The Most Important Thing I Learned by Reading ‘Peanuts’
This week America celebrated the 90th birthday of cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, creator of “Peanuts,” who passed away in 2000. During his 50-year career, he introduced us to hapless Charlie Brown, mischievous Snoopy, know-it-all Lucy, and many other absolutely delightful and relatable characters.
He also introduced us (for some, including me, it was for the first time) to arguably (but don’t get into an argument with me about this) the best composer who ever lived . . . Ludwig van Beethoven.
In his own words, Schulz became an ardent admirer of Beethoven early on in his career:
“Having been fascinated for several months by Strauss waltzes, I graduated one day to the purchase of Beethoven’s Second Symphony, and I remember that this record opened up a whole new world for me.”
Beginning in 1951, Schroeder, one of my favorite Peanuts’ characters, channeled the genius of Beethoven through his toy piano. Most scenes of Schroeder find him bowed over his miniature instrument on the floor (often with lovesick and bored Lucy hovering over him) performing incredibly complicated compositions. And woe to anyone who doesn’t know it’s Beethoven he’s playing.
Schroeder was so obsessed with Beethoven he once asked no one in particular, “How can anyone be Beethoven and not be happy?” Thanks to the combined genius of Schulz and Schroeder, my love for Beethoven blossomed when I was five.
I first learned about Beethoven by reading the Peanuts cartoon strips in the newspaper my grandfather brought home, and then the books Schulz published which I collected as quickly as I started collecting Beethoven records. My obsession with Beethoven has grown over the years and now his music literally permeates my home.
A creature of habit, I rarely vary my routine: wake up at 5:30 a.m., stumble to the kitchen to turn on the Nespresso machine and radio (yes, I think listen to the radio) simultaneously and sit down with my laptop to find out what happened in the world while I was sleeping. Because I work from home, the radio stays on until I go to bed. Even when I leave for meetings and appointments, my dog has the dreamy and often melancholy sounds of Brahms and the drama of Verdi to keep him company until my return.
My husband of almost twenty years has come to not only accept this quirk of mine, but to enjoy it. My youngest daughter, a freshman in high school, does her homework at the kitchen table with Mozart and Chopin sometimes serving as “background noise,” but more often than not, it’s a piece by Beethoven. A college freshman, my oldest daughter recently admitted to plugging Beethoven into her ears while studying in the library. She finds it soothing and a “connection to home.”
Perhaps you think Mozart, Mahler or some other musical genius deserves our undying devotion. Of course, they all should hold special places in our hearts for bringing such beauty to the world. But in the final analysis, it is Beethoven . . . and it’s only ever been Beethoven. After all, as he himself once said, “There are and will be a thousand princes; there is only one Beethoven.”
Just ask Schroeder.