It is possible that if it hadn’t been for Charles Schultz, and through his Peanuts cartoons , December 16th being the birthday of Ludwig Van Beethoven would have been as unknown to most of us today as the birthdays of the other great composers. In the Charlie Brown Christmas special recorded in 1965, one of his best friends Schroeder plays the opening measures of Fur Elise to celebrate the birthday of the Viennese master. Though played with a simplified left hand part, it’s still a nice touch decades later. In one of his comic strips, Schultz has Schroeder forget Beethoven’s birthday and then be reminded by Lucy that he had forgotten.
My youngest though still older sister, Andrea, introduced me to Beethoven’s music when I was in middle school and with Schroeder still in my subconscious, I decided i wanted to celebrate Beethoven’s birthday in my 8th grade year. I copied 2 records I had to a tape, in mono no less, and listened to them on my bus ride to school and home, half an hour each way. By the end of the next year, I had taped recordings of all nine Beethoven symphonies, and hearing all of them in a row has been my celebratory tradition ever sense still 32 years later.. Not only have I heard the quality of the recordings improve over the decades, hearing a set of pieces spanning over a composer’s lifetime is a great way too also experience first hand how their style developed and changed over time. From tapes played on a mono player, then to a walkman, then to cd’s, to an mp3 player, to streaming lossless off my Synology network server first time this year, not only has the audio improved amazingly but also the convenience e.g. I don’t have to make sure the next tape is lined up.
Beethoven’s first 2 symphonies though still somewhat classical in style paying homage to Haydn and Mozart, still have moments here and there that totally make the listener sit up and take notice, moments that are clearly Beethoven’s. His 3rd symphony completely changed what a symphony had been to that point, and is considered the first of his mature symphonies, as well as in the minds of some musicologists the first piece of the Romantic period. Looking at the Beethoven symphonies, beginning with the 3rd, each symphony has a story to tell, and all of them collectively as well as individually are strong affirmations to life, to the human condition. That, even though Beethoven’s childhood was harsh and much of his adult life silent due to his deafness, that there are still moments totally worth living for and hoping for in the future; Beethoven’s symphonies are all more than worth the time to explore and understand.
While writing this post, I listened from the finale of the 3rd symphony, to the end of the scherzo movement 3 of symphony 5.
There’s a little of Schroeder in me too, I went to Edgewood College who puts on a Christmas concert every year and twice during these concerts I played a Beethoven solo. The coolest of them was on 12/16/1991 when I played the 1st movement of his piano sonata op. 31 no. 2 “The Tempest”; Andrea along with our parents were in attendance