It was none other than Charles Schulz who "turned me on" to classical music, when I was about eight years old. No, really. In the Peanuts comic strip, the character of Schroeder was always more interested in "that stupid Beethoven" than he was in... well... whatever it was that Lucy had in mind for him. Don't forget, this was the same girl who ran her own "psychiatrist booth." I'm sure she had all sorts of sick little fantasies, along with her interest in... umm... pianists. (Insert your own pun here.)
The unrequited love affair between Lucy and Schroeder began in 1953!
I, on the other hand, having been interested in girls from birth, or thereabouts -- Rumor has it that my very first instance of flirting was with a nurse in the delivery room on the afternoon of November 16th! -- wondered what was so great about the classical music (and musicians) with which Schroeder was so enthralled that he preferred it (and them) to Lucy.
Surprisingly, although my mother was an accomplished organist, and many members of her family had been amateur or professional musicians (including her cousin Polly, a moderately famous opera singer), I never asked her about classical music. So she was a bit surprised one day during the mid-1960s when I pulled three LPs from a cheapo rack of Pickwick albums in a department store. Pickwick was a so-called "drugstore records" label that sold for a much lower price than the average LP, which -- IIRC -- went for about seven or eight dollars.
(Hey, did you Americans ever notice, whenever we're faced with a word that we've never seen before and are unsure how to pronounce, we're always told "Sound it out?" Well, if we tried that with a lot of the classical composers -- such as Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, Wagner, Bach, and Schubert -- we'd be wrong in most cases!)
Anyway, the three LPs I chose were Beethoven's Seventh Symphony (still my favorite symphony of his -- in fact, I've been known to whistle entire movements from it at various jobs over the years -- rather than the fifth or the ninth, which many prefer), his Piano Sonata No. 29, and the third album featured two compositions, Schubert's Eighth Symphony and Mozart's Fortieth Symphony. (The last LP featured a portrait of Franz Schubert on its cover, and for quite some time, that was the image I thought of whenever I thought of Mozart!)
I'd never heard of Mozart before, but I had heard -- somewhere -- of Schubert's so-called "unfinished" symphony. I had a mental impression of all of the musicians on the record playing until some point, at which they'd all just stop.
(Hey, I was about eight, okay?)
From its very first notes, Mozart's music grabbed me. And while there's quite a bit of his music which I have yet to hear -- the gent was quite prolific during his thirty-five years on this planet -- he's been one of my favorite composers ever since.
(In the early 1980s, I worked as a waiter in a local restaurant. We usually had one of several stations playing. Whenever someone wanted to know the artist of a particular song that was on the air, they'd ask me... and I'd always be right. One day, someone had switched the dial to a classical station, and as a joke, I was asked "Okay, who does this one?" when a piece of music was playing. I admitted that I'd never heard the selection, adding "but it sure sounds like Mozart!" Amazingly -- or perhaps, not so amazingly, if I do say so myself -- I was correct. Heh.)
Here's my favorite Mozart anecdote, by the way, from Anecdotage.com:
A young man once asked Mozart for advice on composing a symphony. Mozart replied that, as he was still young, he might begin by composing ballads. "But you wrote symphonies when you were only ten years old," the boy objected. "Yes," Mozart retorted. "But I didn't have to ask for advice."
(Another quick digression: Did you ever notice this peculiar difference between pop music and classical music? If a pop song is playing, and someone asks "Who is this?" the answer is always the name(s) of the singer(s)... or instrumentalist(s), if it's an instrumental number. If the same question is asked during a classical piece, the answer is usually given as the name of the composer. Which is why asking "Who is this?" when listening to Rod Stewart's version of "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You" brings "Rod Stewart" as the answer; if it were a classical work, the answer would be "Van Morrison." And if you listen to "I'm a Believer" by the Monkees and ask that question, no one says, "Neil Diamond.")
My actual impetus for writing this post was this recent article from The New York Times, which talked about how there are well over a hundred theories on how Mozart actually died! (I didn't quote a number from the article itself, since it seems a bit undecided about said figure.) Mozart's fictionalized biography, Amadeus, shows one theory, although it almost as quickly discounts it!
When Amadeus was filmed in 1984, I didn't see it right away. For one thing, I was more than a bit thrown by their choice of the actor who played Mozart... Tom Hulce. ("Tom Hulce? 'Pinto' from National Lampoon's Animal House?!?" thought I. He won me over when I saw the flick, of course!) Eventually, I rented it on videotape... and here's my favorite scene from the movie. It's a bit long -- not that that should bother my readers too much -- but it's positively brilliant!
So, to conclude these vaguely-related notes, fellow babies, I'll tell you just one more thing: All these years later, I can't recall which animated Peanuts TV special this happened on, but a few years after my love of classical music had been established, there was a scene in one of the Peanuts cartoons where Schroeder played a purposely childish-sounding, one-note-at-a-time rendition of the very beginning of the first movement of Mozart's Fortieth Symphony!
It's terrific when things come together like that, innit?
Thanks for your time.