“Peanuts” Exhibit Reveals “Hidden” Messages In Music

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


mojo-photo-peanuts.jpg

If you thought it wasn’t possible to hold Charles Schulz’s brilliant “Peanuts” comics in any higher esteem, think again. Today’s NY Times describes how scholars are pointing out that the strip’s references to music were anything but random. It turns out the notes displayed above Schroeder’s piano often referenced actual pieces that add a level of humor:

“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,” said William Meredith, the director of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies at San Jose State University, who has studied hundreds of Beethoven-themed “Peanuts” strips. … Mr. Schulz also mined Beethoven’s life for material. He had numerous books in which he underlined details about Beethoven’s love life, clothing, even his favorite recipe (macaroni with cheese).

For instance, in the strip above, with Schroder working out beforehand, the notes pictured are the opening bars of Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata (Op. 106), known for its extraordinary difficulty. All this is part of an exhibit, “Schulz’s Beethoven: Schroeder’s Muse,” at the cartoonist’s eponymous museum in Santa Rosa, where you can learn such details as the fact that Schulz’s favorite composer was in fact Brahms, but he just thought the name Beethoven looked funnier on the page. He was totally right.

It’s funny that this is news, since I’m sure I wasn’t alone in (sort of) discovering this as a kid. My grandmother had all the original paperbacks of the early comics, which I read over and over. She was also an accomplished pianist and music scholar, and so whenever I came across some notes in one of the strips, I’d scamper out to make her sit down at the piano and play them for me. While the historical facts surrounding “Hammerklavier” escaped me, the hand-stretching four-note chords made the joke very clear.

If you, like me, have grown even more fond of “Peanuts” as you’ve gotten older, or perhaps your curiosity has been piqued by this story, allow me to recommend the beautiful Fantagraphics “Complete Peanuts” box sets. I’ve got a couple of them, and they’re actually so exquisite it’s hard to open them up—maybe buy two and keep one in the plastic wrap.

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate