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America's BeethovenBeethoven in Comics

It is not surprising that an icon such as Beethoven would find his way into comic books and cartoons. As the epitome of “high culture,” however, he is to be both revered and lampooned.

Almost every American, for instance, has encountered Beethoven in the cartoon strip “Peanuts,” where Beethoven is the object of Schroeder’s veneration and Schroeder is the object of his friends’ teasing for that veneration. Schroeder gives as good as he gets, however. In a strip commemorating the bicentennial of the composer’s birth, he announces that his representative—Snoopy—will supply a kiss to Lucy. She screams “AAAUGHH!” while Snoopy reacts with “Nicht diese Töne” (from the Ninth Symphony.) She, meanwhile, tries her best to turn every celebration of Beethoven’s birthday into an occasion for commercialization: “What kind of a holiday is it when you don’t give girls presents?” To see the Peanuts strips about Beethoven, visit our online exhibit, Schulz's Beethoven: Schroeder's Muse.

Pearls before Swine Beethoven comic strip Commercialization is also the theme of a 2005 Sunday strip by award-winning artist Stephan Pastis, creator of “Pearls Before Swine.” Struggling to compose “Für Elise” so that the working classes, the masses will hear his music and know his name, Beethoven promises to carry on “through the toil and the agony and the sweat and the tears!” The last panel depicts a scene in a bar where a commoner’s cell phone is going off with the piece as its ringtone while the ever angry rat rails against cell phones.

The toil, sweat, and agony of Beethoven’s life that was the un-ironic focus of the two comic books from World War II on display are also the themes of Treasure Chest’s 1966 “Life of Beethoven.” In Felix Arnstein’s “Against All Odds: The Story of Ludwig van Beethoven,” the composer’s life is told through a series of familiar anecdotes that have some basis in fact. Visually, however, he is drawn as taller, slimmer, and more handsome. The depiction of the most famous decision of his life—to continue to compose in spite of his oncoming deafness—is also fictional. As Beethoven sits under a tree in his beloved countryside, a priest from a nearby church tells him, “Your music is all in your head, Herr Beethoven, not in your ears. You can still compose. Just try it!” According to this imaginary version, “Beethoven soon realized the priest had been right.” Arnstein even manages to turn the deafness into a lifelong blessing: “The more deaf he became, the less he was distracted.” —William Meredith and Michael Broyles

Comic book on Beethoven

“Life of Beethoven, Deaf Composer”
From Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact, v. 22, no. 6 (November 17, 1966)

Comic book on Beethoven

“The Story of Beethoven”
From True Comics, v. 1, no. 29 (November 1943)

Comic book on Beethoven

“Ludwig van Beethoven”
From Real Life Comics, v. 5, no. 3 (January 1944)