13 ("Pathétique")
    Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, Opus 22
    Piano Sonata quasi una fantasia, C-sharp Minor, Opus 27, no. 2 ("Moonlight")
    Piano Sonata in D Major, Opus 28
    Piano Sonata in G Minor, Opus 49, no. 2
    Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, Opus 106 (Hammerklavier)
    Piano Sonata in A-flat Major, Opus 110
    Bagatelle in G Minor, Opus 119, no. 1
    Ecossaise in E-flat Major, WoO 83, no. 2
    Ecossaise in E-flat Major, WoO 83, no. 6
    "Für Elise," WoO 59
    "To be a musician is a curse. To NOT be one is even worse." Jack Daney

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    Senior Member Itullian's Avatar
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    What a fantastic post. thank you.
    When all else fails, listen to Thick as a Brick.

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    Moderator TurnaboutVox's Avatar
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    Thank you very much for posting this. I'll have to go back and look at 'Peanuts' again now.

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    Senior Member science's Avatar
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    Wow, that is great!
    Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs.

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