Is Beethoven too “pale, male, and stale” for these times, oppressing more diverse composers?

December 29, 2020 • 10:45 am

In September I reported on the movement to disenfranchise Beethoven, trying to reduce his hegemony in classical music because he’s white and dominant and that in itself is oppressive. This was expressed most invidiously in a Vox piece by two chowderheads, “How Beethoven’s 5th Symphony put the classism in classical music.” It’s pretty predictable, containing stuff like this:

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.

It might be, but I doubt it. These people surely have more important things to worry about. What’s being done to Beethoven by this clowder of chowderheads is symptomatic of the disdain for merit that is part of Wokeness. But don’t get me started.

Since it’s the 250th anniversary of Ludwig’s birth, these “cancel Beethoven” pieces have become more numerous. They complain not only about his dominance in the concert hall, but about how “policing” of classical music in general has led to rules like not clapping between movements. Such practices are said to be elitist and exclusionary, though I’m not sure who’s excluded. And in these times, the fact that Beethoven is seen as the brightest star in the musical galaxy, combined with the fact that he was white, old, and a male, is reason enough to go after him. (He was only 38 when he wrote the Fifth, but that was old then!)

Now the question of Beethoven Oppression arises again, this time at Varsity, the independent student newspaper of the University of Cambridge. The author, James Mitchell, is much concerned with diversity, and has also challenged chapel choirs and church music in general for not being sufficiently diverse.

Surprisingly, the answer to Mitchell’s title question below is “no,” but not for the reasons you think (i.e., that maybe Beethoven wrote good music). Click screenshot to read:

First, Mitchell poses the question, reprising a few licks that the Woke have given Ludwig lately:

In light of the recent #MeToo and BLM movements, Beethoven’s symbolic nature as the potentially prototypical ‘pale, male and stale’ composer has become ever more prominent. The feminist musicologist Susan McClary infamously compared the recapitulation in his Ninth Symphony to “the throttling murderous rage of a rapist incapable of attaining release”. Is it therefore time to throw the whole man out? If we ‘cancelled’ Beethoven, wouldn’t that eventually result in a more diverse, inclusive and accessible classical music scene?

(Do have a look at that link to the “Beethoven rape controversy”.) At any rate, the appeal of Beethoven is imputed to critics who touted his music in the twentieth century, not to the ears of concertgoers, and yet, says Mitchell, that appeal itself reduces diversity:

Beethoven’s central musical status has grown even into the 21st century. The question of “Was Beethoven Black?” keeps resurfacing over 100 years after being first proposed. He was the most performed composer in America in 2019-20, with over double the number of performances of Mozart (the second most performed). Being a guaranteed ticket-seller and donor pleaser, he keeps reappearing in concert programmes to the exclusion of other, more diverse composers. In the neo-liberal world, where audiences prefer the familiar, such attitudes to programming are unlikely to change unless there is a mass cultural boycott (i.e. ‘cancelling’) of composers like Beethoven.

Mitchell doesn’t explain what he means by “other, more diverse composers”, but you can bet he doesn’t mean French or Finnish ones.  In fact, Mitchell doesn’t favor a boycott of Beethoven, though he seems surprised that some people like his music:

Is this therefore the way forward? Well, not really. Notwithstanding that some people actually like Beethoven’s music, the problems classical music faces are more deeply rooted than just a single composer. The nationalist and colonialist appropriation of classical music by Wagner and others, with its attached racism and sexism, is part of its history. More problematic is the argument posed by musicologist Anna Bull: “Classical music requires the exclusionary practices described earlier [in her chapter] in order to demonstrate how it is different from other genres”.

According to Bull’s theory, removing Beethoven from the scene would only result in a different ‘pale, male and stale’ composer (e.g. Mozart) taking his symbolic place. Sustaining these exclusions, Bull argues, protects “classical music’s special status as ‘legitimate’ and its concomitant high levels of public investment”. Removing Beethoven would therefore not fundamentally change this situation.

In fact, it could make it worse. Music, particularly classical music, is fundamentally intertwined with politics as the recent Rule, Britannia row shows. Such an overtly political move as cancelling Beethoven would generate tension and a possible loss in ticket revenue from the right-wing audience (which has happened before with Beethoven). In a world of limited arts funding, with coronavirus having hit classical music hard, any drop in revenue could lead to organisations relying even more on other bankable hits, leading to a greater exclusion of more diverse composers. To cancel Beethoven could potentially work against its intended goal; while this view may be slightly speculative, it must at least be taken into account.

Read the second link about the loss in ticket revenue “which has happened before with Beethoven”. That link is intellectually dishonest, because the loss in ticket sales is very likely due to factors other than politics and Brexiteers boycotting a German composer. But the upshot of Mitchell’s argument is that canceling Beethoven might cause everybody to stay away from the concert halls, leading to even more exclusion of “diverse composers.”

Mitchell concludes that “every way forward is problematic”. If you cancel Beethoven, you cancel more “diverse” composers. At least he has the sense to realize that there are side effects of cancelling stuff that people like.

Now I’m not a classical music expert, but it’s possible that Beethoven’s hegemony is due not to his promotion by influential critics in the 20th century, nor to aversion to “diverse” composers, but rather aversion to modern classical music.  I’m not your average concert goer, but I do listen to classic music on occasion, and I have to say that my own personal liking—the music that moves me emotionally—ends with people like Ravel. The modern stuff leaves me cold. I guess it does to other people too, which is why it’s leavened in concerts with older and more familiar pieces. Yes, I’m a philistine, and I’m sure some readers will say that there are a lot of good classical musicians out there as good as Beethoven, but they’re simply not appreciated.  There are modern Beethovens, they’ll say, but they haven’t yet found their feet due to the “shock of the new.”

I can speak only for me, but I’ll suggest, as I have before, that, like rock and roll, classical music has had a good run, but it’s producing works that no longer appeal. And it’s not just because people haven’t learned to appreciate it.  But much of the old stuff is still good, and, like jazz buffs who return to Charlie Parker, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington, the new stuff doesn’t swing. It’s not a diversity problem, but a modernity problem.

Now have at me!

100 thoughts on “Is Beethoven too “pale, male, and stale” for these times, oppressing more diverse composers?

    1. I’m willing to bet that people will be listening to Ludwig van hundreds of years after his critics have long been forgotten, including people like Susan McClary (why does she even have a wikipedia page?).

    2. When I read that, the first thing I thought of was Olde Frothingslosh Beer from Pittsburgh in the 70s: “The Pale Stale Ale with the foam on the bottom”

  1. I have been a concert goer for almost 45 years. Unlike Dr. Coyne, I love atonal music including Anton Webern and late Stravinsky.

    Beethoven is held in awe for a simple reason: his music is phenomenal and ranges in just about every form, including opera…Fidelio, his great opera about freedom and individual rights.

    There is such zeal to destroy giants of music and literature. Almost as if the clearing of the great was meant as a way to make the new and mediocre appear stronger. It’s a “benchmarking” trick.

    BTW, if you subscribe to the NYTimes, read this column by its chief classical music critic. He essentially argues that concertgoers should be happy to accept diminished quality of performance if onstage you see diversity….that the diversity is intrinsic to quality. Never mind what your ears tell you.

      1. blind auditions came into vogue after feminists bellyached that women musicians were being discriminated against because the audition panels could see who the player was and had a tendency to prefer male musicians, out of ingrained sexism. If we now go back to the old way where the selection panel can see who the applicant is will that now take us back to the bad old days of selection based on gender (and now race)? BTW exactly who are these “diverse” composers being shut out by big bad Beethoven. No names come readily to mind. If one wants to hear music by other “diverse” composers it is easily found. There is room for all.

    1. … the diversity is intrinsic to quality. Never mind what your ears tell you.

      To quote Mark Twain’s wisecrack about Wagner, some music’s better than it sounds. 🙂

    1. Right. And you don’t have to think of sexual metaphors while you listen to it. You can listen to it as pure music, bereft of any sort of story. I always find the opening bars of the 9th to be frightening, but that doesn’t mean I think Sauron is coming.

      As for McLary, I can’t find words to express my utter disdain for such silliness. Who is paying these people to write this crap?

        1. Wait… you’re promoting three dead white males, when there are plenty of _______(s) who could be elevated to funniness, if only those guys hadn’t oppressed them by existing?

          Shame on you, Sir!

  2. I would add someone like Copeland to bring in a more recent composer that I like. Otherwise the classical music that reaches the widest range of audiences is the movie score. These can have strong melodies, of course, but I’m not sure which ones can stand alone divorced from their cinematic purpose.

    And this might be a part of the modernity problem: The most able composers might be drawn to making money in Hollywood, leaving very serious intellectuals to compose the most serious orchestral music. These folks might be very able musically, but not so able when it comes to writing music that really captures the imagination of wide audiences.

    With regards to rock and roll and jazz, I’m not sure why these have run out of steam. It does seem to be a problem that popular music faces over and over again going back at least to ragtime. It’s like they just run out of primal inspiration to write original music that captures the spirit of the times. (I’m no musicologist, in case this isn’t already obvious!)

    1. “I would add someone like Copeland to bring in a more recent composer that I like. Otherwise the classical music that reaches the widest range of audiences is the movie score. These can have strong melodies, of course, but I’m not sure which ones can stand alone divorced from their cinematic purpose . . . .”

      I think Ferde Grofe’s “Grand Canyon Suite,” for example, worthy of membership in the classical canon. Also, I suggest another piece can stand alone – Jerry Goldsmith’s “The Enterprise” from the film “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” (The film’s pacing – and its differing appeal to different viewers – is an entirely separate subject from its musical score.)

      “With regards to rock and roll and jazz, I’m not sure why these have run out of steam. It does seem to be a problem that popular music faces over and over again . . . they just run out of primal inspiration to write original music that captures the spirit of the times.”

      Apparently, CardiB’s “WAP” captures the spirit of the times, according to the Tuesday, 12/29/2020 print NY Times. Obviously a wonderful tune for children and grandmothers. (Sarcasm, lest anyone wonder.)

      But, what do I know? I’m not a NY Times arts critic.

  3. Hell, *music* itself should be cancelled—look at the intrinsic elitism: those who are unable to read notes, play an instrument or carry a tune are excluded from not only classical music but the upper ranks of *any* kind of music. It’s just not good enough—and the same thing goes, mutatis mutandis, for the fine arts, for science, for *anything*. Cancel them all!

    But wait… doesn’t that sound a bit familiar? It should: after all these decades of vilifying Mao, Pol Pot and various other tyrants for trying to level society down to agricultural illiteracy by murdering, imprisoning or ‘re-educating’ anyone who wasn’t a peasant laborer, we really should give credit where it’s due—they were the original exponents of Woke thinking who showed us just what it leads to….

  4. I am a fan of classical symphonies, particularly Haydn, as well as early Rock and Roll and Mississippi Blues. Those are some of the genres I enjoy listening to. I don’t understand how pushing more diversity would change that. I choose to listen to music I find pleasing to my ear, not specific to the artist, diverse or otherwise.

  5. One thing is that the “woke” do not seem to realize that there are a lot of progressives who love classical music, and it does not stop us from loving many other types of music.. They also do not dream that composers (Beethoven in particular) were often outsiders and bohemians, and that some (Beethoven in particular) were progressives, even radicals for their time. They also do not have a clue that many people in many parts of the world see the 9th symphony as a celebration of freedom. Enough Orwellian cancel culture!

  6. “… the disdain for merit that is part of Wokeness” – Yes! Thank you, PCC(E), for putting your finger on what’s wrong with Wokeness. When I read about Woke attitudes/demands, all I can think is a not very erudite “but that’s stupid”.
    As to the classical problem, it’s not a problem – the classics are classics because they are Great. Who do you want to make room for, Salieri? (Actually, he seemed like a solid composer, just not soaring.) If other good composers (writers/painters/etc.) arrive, they can stand or fall on their own merits without artificial breaks like the Soviet’s and Mao’s Cultural Revolutions (which, so far as I know, produced nothing good). I don’t follow the current scene, but it seems to me that in future some reggae, rap, hip-hop and even heavy metal will be considered Classics.

    1. Who do you want to make room for, Salieri?

      They want to make room for 20-yr-old composers whose music has merit because they are black or disabled (or some other “marginalised” identity) rather than because their music has merit.

      in future … even heavy metal will be considered Classics.

      It already is!

      1. “in future … even heavy metal will be considered Classics.

        It already is!”

        Well, speaking of the film “Heavy Metal” (1981), I consider Elmer Bernstein’s “Taarna Forever” theme a stand-alone worthy of inclusion in a modern day classical canon.

      1. I just finished reading Craig Brown’s new book about the Beatles (One Two Three Four:The Beatles in Time). On the last page he quotes the philosopher and politician Bryan Magee from February 1967: “Does anyone seriously believe that Beatles music will be an unthinkingly accepted part of daily life in the 2000s?”

  7. Recently this website posted a serious examination of someone whose dream was destroyed because she said the “N…” word in an old video. She was not a N. It would not have been useful for cancelling if she had been an N — it would have been “cool.”

    [I would have typed the full word. I should have typed the full word. I would appreciate knowing if I would be banned or the post removed if I had typed the full word.]

    Meanwhile, the racist, ageist remark made by the person in question, and echoed in quotes in the title of this post, is deemed non-controversial to declare in print and echo out in the open, with no fear.

    Deploying this ugly differential deserves some new type of “ist.” I suggest “cancelist,” meaning a vicious slur that slays one’s object of hate based on the principle of unrestricted warfare between non-intersecting cohorts..

    It can only work if the culture goes along with group-think. It should be opposed by saying “That’s cancelist, Please apologize.”

  8. Another instantiation of the arrant madness of conflating politics and art. It’s bad enough when the artist is still alive (and, for the record, I still listen to my Van Morrison sides, mask or no mask, and still appreciate the performances of Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy and Coming Home, and of James Woods in The Onion Field and Once Upon a Time in America and Another Day in Paradise notwithstanding their repugnant support for Donald Trump).

    But when the artist is dead? The fuck’s it matter what the artist’s politics or personality were? The art stands or falls on its own strength, tout court.

    1. What year was that Montreux concert? Love most of Van’s music, though some albums were a bit heavy on the organ for my taste (forgotten the name of the organist.)

      Ludwig’s the bee’s knees!! Heard a fantastic 9th last year, sitting in the cheap seats right behind the chorus (Freude schöner Götterfunken, Tochter aus Elysiuuuuuum🎶)

      1. He played at the Montreux jazz fest numerous times, but I think this one’s 2016. I love the way he kicks it off on sax with a jazzed-up version of “Moondance,” with a mid-tune break for a few bars of Miles’s “So What.”

        1. Yes, very cool sax. I didn’t catch the Miles. Thanks! Love Moondance in any iteration.
          The organist’s name just popped into my head: Georgie Fame. For me a little goes a long way.

    2. Perhaps music should stand on its merits alone… and yet I can’t remember when I last heard a Gary Glitter (very popular glam rock songs) after he was imprisoned for downloading child pornography in 1999, and child sexual abuse and attempted rape in 2006 and 2015.

      Are there acceptable forms of cancellation? I don’t know the answer.

  9. There are two things going on here: a) the idea of “canceling” Beethoven and b) the state of modern composers.

    As to the first, that’s stupid (if there’s anything dumber I’ll read to day about the alleged “rape” aspect in Beethoven’s Ninth symphony, I don’t know what it will be).

    As to the second, there are plenty of composers who write in accessible, not-atonal style. One couldn’t say this a few decades ago, but there has been a return to tonality for many composers. Now, as to whether these composers will get traction is another matter. It’s unfortunate that the experience of listening to orchestral music is like attending an aural museum, where one only wants to luxuriate in the “classics.” Well, in 1913 Stravinsky was having none of that with his explosive and “shocking” and still great “The Rite of Spring” (I happened to listen to Bernstein’s 1958 stereo recording of it just a few days ago. Wow, what a great work that is and will forever remain).

    The problem began with Schoenberg who developed a system of twelve-tone music, where each note has the same “weight” as others. It was all music in the head, an idea to release music from supposedly worn-out clichés of the Romantic era. True, Schoenberg got some Romantic mileage of out “Verklarte Nacht” (“Transfigured Night”) from 1899, which remains one of the most gorgeous works written by anybody. But Schoenberg soon decided that music needed a new system, and so he came up with his dodecaphonic method (twelve-tone music). As a means to add flavor to music, the twelve-tone approach can be a nice spice, but when used as a basis for an entire work, the music fails (Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto from 1942 is unlistenable to me).

    Now, while there was a hegemony of sorts here, with twelve-tone Austrian/German music taking over the concerts or at least being pushed on listeners, tonality never went away. Listen to a Martinu’s First Symphony from the same year as Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto. It’s all tonal but clearly modern because of certain angularities and harmonies. I love it. And some years earlier, you have Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony from 1914. It’s probably the best of Nielsen’s six symphonies. True, 1914 means that Ravel was still around, but my point is that the twelve-tone method, which began to take hold in the first decade of the 20th century, didn’t take hold for everyone. For example, from 1926, you have Sibelius’s final orchestral work called “Tapiola” (from Wikipedia: “Tapiola portrays Tapio, the animating forest spirit mentioned throughout the Kalevala”). Apart from a small number of short and inconsequential works in the late 1920s, Sibelius went silent for the next thirty years, that is, in terms of composing music for a big canvas, so to speak. What happened? How come? Nobody knows.

    Now, post-Ravel, there are too many accessible composers and works to mention. Britten’s “Simple Symphony,” from 1934, will offend no one. And then there’s Bartok. While his string quartets can be tough going, you gotta love “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta” from 1936 (whoops: Ravel had one more year to live). Bartok’s “Concerto for Orchestra,” from 1943, is also great. And how about Shostakovich? Although some of his fifteen symphonies are a mixed bag (some because of a need to please Stalin), his Fifth and Tenth symphonies, from 1937 and 1953, respectively, are keepers. Other symphonists that I like include some Brits, particularly Alwyn and Rubbra. For something more austere (but not atonal!), there’s Ligeti. He became generally famous because of Stanley Kubrick. If you dare to check out Ligeti, “Lontano” is a good place to start “Atmospheres” is another compelling work). I’m also crazy for Ligeti’s piano Etudes. Some are “difficult” (but not atonal), none are pretty (in the conventional sense of the word), but I love these pieces. I saw the other day that the English pianist Danny Driver has recorded all 18 of them. That CD will be released next year, and I intend to get it (even though I already have a complete recording by Fredrick Ullén). As for other piano music, how could I forget Prokofiev? Go to YouTube and look for Yuja Wang’s performance of “Toccata.” Also, her performance of the third movement of Prokoviev’s Seventh Piano Sonata, “Precipitato,” also on YouTube, is a hoot.

    Finally, for living composers check out “Phantasmagoria” (1992) by Corigiliano. Adès’s Piano Concerto (from 2018!) is a really strong work. I can see that becoming a concert staple if listeners would only open their ears a little bit. John Pickard has also written an accessible Piano Concerto (from 2000), and perhaps the most popular and best-selling CD from recent years by a living composer is Tabula Rasa by Arvo Pärt on the ECM label. This music is tonal but austere and often slow and meditative. I like it (though I’ve heard some other things by Pärt that I don’t care for, mainly due to his religious sensibilities). And then there’s John Adams, who has moved away from his Minimalism and has written some attractive works (not to be confused with John Luther Adams’s swirling and mesmerizing “Become Ocean,” which won the Pulitzer Prize a few years ago).

    I could go on but won’t. I’m tired and you’re tired from reading this.

  10. Here’s another argument for favoring the classics (in whatever genre). There has been time for the cream to rise and the dross to settle. Beethoven certainly had many contemporaries who are all but forgotten. If you listen to contemporary stuff, that has not happened so you are likely to hear a lot of trash.

  11. Who needs Beethoven if we have Bach? (and Handel, Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Teleman, Soler, Charpentier, etc etc)
    I think Baroque rocks (forgive me).
    Of course there is a lot of other great music, the ‘Cathedrals of Music’ that Bruckner built, or many others, from Satie to Franco or Simpiwe Dana, not to mention the classical music of eg. India and China.
    I think their premise, that Beethoven has some kind of hegemony, is wobbly at best. I’d say that, listening to the radio, R&B comes closest to some minor kind of hegemony.

  12. Incidentally, quite a substantial earthquake a few hours ago in Croatia. Strongest for several hundred years (obviously pre-dating instrumental records), and that isn’t a good recipe for strong building codes.
    Interesting couple of fore-shocks 30 hours before this main shock. That’s not common, and is attracting the interest of seismologists.

  13. I guess what Jerry dislikes is Stockhausen type ‘plink plonk’ music, but that was a necessary exploration of music for concert halls as Einstürzende Neubauten was for ‘rock’ band music.

    However drawing the line at Ravel, who died in 1937, misses out masses of fabulous 20th century music. With a European bias – what I know –
    Richard Strauss, Sibelius, Vaughan Williams, Rachmaninoff, Charles Ives, Schoenberg, Bloch, Bartok, Kodaly, Grainger, Stravinsky, Martinů, Prokofiev, Howells, Hindemith, Poulenc, Copland, Walton, Kachaturian, Tippett, Shostakovich, Messiaen, Barber, Britten, Lutosławski, Panufnik, Bernstein, Arnold, Ligeti, Boulez, Morricone, Rautavaara, Goldsmith, Williams etc etc!

    1. Not sure how the execrable Boulez made your list. Tippett? Meh (the Piano Concerto is pretty good as is “Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli”). Howells? Yes. As for other Brits, I would mention Alwyn and Rubbra. Also, Finzi and Delius.

      1. Finzi: absolutely! And Delius, although he actually died before Ravel. And Ivor Gurney, the inspiration for so many English songwriters, including Finzi, and who died two days before Ravel in 1937.

    2. Some greats in there, both to listen to and to play (Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto is my favorite work ever after having played in an orchestra that performed it. I was NOT the soloist, just in the middle of the cello section).

      But I never could figure out what it was about Three Oranges that Prokofiev loved so much…

    3. I didn’t mean to draw a strict temporal line at Ravel. I like Richard Strauss a lot, as well as some of the other you list. What I was trying to say is what you said: I DO NOT LIKE STOCKHAUSEN MUSIC or atonal music or however many minutes of silence.

      1. I’d recommend Alban Berg’s violin concerto as a wonderful piece that weaves in and out through tonality and atonality to astonishing effect. Very emotional indeed.

      1. Most people know Erik Satie from soap commercials but a lot of his stuff was excellent. And if you wikipedia him you’ll find out he was a seriously bonkers guy. Of all the musicians I’d have at my fantasy dinner party he’d be Invite #1. He’d probably make me serve the meal on the ceiling as a condition of his attendance though. Seriously bonkers musical *genius*.

  14. I very much support diversity.

    It seems to me that there is a lot of diversity in music. Some of us enjoy classical music, which includes the works of Beethoven. Allowing classical music is part of that diversity.

  15. And speaking of diversity William Grant Still is heavily played currently. Sometimes I think he’s played only because of his ethnicity but quite frankly his music is musical. And he’s quite recent. Died in75.
    I have decided that there’s music in most venues I like and don’t like. Don’t forget John Williams.

    1. “Don’t forget John Williams.”

      And John Barry, among at least a score of other most worthy film score composers.

  16. It’s good to know that some people aren’t distracted by frivolous matters — like the fact that millions of people have died from a viral pandemic that is still increasing in frequency (after all, there are vaccines now, so what’s the big deal?). or a president who has toyed with utterly disregarding the Constitution of the United States, which is still the most dangerous world military power, or the severing of the UK from the EU and those trivial little consequences that process might entail, to say nothing of the evanescent problem of climate change, and the numerous piddling little crises all around the developing world, or the flash-in-the-pan issues with China’s political repression, to name just a few of the things these fashion victims go on about — but are strong and (dare I say?) WOKE enough to turn their attention to things that TRULY matter, like the fact of Beethoven’s dominance in classical music and why it might be “problematic” to diversity, intersectionality, and Theory because he was, after all white and male.

  17. I agree that those who denigrate LvB because he was a white European male are chowderheads (I would use a stronger term); and that there are dozens of post-Ravel composers worth listening to.

    On diversity: Radio 3, the BBC’s channel for serious music, has for the past year or so been making an effort to play more music written by women or non-white composers (and has come in for a certain amount of flak as a result). The way to improve diversity is not to cancel the likes of LvB but to encourage other members of society to become composers.

    On unacceptable attitudes: should we respond to Wagner’s antisemitism by refusing to listen to his music? I don’t personally care for it that much; I tend to agree with Rossini, who is alleged to have said ‘Wagner has some wonderful moments, but some dreadful quarters of an hour’. But he still has a huge loyal following. What about other dubious cases such as Carl Orff?

    And PCC(E)’s thoughts lead me on to one of my favourite dinner-party subjects: what are your ‘blind spots’ in music? One of mine is Mahler: I really find myself resistant to what I see as his incontinent emotional (and religiose) blackmail. Please don’t respond by saying that you love Mahler: I’m well aware that lots of people do. But it is amusing to find out other people’s musical ‘blind spots’, and to find out why they have them.

    1. I haven’t thought about the question of blind spots, but it’s intriguing. I don’t know if I have any very large blind spots…I even enjoy some hard hip-hop when it’s good (Snoop, some Tupac, etc.). There are certainly composers and musicians whose work I don’t care for, but I don’t know that I’d call that a blind spot.

      But as cellist, who played a part with two measures (eight notes) repeating 52 times in a row (if memory serves) in a string quartet, while the violins and the viola played some great, exciting, wildly varying, fun stuff, I think Pachelbel’s Canon in D needs to pay some kind of forfeit.

      1. Thanks. What I was trying to get at was the sort of ‘blind spot’ where you really can’t understand why a particular composer is so popular. I’m sure my resistance to Mahler is an adverse reflection on me; but that doesn’t make it any less real!

        1. I think it’s time for so-called progressives to throttle back on their appalling racism, sexism and ageism and just listen to a composer’s music, or read an author’s book, or attend a playwright’s play and just accept the work for its quality, its message and its effect. In the future people will wonder why on earth we gave these progressive louts so much leeway but they will still be listening to Beethoven, Mozart, Bruckner and all the rest that have been mentioned here.

          They should especially reflect deeply and stop accusing the rest of us of their own crimes.

    2. Radio 3 … has for the past year or so been making an effort to play more music written by women or non-white composers

      Out of interest, is it any good? (Asking as someone who listens to Classic FM but rarely stretches to Radio 3.) PS I agree with you on Mahler.

      1. They’ve given a fair hearing to the likes of Barbara Strozzi, Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, Amy Beach, Ethel Smyth, Lily Boulanger, Thea Musgrave (still composing at the age of 92) and Judith Weir (current Master of the Queen’s Music). Yes, a lot of it is every bit as good as the stuff being written by most of their male contemporaries. And a lot of it isn’t. There have been times when I’ve felt they’ve been scraping the barrel.

        Non-white composers…not so much. Coleridge-Taylor, of course; but I’m not aware of too many others to have featured. I was hoping to hear something from Kaikhosru Sorabji, especially his piano piece Opus Clavicembalisticum (playing time 4-4.5 hours), but if they’ve played it, I’ve missed it.

    3. A character in “Gravity’s Rainbow”, taking place at the end of WWII, claims that when you listen to Rossini you fell like making love, but when you listen to Wagner (I think) you feel like invading Poland. That said I love Wagner’s music. Leonard Bernstein said that he execrated Wagner … on bended knee.

    4. Some years ago I remember some symphony conductor holding forth (on “60 Minutes”?) on the virtues of Mahler and pooh-poohing Tchaikovsky’s music as “too ornamental” (triangles, bells, – celesta? – etc.). From my perhaps plebeian, Philistine, uninformed perspective, Tchaikovsky has more glorious, memorable melodies.

    5. My blind spots are:

      – jazz

      – Van Morison

      – Genesis

      There are other categories where I don’t “get” most of the music, but those three above are the ones that I actually regret not getting.

  18. Should Usain Bolt have been cancelled because when he ran, he prevented others from winning. Where were the diversity defenders then?

    Oh, this is a music thread. Belonging to the “know what I like but can’t explain why” school of music enthusiasts, I can’t intelligently defend Beethoven’s preeminence, especially as I prefer Baroque.

    More worryingly, am I guilty of cultural appropriation when about 90% of my music listening these days is on Youtube to Chinese/Mongolian/Tibetan music, but I’m of 100% European origin? Does this listening mean I’ve met my diversity quota? I can identify which performances of Moonlight Flowers on a Spring River or Rain on Jiang Nan or Sun Quan the Emperor etc I like the most, but can’t give musically informed reasons and only very rarely explain the cultural context.

  19. I listen to a lot off jazz and blues, at least 80%<by black artists. I don't hear any calls for cancelling Charley Parker or Koko Taylor, thank ceiling cat. It's as if the Wokies are poring through the lives of every famous "white" person, looking fot the merest transgression, seeking whom they may devour.

  20. I am a retired classically trained musician, and spent 6 years at a well known music conservatory. I’ve always felt that if a piece of music is heard and listened to through the years, that makes it good music. It doesn’t matter what the genre is, or who wrote it, if it pleases enough people that it continues to live on, it’s good music. I listen to all kinds of music, some I listen to only once, other types stay with me and I continue to listen them. Beethoven must still speak to many of us because he is still performed. Regarding the article, I will just quote Louis Armstrong; “There is some people who if they don’t know, you can’t tell ‘em.”

    1. Perhaps at the risk of commenting too much and violating “Da Roolz,” I’m reminded of Duke Ellington’s dictum (via P.D.Q. Bach – Professor Peter Schickele): “If it sounds good, it IS good!”

  21. I suspect that some people (usually the younger generation) hate classical music because they have short attention spans. They can’t concentrate long enough to listen to a twenty-minute symphony. They’d rather hear a three-minute rap song with a simple, repetitive beat that doesn’t challenge their expectations or make any mental demands on them.

  22. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 is one of the most gorgeous pieces of music ever created. The final movement can bring tears to my eyes when I’m in a certain mood. The people who write this garbage don’t care if something is great; they only care if it furthers their political agenda.

    “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.”

    Who the hell is this author even taking about? Like the “feminist musicoligist” who claims the Ninth is similar to what a rapist sounds like (shades of the “academic” who claimed that Newton’s Pricipia Mathematica was a “rape manual”), this is just more garbage on which to build a larger heap of supposedly intellectual/academic garbage in the name of “progressivism.” None of this is “progress.” This BS is the antithesis of progress. This BS is the promotion of clearly false accusations based on the race the artist in question.

  23. “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.”

    That would be news to all the women, gay men and ‘people of color’ I see at classical music concerts …

    1. Not to mention all the women, LGBTQ+ people, and people of color who are among the working musicians in the orchestras and choruses that perform classical music.

  24. Peter Schickele (PDQ Bach) used to quote Duke Ellington when starting his broadcast: “If it sounds good it IS good”. If Aarvo Part sounds good to people, so be it. If Beethoven sounds good, so be it. But let’s face it: all this stuff about white males is NOT about white males. It’s about western civilization. It’s about extraordinary creativity in music, painting, literature, architecture, dance. And there’s nothing an uncultured uneducated philistine hates more than finding out he/she has nothing to contribute. Anyway, ask most professional classical musicians who they think is the greatest composer in history. I’ll wager that a good number say Bach and the rest say Beethoven (where I put my money even though he is not my FAVORITE!). You dont even need to listen to the late quartets or symphonies, just check out any of his piano sonatas. Beethoven just about filled in all the cracks. He explored all the possibilities in these sonatas alone. They are all great…but my favorite composer is Brahms, the king of craftsmanship…and Wagner a close second. Their genius cant be explained so dont try. Just listen. Desert island choice for me: opera: Meistersinger. piano: Schumann piano suites;
    chamber music: Brahms String Sextet in G. Songs: Schumann. Western classical music is IMHO the highest form of artistic expression ever. But I still love the Beatles! My composer-husband was sternly lectured when he taught music at Queens College and had the temerity to play a Beatles recording in class.

  25. “They complain…about how “policing” of classical music in general has led to rules like not clapping between movements”

    Well now, isn’t that just an insightful and self-aware concept, coming as it does from a “group think” that attempts to police pretty much everything in other people’s lives. Also, aren’t they supposed to be *against* clapping, because deaf, or PTSD, or whatever the BS du jour happens to be?

  26. Ironically, there is a much-debated claim, mainly on the internet, that Beethoven, like Cleopatra, was of African heritage. Quite false, I am sure, but clearly Beethoven was great enough that people from several races want to claim him.

  27. If by some catastrophe the only music we were left with were Beethoven’s last five string quartets we would be only a little impoverished. The 3rd movement of the 132 is imho the most awesomely sublime piece of music ever written.

  28. I liked the satirical article. Especially this part, where I laughed out loud.

    According to Bull’s theory, removing Beethoven from the scene would only result in a different ‘pale, male and stale’ composer (e.g. Mozart) taking his symbolic place

    Of course, since “Classical Music” is by definition rooted in Western-Europe, created in a particular tradition, and usually even narrower, historical music (though it can mean also modern music made in that vein). It’s almost by definition music by white guys. It’s also a type of music that required a lot of talent and practice from everyone involved at a time when it was a privilege to not work the fields. It was also expensive to play, thus almost by definition an art form for elites. This is trivially true, and comedy gold to float this as speculative “theory”.

    The rest of the article must be parody, too. How can one even “cancel” a dead composer? Protests at every concert hall? Twitter storms?

    In fact, it could make it worse. Music, particularly classical music, is fundamentally intertwined with politics as the recent Rule, Britannia row shows

    No, it doesn’t. And it’s a dodgy move to switch to “Rule, Britannia” briefly when the article is about canceling Beethoven and then continue with such, quotation, “problems” in Beethoven, even though “Rule, Britannia” is not by him. The solution to the Rule Britannia piece is to not play overtly patriotic or nationalistic pieces, which is easy to do.

    If taken as satire, quite good article.

    1. How can one even “cancel” a dead composer?

      Problem solved! In a 1962 episode of Thriller, The Incredible Doktor Markesan, played by series host Boris Karloff. The good doctor brings back to life three colleagues who disputed his claim he had discovered the process of… bringing the dead back to life. Each night he brings them back to berate them for how wrong they were.

  29. I’m surprised Beethoven is at the top of the list of classical composers that require canceling. I mean, surely Wagner should come first because he was overtly antisemi…

    … oh wait, sorry. Never mind.

  30. There is an argument to make that the dominance of Beethoven in the programs of symphony orchestras obscures the works of lesser known composers. And I guarantee that most musical directors at these orchestras would like to do less Beethoven, if only because they don’t want to be the classical music equivalent of a golden oldies station. But patrons and donors love Beethoven, and Ludwig’s symphonies are far more likely to bring in casual audiences, especially after “Immortal Beloved” introduced legions of non-fans to his work.

    Personally, I’ve seen his 9th symphony performed three times but I’ve never gone to see a performance of a Revel, Mozart, or Handl work. That’s a sign of my lack of curiosity, sure, but also a reflection of Beethoven’s power.

  31. Decades ago, before the dawn of wokeness, I attended a gamelan performance. Basically a shadow puppet opera recounting the Marabharata (a kind of Iliad in ancient India) in court Javanese no longer spoken. Meanwhile, a predominantly Indonesian public was sauntering about, purchasing snacks, saying hello to friends… Which was, I admit, a shock to my sensibilities. But sometimes people would cheer and clap, and in other moments fall utterly silent, Fascinating… Even I, a (then not so…) old white guy, would notice a change in mood. The pace might alter, more dark vowels like oh & ooh pushed out ìh’s and eh’s, as well as a shift from (what I perceived as…) a comic to a portentous episode. Quite an adventure…

    Adventure has to do with time & motion, not with colonial pioneership. Gamelan operas surely made it to western audiences (or an esteemed genre in ‘world music’) via Dutch colonial history. But that is a half-truth at best. The verb ‘to cancel’ merits no place in art.

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