Is Beethoven about to be canceled, too?

There is no area of human endeavor, be it scholarship, art, science, or technology, that is immune from modern accusations of systemic racism. It’s almost funny how far the woke can cook up accusations, often without evidence, that an area is afflicted with bigotry and exclusion.

The latest victim appears to be Beethoven—not just the man and his work, but specifically the Fifth Symphony, which the authors below, Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding, indict for exclusionism and, curiously, for “regularizing” classical music concerts so that concergoers have to be polite, well dressed, and adhere to the rule not to make noise. Their article is in Vox, which gets considerable circulation, so you can’t claim that this is just a pair of cranks sounding off.

Well, that may well be accurate, but these cranks have cred. Sloan is an assistant professor of musicology at the University of Southern California, while Harding is a music journalist, instrumentalist, and songwriter. Both men host the podcast “Switched On Pop,” billed as “a podcast about the making and meaning of popular music”.

In their Vox article (click on screenshot below), they take on classical music, in particular the Fifth. They find it a hotbed of racism as well as an historical inducer of behavioral control at concerts. But there’s a rebuttal, too, by Daniel Lelchuk at Quillette. Read on.

I’ll be brief because the Vox piece is just so dumb. First the double indictment of the Fifth. First, its exclusionary nature:

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony starts with an anguished opening theme — dun dun dun DUNNNN — and ends with a glorious, major-key melody. Since its 1808 premiere, audiences have interpreted that progression from struggle to victory as a metaphor for Beethoven’s personal resilience in the face of his oncoming deafness.

Or rather, that’s long been the popular read among those in power, especially the wealthy white men who embraced Beethoven and turned his symphony into a symbol of their superiority and importance. For some in other groups — women, LGBTQ+ people, people of color — Beethoven’s symphony may be predominantly a reminder of classical music’s history of exclusion and elitism. One New York City classical music fan wrote in the 1840s, for example, that he wished “all women shall be gagged by officers duly licensed for the purpose before they’re allowed to enter a concert room.”

. . .For classical music critic James Bennett II, Beethoven’s popularity and centrality in classical culture is part of the problem. “As you perpetuate the idea that the giants of the music all look the same, it conveys to the ‘other’ that there’s not a stake in that music for them,” he says.

New York Philharmonic clarinetist Anthony McGill, one of the few Black musicians in the ensemble, agrees that Beethoven’s inescapability can make classical music appear monolithic and stifling. He likens the inescapability of the Fifth Symphony to a “wall” between classical music and new, diverse audiences.

“If you pretend like there’s no other music out there, that Beethoven is the greatest music that ever will matter,” says McGill, then orchestras will alienate new listeners, since “we’re not promoting any of the composers alive today that are trying to become the Beethovens of their day.”

I feel sorry for McGill, dragged out as a person of color to make the authors’ point. But where is the evidence that the Fifth reminds LGBTQ+ and people of color that they are excluded? It’s a simple assertion—a speculation without evidence. And who pretends that there is no other music out there? As far as I know, orchestras are constantly trying to acquaint listeners with new music and music considered out of the mainstream. The reason people keep coming back to Beethoven is that he’s simply better than most, striking an emotional chord in many throughout the world.

And here’s Sloan and Harding’s second accusation of the Fifth: elitism—not musical but behavioral elitism:

Before Beethoven’s time, classical music culture looked and sounded quite different. When Mozart premiered his Symphony 31 in the late 1700s, it was standard for audiences to clap, cheer, and yell “da capo!” (Italian for “from the beginning!”) in the middle of a performance. After Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony debuted in the early 1800s, these norms changed — both because the rising industrial merchant class took ownership of concert halls and because of shifts in the music itself.

. . . In Mozart’s day, each movement in a symphony was self-contained, like a collection of short stories. Beethoven’s Fifth acted more like a novel, asking audiences to follow a single story that unfolded over an entire four-movement symphony. New norms of concert behavior developed in turn. Sitzfleisch, or “sitting still,” became the ultimate desideratum for showing one’s understanding of the new language of classical music. Over time, these norms crystallized into a set of etiquette rules (e.g., “don’t clap mid-piece”) to enhance the new listening experience.

. . .Though concert etiquette that evolved in response to the Fifth may have had the goal of venerating the music, it can also act as a source of gatekeeping. “Polite society” first emerged as a set of cultural standards developed during the mid-18th century as bourgeois class signifiers. In Beethoven’s time, new social etiquette extended into the concert hall.

Today, some aspects of classical culture are still about policing who’s in and who’s out. When you walk into a standard concert hall, there’s an established set of conventions and etiquette (“don’t cough!”; “don’t cheer!”; “dress appropriately!”) that can feel as much about demonstrating belonging as appreciating the music.

Oy! The GATEKEEPING! All I know is that I used to go to the Chicago Symphony a lot, and I didn’t dress “appropriately”: I wore jeans. Nobody ever gave me the stink-eye, as I recall. And who wants to hear clapping, cheering, and yelling during a concert? No more than you want it during a play or a movie. This is a complaint without merit.

Say what you will about Quillette, but Daniel Lelchuk, the assistant principal cellist of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, and host of his own podcast (“Talking Beats“), has a firm, informed, but very polite rebuttal to the nonsense above. Click on the screenshot to read it. (I’d give a subtitle, “And finally, when they came for Stockhausen, I was glad” 🙂 )

Just two quotes here; you can read the spirited defense of classical music, which includes a lovely video that I’ve embedded:

I’m a professional cellist who—in non-pandemic times—performs classical music for people of all races. Beethoven’s music is precious to me. And it’s bizarre to hear these two men talk this way. None of what they say bears any connection to Beethoven’s actual work. And their call-and-response faux-curious dialogue about what aliens will think of Beethoven’s supposed “elitism” is embarrassing. Yet Sloan is a musicologist, and Harding is a songwriter.

They do, however, pay a backhanded compliment to Beethoven. This is what happens when a piece of art has such a gigantic influence on a society and its collective identity: The art’s story becomes our story. Naturally, those who demand that our story be rewritten to match a prescribed ideology or theme (such as, say, oppression and intersectionality) will also demand an overhaul in our understanding of the art that defines that story.

The hosts even accuse Beethoven—whose democratic ideals are well-known to anyone who has studied his life story—of empowering colonialism. Says one, “I can almost even see the sort of stride of empire, colonialism, industrialism, all those things that have sort of that same built in narrative of triumph and conquering.”

Really? That’s what you imagine when Beethoven’s 5th begins? I would be scared to imagine what flits though his mind during a performance of Wagner’s Parsifal.

In Japan—which, last time I checked, was populated by quite a few people of color—public performances of Beethoven are a holiday tradition.

And this. (Really, you shouldn’t dismiss Quillette as some “alt-right” site, as many do. There’s some good stuff on it, like Lelchuk’s piece.)

I really wonder what Sloan and Harding have to say about the Afghan Women’s Orchestra, which in 2017 performed Beethoven’s Ninth at the World Economic Forum. Please watch the brief YouTube clip, which appears below, and ask yourself whether you find yourself inspired—or, channeling Vox’s musical experts, tsk-tsking at all these misguided women paying homage to white supremacy.

Music of this type has no fixed story. It has infinite stories, as the possibilities of fantasy and enchantment are endless. There is no set program, no agenda. And if Beethoven’s 5th makes Sloan and Harding imagine the world’s people of color crushed under western jackboots, perhaps that’s something they might like to work on privately. Don’t blame the music.

Indeed. Here’s the video of the Afghan Women’s Orchestra playing 5½ minutes of Beethoven’s Ninth. Note the sitar and tablas. That’s cultural appropriation, but so what? The music is universal.

I guess we should ignore virtue-flaunting knuckleheads like Sloan and Harding. I couldn’t help myself this time, for it’s important to see how far the termites have dined.

h/t: Grant

84 Comments

  1. Frank L Wagner
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    How can you blame Beethoven for the developed norm of not applauding between movements and being civilized at concerts?

    The American Classical Orchestra in NYC performs the repertoire of 17th, 18th and 19th century composers. By playing the music on original instruments and using historic performance technique, it attempts to recreate the sounds an audience would have heard when it was first played. It encourages the audience to applaud between movements.

  2. jezgrove
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Oh well, they’ll have to replace Ludwig with Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Oh no, they can’t his father was a slave owner. Back to the drawing board:
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chevalier_de_Saint-Georges

  3. pablo
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Beethoven is being cancelled? Have people stopped claiming that Beethoven was black?

  4. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    “Sloan is an assistant professor of musicology at the University of Southern California, while Harding is a music journalist, instrumentalist, and songwriter. ”

    Then ostensibly there is a reason for them to fear getting called a racist on Tw1773r …[ must resist writing more comments..]….

  5. Jenny Haniver
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    I just came across this related article in the New Yorker, “Black Scholars Confront White Supremacy in Classical Music” https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/09/21/black-scholars-confront-white-supremacy-in-classical-music. Have not yet read it.

    • Posted September 21, 2020 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      Recently watched a long video about music theory being about white supremacy; cannot find the video link, but this pretty much sums it up a couple of the main points:

      https://www.gc.cuny.edu/News/Faculty-News/Detail?id=55599

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted September 21, 2020 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

        I wrote an email to PCC(E) about it – to my relief, he read it and replied! The original title was “Music Theory is Racist”. I refrain from commentary here now.

        The video is by Adam Neely – he runs a very interesting YouTube channel and I highly recommend the channel.

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted September 21, 2020 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

          Apologies if I shouldn’t have said that – I just realized in my exuberance I rashly made public a private email exchange.

        • Posted September 21, 2020 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

          Yes, that is the one; made some good points about a specific type of music theory, but a fair amount seemed to be conflating the theory with the personal perspectives of some theorists.

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted September 21, 2020 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

            Maybe everyone knows this, but I would like to emphasize that “music theory” is a phrase that is a stand-in for a language for communicating, writing, analyzing, etc. music. It’s is closer to mathematics (also claimed to be “racist”) or linguistics than a genuine definition theory from science. In fact “music theory” is in no way a proposed explanation – hypothesis- for a given set of recorded data from Nature.

            As such, and give that I dig Neely’s videos, both titles of that video were deeply irksome. Sadly, he continues to support this notion, e.g. by claiming that the video and its comments were “controversial”.

            >> shudder<<

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted September 23, 2020 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

            Just thought I’d share this David Bennett video (piece ?) as an antidote to whatever the other one was : https://youtu.be/c8odznnCRdo
            Map of Music
            David Bennett Piano
            YouTube

            • ThyroidPlanet
              Posted September 23, 2020 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

              Whoops

              Not Bennett- it’s … David Bruce

            • Posted September 23, 2020 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

              Thanks. Quite interesting

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted September 21, 2020 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        One other thought:

        I refrained from commenting on that video for the precise reason McWhorter gave in his discussion just the other day : I was afraid of being called a racist, and nothing I could compose seemed to avoid that.

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Put me down with Alex DeLarge: NO! STOP! IT’S A SIN. NOT LUDWIG VAN! YOU CAN’T DO BEETHOVEN LIKE THAT; HE JUST WROTE MUSIC!

  7. Posted September 21, 2020 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    I feel so SEEN! As a gay man, whenever I hear Beethoven played, my mind is just flooded with images of gay people being persecuted. It does me real epistemic harm to listen to that man whose name I can’t even say again. Thank you to these two heroes, whom we must stan for all time, for standing up against this vileness.

    As you can hopefully tell, I’m being sarcastic. Needless to say, as a gay man I am not immediately triggered by the sound of Beethoven. But then a white gay male is pretty passé when it comes to intersectionality…

    Also, how insulting is this nonsense? Poor, fragile, weak people of colour and gays etc; they can’t even listen to music without shrieking in horror. The gatekeepers of wokery have a very low opinion of minorities.

    Gimme a break…

  8. Posted September 21, 2020 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    I have to admit, I thought almost the exact thing Lelchuk did in wondering how these people react to Wagner. Maybe it’s a cellist thing. I found even these excepts of his “defense” of Beethoven (as if such a thing should be necessary) quite moving. I dare not listen to/watch the accompanying video in public, because I’m sure to tear up and sob like a child.

  9. Steve Gerrard
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    I laughed out loud at this ridiculous example of anecdotal evidence:

    “One New York City classical music fan wrote in the 1840s, for example,”

    Oh my, I do remember that one time that one person said that one thing 180 years ago.

  10. freiner
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    “I’ll be brief because the Vox piece is just so dumb”

    One might say its “dumb dumb dumb DUMB”

  11. Posted September 21, 2020 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Someone should remind these supposed music scholars that the very concept of the public concert came in with the Enlightenment. Before that, great music was only available to the rich and powerful, performed for their own pleasure as well as to flaunt their superior taste before rival despots. Since the 18th century it has become accessible to all — even peons like me can hear it! Beethoven is the people’s music!

    I could also make that case that the quality of music took a big step down when, in order to be a commercial success, it had to appeal to the hoi poloi and not exclusively to the most elite audiences. But that’s perhaps a separate conversation.

  12. john reynolds
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I have a philosophy of ‘shut up and do it.”

    Go put on a symphony with no dress code or rules of etiquette. You are free to do it.
    There is no problem here. Just sideline whiners.

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted September 21, 2020 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      “…we’re not promoting any of the composers alive today that are trying to become the Beethovens of their day.” (McGill)

      Well, since he is apparently one of the “we”, whose fault is that? Of course there’s also that thing about the appeal of the music to the listening audience.

  13. phoffman56
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    There are plenty of people who treat music, even decent or better music, as Musak, the irritating crap, often ‘machine-composed’ you get in shopping malls, elevators, etc.

    The exact opposite of this is in my view the main reason for the custom of holding off applause till a work has been completely played. Firstly the musicians and especially the conductor come into a type of psychological state, whatever is needed for each to play in an inspired manner. I’m quite sure of that. And I think some of the audience at a concert: symphony, chamber, recital, opera, etc., have the same reaction, hopefully a good proportion of them. I’m quite aware that others are there to ‘be seen’, and most of them sit through it with their minds wandering on other things.

    But the former people, who take this music very seriously in a good sense, particularly the performers, simply do not want the interruption of their psychological state which a bunch of applause in the middle of the piece would cause. It is hardly surprising that performers usually do not acknowledge that applause, and that’s nothing to do with snobbery, much less this idiotic ‘wokified’ laughable writing.

    Let those two writers stick to their bar and rock concert milieu, and maybe even their musak. The earlier are perfectly fine too. Music has many positive virtues in its different styles and venues. But there is such a thing as taking art in its various forms seriously, and making it a large part of one’s psychological life. But that’s not likely to be found much in elevators, shopping malls, or even in bars with musicians trying hard to even hear their own music over the din of the drunken morons.

    I realize this division of styles and venues for music is somewhat arbitrary. In particular, much of jazz music has a serious psychological appeal much similar to so-called classical music. And other music too, which an old fart like me is unaware of.

    A bit amusing personal thing that happened to me around 1971 or so: We had seats behind the stage at Royal Festival Hall in London for Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. The only performer I can remember was Janet Baker as the female singer. To me, this, especially the final movement, ranks with the best J.S. Bach and (the only) Beethoven. I’d never say anything of course, and my reaction was unfair, but I can remember feeling annoyed because the guy next to me had a watch that ticked too loudly–no digital in those days!

  14. prinzler
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    “And when they came for Stockhausen . . .” Actual LOL!

    I forget who called some of Stockhausen’s writings about his music “vacuous fustian,” but that turn of phrase is a keeper!

    • jezgrove
      Posted September 21, 2020 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      I’m pretty sure they did experiments decades ago that showed that rats exposed to Stockhausen from an early age preferred his music to Mozart’s – and vice versa.

      • prinzler
        Posted September 21, 2020 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

        I believe you, but lemme try and find some of Stock’s writing.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted September 21, 2020 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

        Rats exposed to Stockhausen from an early age didn’t survive beyond an early age.

      • jezgrove
        Posted September 21, 2020 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

        D’oh, it was Schoenberg: https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/BF03331092

      • mike cracraft
        Posted September 21, 2020 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

        Please get off of this ! Stockhausen and Schoenberg wrote some important and interesting music. It just takes some background study to appreciate it.

        • jezgrove
          Posted September 21, 2020 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

          I don’t think I denigrated either of them , I just said what you appreciate is what you are used to?

    • phoffman56
      Posted September 21, 2020 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      Speaking of the so-called avant garde, I can’t remember the composer’s name (now I think John Cage??), but there was a composition where the performer came out, sat down at the piano for 7 minutes and 46.306 seconds, then got up and left.

      Perhaps these authors could tell us about the timing of the applause there.

      My number is not exactly correct of course. And presumably there were directions about which intervals of time corresponded to the different movements, if >1.

      • Posted September 21, 2020 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

        That’s John Cage’s 4’33”. I have recorded it more than once (really! in live performance — not for CD thankfully). Some say it’s supposed to focus the listener on random environmental sounds — nervous whispers from the audience, traffic passing by outdoors, that sort of thing — and that is the music. Others say Cage was making fools of anyone uncritical enough to consider him a serious composer. Or maybe both.

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted September 21, 2020 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

          Music ends in silence…?

          [ Statler and Waldorf ]:

          Only if you’re lucky! Ho Ho Ho Ho Ho!

      • prinzler
        Posted September 21, 2020 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

        It was John Cage, and the title of the piece is 4’33. The performer merely sits quietly for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. The piece is comprised of the sounds that the audience hears in that situation (your own breathing, someone moving their chair, someone coughing, etc.). One of the landmarks of the avant-hard.

        • jezgrove
          Posted September 21, 2020 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

          “[S]omeone moving their chair, someone coughing, etc.” – you mean the Woke were revolting against the white supremacist patriarchy and its imposition of silence back then? 😉 (Some would say they’re still revolting now, but I couldn’t possibly comment…)

      • Steve Gerrard
        Posted September 21, 2020 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

        Merle Hazard pays homage to John Cage:

        (Gimme Some of That) Ol’ Atonal Music

      • Deodand
        Posted September 21, 2020 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

        He was not the first to do something like that. Composer Erwin Schuloff wrote a piece called ‘In Futeurm’ which consisted of one minutes silence.

    • David Harper
      Posted September 21, 2020 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

      The legendary British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham was asked whether he had ever conducted any Stockhausen. No, he replied, but I once trod in some.

  15. StephenB
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    What makes this even funnier is the longstanding speculation that Beethoven was black. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/sep/07/beethoven-was-black-why-the-radical-idea-still-has-power-today

    • phoffman56
      Posted September 21, 2020 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      Nothing about music, but this kind of thing has me wondering:
      Without some kind of bound on the number of generations back they might be talking about, surely everybody should be thinking about the statistically certain fact that everybody today is a descendent of some single person who lived around 1500 BC, and of lots of them. Whatever the pigment was, it was NOT white for some, probably all, of them.

      A similar fact would be true for any time between 1770 and 1826 (I think, maybe ’27) when good old Ludwig von Beethoven was in our midst (not Wittgenstein, whom I impolitely refer to sometimes as Ludwig non Beethoven).

      Ask someone, including anyone from a supposedly formerly isolated population (Inuit, Amazonian, Aussie aboriginal,…), to draw any picture of any being that reasonably looks like a human, and it’s guaranteed that the drawer has an ancestor who looks pretty much exactly like that, not just skin colour.

      • jezgrove
        Posted September 21, 2020 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

        Beethoven had it coming. Should have composed in the pentatonic scale so everything could be played just using the black notes. (Come to think of it, haven’t the white and (B)lack piano keys switched round since his day? I tell you, it’s a conspiracy, man!)

        • jezgrove
          Posted September 21, 2020 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

          Oops, that comment didn’t end up where I expected it to…

  16. Jon Gallant
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    They will surely come next for Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky, who were unenthusiastic about the Progressive, Socialist regime of Lenin & Co. And for Sibelius, who favored the white (doubly offensive) side in the Finnish Civil War. And for Dvorak, who was guilty of cultural appropriation of native American and Black spiritual tunes in his symphony #9. And worst of all, J.S. Bach, whose works are masterpieces (that slave-owning word!) of counterpoint, a technique specific to the music of white, colonialist Europe.

    And there was the painter Edgar Degas, who was a notorious anti-Dreyfusard. Oh, wait, that might be more than acceptable, because intersectionality/Israel/Palestine, etc. etc.

    • phoffman56
      Posted September 21, 2020 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

      As for Johann Sebastian (our former cat’s name, after him) Bach, to me he’s the greatest genius who ever lived, to the extent that has any real meaning. And I’d like to think I have some appreciation of the accomplishments of Newton, Maxwell, Darwin, Einstein, Turing, Godel, Grothendieck, …

      What I’ve often wondered about was how much that genius came from Bach’s christian faith. Could this kind of musical genius exist today, with religion or maybe something entirely different as a big part of the psychological basis?

      In relation to the goofy pair of ‘musicians’ who wrote that nonsense, can you imagine an audience which applauds in the John or Matthew Passion at some dipstick moment like the actual death on the cross? Or in the Mass in B minor just when the bread and wine supposedly becomes skin and bones and blood?

      Even Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, or halfway through the later variations in his final piano sonata, are mind curdling examples of this dumb idea.

      I blanch at the thought of them having any music education influence.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted September 21, 2020 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

        “Could this kind of musical genius exist today, with religion or maybe something entirely different as a big part of the psychological basis?”

        That’s an interesting counter factual (?) to speculate on.

        Bach took a job as the … kapellmeister or something – in Leipzig- Martin Luther’s big plans … means they needed tunes *to support* the church.

        Yet, Bach wrote plenty of secular music.

        In that time, there was no other idea but the whole Jesus thing, so the music did not necessarily derive or express Jesus and all that. But at the same time, they all were in the tank for Jesus, so “secular” means only so much.

        Bottom line : the music can stand independent of religion. A thought experiment would be perhaps Bach alive today, he’d write all the secular stuff, but write soundtracks for romantic movies – and really nail it. 100’s of years later, people might wonder if romantic movies explain the origin of the soundtracks. The answer would be yes – that’s exactly what his job was.

  17. Ken Phelps
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Wow, talk about being educated far beyond your intelligence.

  18. John Nunes
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    I’m a trained musician. (organist) Seriously, I can’t get very far with any of this stuff due to the fact that it’s dementia inducing.

    • Posted September 21, 2020 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      You’re a professional organist? Me, too!

      • John Nunes
        Posted September 21, 2020 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

        Various things in life got in the way of being a very active professionally. But I still practice a lot if for nothing else but making an effort to maintain my standards. I also worked for builder John Brombaugh as an apprentice. But due to illness, I need to sell my Hill & Tyre pedal harpsichord. But nice to see an organist here!

  19. Posted September 21, 2020 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    As long as they’re so committed to signaling their virtue, perhaps they’d prefer some P.D.Q. Bach to Beethoven. The chorus “Tarragon of Virtue is Full” from the oratorio The Seasonings.

  20. A C Harper
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    In real life some wealthy white men behave well and some poor black women behave poorly.

    Anyone who stereotypes somebody by their achievement, class, race, gender, sex, education, intelligence, religion or politics is merely prolonging the polarisation of people into separate groups.

  21. Posted September 21, 2020 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Well said, Jerry. As a professional musician I have nothing, really, to add. The Vox authors present nothing but strawmen and irrelevancies. They are engaged in what so often passes for insight in the humanities: iconoclasm for the sake of iconoclasm. They’re not attacking Wagner because Wagner actually held demonstrably despicable views. Doing that is simply not counter-intuitive or perverse enough to succeed in the humanities.

    I’ll add that it is my sense that most musical geniuses are concerned first and foremost with music in the abstract, “absolute music” as it is often called. Beethoven may well have given programs to some of his works, but what concerned him while writing the actual notes would’ve been things like “how shall
    I avoid a bad parallel here”, or “how shall I resolve this leading-tone”, or do all the sections of this movement have satisfying proportions”. Sending an overt non-musical message was not his primary concern, much less a classist message. For Christ’s sake he set “alle Menschen werden Brüder” to music.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted September 21, 2020 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      “alle Menschen werden Brüder”? He left the sisters out: sexist!

  22. Posted September 21, 2020 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    There is no end. When a line is made in the sand someone can make a new line behind it.

    The Marriage of Figaro is disgusting to someone, somewhere.

    I wish Hitchens were alive for this nonsense.

    • Posted September 22, 2020 at 2:33 am | Permalink

      HAHAHA!
      Oooohhhh
      Hitch would be going BONKERS!
      Can you imagine?

      D.A., NYC

  23. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    How do we know it is not just a spoof? I think it must be, too ridiculous for words.

  24. eric
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    I like classical music, but this sounds like a cry for relevancy. These guys are like the younger kid brother tagging along with the older brother; ‘ooh, ooh, Danny, let me be woke too! Please? I promise, I can do it. You’ll see!’

  25. Posted September 21, 2020 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Well, Leonore/Fidelio was a cross-dresser.

  26. Posted September 21, 2020 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    I think racism is a serious issue in America but what has Beethoven got to do with it? Sad if his music really does makes other groups feel excluded but how many people are thinking of classical music’s history of exclusion and elitism while America burns?

    I live in a large city and sometimes go to the Opera and while there certainly are snobs who dress up to look important, a lot of people where whatever because that’s who they are and ultimately they are there to enjoy the music.

    On the other hands I know there where and probably still is racism among elite Musical institutions which is maybe something they should have addressed instead.

  27. jezgrove
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Lelchuk’s final sentences (in the extract above; in the penultimate paragraph in his own piece) say it all: “And if Beethoven’s 5th makes Sloan and Harding imagine the world’s people of color crushed under western jackboots, perhaps that’s something they might like to work on privately. Don’t blame the music.”

  28. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    I just happened to read a business statement on “modern slavery”. I was struck by this – certainly, there are products being manufactured somewhere by use of forced labor. I was aware of this, but set amid the discussions of the past week (at least), it strikes me that there must be some measure of how urgent such a problem is – some economization of effort to solve such a clear, well defined problem.

    Is this article doing work to solve the serious, modern problem of slavery? Or is it unrelated to the topic of “race”?

  29. Posted September 21, 2020 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Sounds to me that Woke writers have an algorithmic procedure for writing an article.

    1) Choose a well-known historical figure, preferably from the enlightenment period.

    2) Find something said person said or did that does not comport with contemporary woke ideology. Failing that, find someone else connected to said person, no matter how vaguely, who said or did something the woke can carp about.

    3) Write article demeaning said person, his accomplishments (said person is almost certainly male) and his period and people who inhabited it. Relate to slavery if at all possible.

    4) Pat oneself and other woke ideologues on the back for being morally wise, and if possible relate article conclusions to some ethnic group or issue.

    5) Rinse and repeat.

    • John Nunes
      Posted September 21, 2020 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      Recall the postmodern generator…

  30. Posted September 21, 2020 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    My brain hurts. I will console myself by telling myself that this is a very-long-game parody, or sociological experiment, and that the reveal will come in the distant future. I mean, nobody could possibly be that stupid <– (he said, uttering a sentence that has been wrong every other time it was affirmed in the past)

  31. Steve Pollard
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Those who can create, do create. Those who can’t, criticise those who can.

    An Assistant Professor of Musicology and a Music Journalist, indeed! And what have they managed between them to create that might stand in the same concert-hall – or even in the same universe – as the most minor works of Beethoven? Such hubris. They seem determined, now that they have manufactured a reason for not liking Beethoven’s music, to insist that the rest of us should stop liking it too. Well, they can just f*** off sideways.

    • jezgrove
      Posted September 21, 2020 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

      “Well, they can just f*** off sideways” – there’s no need to be so crabby!

  32. veroxitatis
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Yes, jeans for me too; even shirts for some Summer lunchtime recitals. Not too much of that in this year of lockdown I’m afraid.

    • veroxitatis
      Posted September 21, 2020 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

      shorts, even!

    • dom
      Posted September 22, 2020 at 3:14 am | Permalink

      Not many concert-goers dress to impress any more. Even at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden…

      Remember concerts?!

  33. Posted September 21, 2020 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Beethoven was deaf to the cries and pleas of the less fortunate.

    Oh, wait a minute. Beethoven was deaf to everything.

  34. veroxitatis
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    How can a work such as the 132 and, in particular, the 3rd. movement thereof ( The Holy Thanksgiving ) which speaks with such a depth of perception of the universality of suffering be labelled ‘ elitist ‘. That is a contradiction of terms.

  35. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    The question is, what distinguishes the argumentation on display in this ludicrous article from the argumentation in any other piece where racism, othering, skin color, etc. are proposed to operate in the piece?

  36. Roo
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    Apologies to the authors for the harsh tone, but this is pure projection. Let’s take this segment:

    “Polite society” first emerged as a set of cultural standards developed during the mid-18th century as bourgeois class signifiers. In Beethoven’s time, new social etiquette extended into the concert hall.

    Today, some aspects of classical culture are still about policing who’s in and who’s out. When you walk into a standard concert hall, there’s an established set of conventions and etiquette (“don’t cough!”; “don’t cheer!”; “dress appropriately!”) that can feel as much about demonstrating belonging as appreciating the music.

    and change a few words, to see if it rings true:

    ““Woke society” first emerged as a set of cultural standards developed during the 21st century as bourgeois class signifiers. In Vox’s time, new social etiquette extended into critiquing the concert hall.

    Some aspects of Woke culture are about policing who’s in and who’s out. When you walk into a standard concert hall, there’s an established set of conventions and etiquette (“don’t clap!”; “silent applause!”; “roll your eyes at Beethoven!”) that can feel as much about demonstrating belonging as appreciating the music.”

  37. Oliver S.
    Posted September 21, 2020 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    Look, it’s simple: According to critical race theory (which is part of wokeism), racism is everywhere and everywhen in white culture; therefore, it’s in Beethoven’s music too.

  38. Posted September 22, 2020 at 2:35 am | Permalink

    Jeans? Goodness prof. Whatdidya wear to the opera? Jamies?

    D.A., NYC
    😉

  39. Posted September 22, 2020 at 3:08 am | Permalink

    Those people are morons – what is more they are picking on people who are deaf or have hearing loss by picking on Beethoven. I am not a particular Beethoven fan – I prefer post 1850s or pre 1750s approx, but he was a fantastic composer, probably second only to JS Bach in how he is regarded. No one gives a toss what those idiots think.

    The problems of elitism & inclusion stem from education. If children from ethnic minorities are given the same opportunities to learn instruments from a young age, they will learn to appreciate classical music as all children will. Tastes differ of course thank goodness, so People end up in different places.

  40. Oliver S.
    Posted September 22, 2020 at 5:06 am | Permalink

    I’m not one of the Woke, but let’s be friendly and do some “decolonization” of classical music here with David Hurwitz’ talk about works by three Afro-American composers—two men, one woman:

    (If you don’t want to watch the whole video, in which he talks about other composers too, you can fast-forward to 10:00.)

    The works:

    * William Grant Still: Afro-American Symphony (1930)

    * William Dawson: Negro Folk Symphony (1934)

    * Florence Beatrice Price: Symphonies 1&4 (1932&1945)

    By the way, Hurwitz’ YouTube channel on classical music is great and the best in the Internet, being both highly entertaining and highly informative:

    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSf-Xx-OHoEE-QVmOAhHqVg/videos

    I cannot recommend it enough! And he has a cat called Pipo (to be seen in some of his videos).

    • Oliver S.
      Posted September 22, 2020 at 5:41 am | Permalink

      Cats are important, so here’s Hurwitz’ cat Pipo herself performing John Cage’s famous silent 4:33:


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