Beethoven and sickeningly stupid culture warriors

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barney
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Beethoven and sickeningly stupid culture warriors

Post by barney » Sat Dec 05, 2020 6:44 pm

From this weekend's Australian. We've seen this material before, but it's quite a good summary. Deborah Cheetham in the article has it absolutely right: we can encourage previously marginalised composers without rejecting the greats.

Roll Over Beethoven

After pulling down statues and banishing fantasy authors, cancel culture has caught up with classical music and is making a bogeyman of Beethoven, the world’s most popular composer.

This year was meant to be one of celebration for Beethoven, who was baptised (his exact date of birth is unknown) in Bonn on Dec­ember 17, 1770. The pandemic has cancelled concerts of Beethoven’s music but that hasn’t stopped attempts by academic theorists and podcasters to bring him down a notch or two. Not so much a year of exciting performances of sonatas, string quartets and symphonies, it has been the year of cancel Beethoven.

His crime? For starters, he was white and a man. He is an exemplar of the European music tradition: the “common practice” that has colonised concert halls across the world. Seen through the lens of race and gender theory, his music dominates the concert repertoire because white-male privilege and assumptions about white-male genius keep him there.
Beethoven is inescapable because his titanic imagination remade almost every genre of concert music that matters. He unleashed the expressive power of the newfangled pianoforte. The concerto and symphony in his hands became driving musical narratives of heroic struggle. In the late string quartets he opens a profound window on to the soul.
Beethoven is described in these terms because of his superlative musical achievements — and that is why the anti-Beethoven brigade wants to bring him down. In one of the loopier utterances on the subject, Slate online rebukes Beethoven for his mononym: the fact he is known by a single name, like Michelangelo or Shakespeare. It gives the pedestal of nomenclature to “straight white men at the expense of everyone else”.
Melbourne composer and Yorta Yorta woman Deborah Cheetham says the idea of cancelling Beethoven is inflammatory and ridiculous. Earlier this year, Cheetham wrote a companion piece to Beethoven’s ninth symphony and translated the Ode to Joy into Yorta Yorta for performance with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

She recognises Beethoven as one of the musical giants on whose shoulders successive generations of composers stand. “Beethoven is part of the legacy of the canon,” she says. “We do not need to cancel Beethoven to include more female composers, they are not mutually exclusive.”

Yet the attacks on Beethoven have had wide circulation. Musicologist Nate Sloan and songwriter Charlie Harding argue that Beethoven, or rather the veneration of his music, is responsible for the class-ridden, exclusionary practices of the concert hall: sit still, shut up, don’t clap until the end. In their podcast The Fifth, they discuss the opening bars of Beethoven’s fifth symphony, and the da-da-da-DUM motif that is one of the most famous sounds in all music. A conventional reading of this theme is that it represents the sound of fate knocking on the door, or that it’s Beethoven’s riposte to his encroaching deafness.

But Sloan and Harding contrive to turn this musical motto into the sound of the gate slamming shut on minorities, such as “women, LGBTQ+ people, people of colour”.

In the frontline of the academic debate about Beethoven is US music theorist Philip Ewell, who recently published an article called Beethoven was an Above-Average Composer — Let’s Leave it at That. He takes issue with the epithets routinely applied to dead white composers and their output such as “genius” and “masterwork”, which evoke slavery (master-slave) and sexism (master-mistress). To be fair, Ewell is not taking issue so much with Beethoven as with classical music’s “white racial frame” that reinforces the hierarchy of white male composers. “He (along with countless other white males) has been propped up by the white-male frame, both consciously and subconsciously, with descriptors such as genius, master and masterwork,” Ewell says.

That Beethoven is under siege from culture warriors on the left obscures the fact he was, for his era, a fairly progressive guy.

Beethoven believed passionately in liberty, equality and fraternity, and for a time thought of Napoleon as the guiding light of those ideals; he intended to dedicate his third symphony to him.

When Napoleon had himself crowned emperor, Beethoven struck out the dedication and renamed the symphony with a more generic title, Eroica (“heroic”). The ninth symphony and its Ode to Joy is stirring, triumphant music of a great humanity — not for the elite but for the “millions”.
As for Beethoven as an emblem of sexism and racism in music, two episodes of his life may dislodge the notion that he personally is to blame. Although he was disappointed in his romantic relationships and fought a bitter battle with his sister-in-law, he had enduring friendships with women. One of his best friends was Nannette Streicher, a pioneering piano-maker and businesswoman.

Another friend was virtuoso violinist George Bridgetower, who had mixed-race heritage: his father was from the West Indies. Bridgetower was the original dedicatee of a brilliant piece for violin and piano. Beethoven called it the “mulatto sonata” after his friend — a racist term but he evidently meant it affectionately.

The pair gave the first performance of the sonata but fell out soon afterwards, and Beethoven renamed the piece for another violinist, Rudolphe Kreutzer.

Richard Tognetti has long been fascinated by the story of Beethoven, Bridgetower and the work known as the Kreutzer Sonata. The artistic director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Tognetti will perform the sonata in concert next year, in his own arrangement for string orchestra, and he would very much like to rename it.

“I want to remember Bridgetower and the extraordinary story — in part because of his heritage as a biracial person, but I want to remember him as a violinist as much as I do his heritage,” Tognetti says.

Beethoven’s critics are not wrong that he dominates the repertoire. Sydney composer Ian Whitney has made an annual study of the music performed by Australian orchestras and the low rate of Australian content. Beethoven often is the most-performed composer in the repertoire and his anniversary year was no exception. Before the widespread cancellation of concerts — because of coronavirus, not culture wars — 15 to 20 per cent of the repertoire programmed by some orchestras was music by Beethoven.

There certainly is plenty of excellent and interesting concert music to listen to: by Australian composers, by women, by people whose racial heritage is not the same as Beethoven’s. But to cancel Beethoven because of his race or his sex is nonsense. His only crime is that he is popular.
Matthew Westwood
Arts Correspondent

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Re: Beethoven and sickeningly stupid culture warriors

Post by diegobueno » Sat Dec 05, 2020 7:52 pm

Beethoven is, by his prominence in the canon of classical music, an easy target, and a convenient screen on which people can project all of their own issues and concerns.

I can remember a book called Beethoven, the Man Who Freed Music by someone whose name escapes me. Freed music from what? Was music in a state of servitude at some point?

A few decades ago feminist writer Susan McClary declared the beginning of the recap in the first movement of Beethoven's 9th represents "damming up energy which finally explodes in the throttling murderous rage of a rapist incapable of attaining release."

In my experience I've known a musician friend, a devout Quaker, who condemned all of Beethoven's middle period music for being "heroic", that is, glorifying warfare and war heroes.

I think we can fill in the blanks for the name of avant-garde enthusiasts who declare Beethoven as representative of the revolutionary genius who was ahead of his time yet later shown to be a genius [therefore implying that the avant-gardist of his choice should also be regarded in the same way].

My position is that music has no meaning other than that which the listener supplies it with. This is one of the miraculous virtues of music. It's a magical mirror which allows us to see whatever we imagine or see things we wouldn't have imagined otherwise.

So I can't really say that all these people are wrong. They are wrong only when they insist that the way they see Beethoven is the way I have to see it also.
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Re: Beethoven and sickeningly stupid culture warriors

Post by Rach3 » Sat Dec 05, 2020 7:57 pm

I am a fan of some of the piano concertos of Aussie (?) Malcolm Williamson and piano sonatas of Kiwi Douglas Lilburn. Others from down under we should hear ? TIA.

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Re: Beethoven and sickeningly stupid culture warriors

Post by Modernistfan » Sat Dec 05, 2020 9:21 pm

I could name a number of worthwhile Australian composers: Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Carl Vine, Margaret Hyde, Peter Sculthorpe, Brenton Broadstock, Michael Smetanin, Ross Edwards, Elena Kats-Chernin (born in the Soviet Union but living in Australia for many years), Andrew Ford, Richard Meale, Larry Sitsky (born in China of Russian parents but also living in Australia for many years), and a lot more. Check out the Australian ABC label, the Tall Poppies label, and some of the reissues from Australian Eloquence.

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Re: Beethoven and sickeningly stupid culture warriors

Post by david johnson » Sun Dec 06, 2020 4:23 am

It appears the Council of High Moronics has met again and issued foolish statements regarding Ludwig :P

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Re: Beethoven and sickeningly stupid culture warriors

Post by Holden Fourth » Sun Dec 06, 2020 5:36 am

The cancel culture folks would not bear any serious scrutiny if they were brave enough to identify themselves.

A recent BLM protest here in Qld was largely organised by left wing privileged white groups. Out of all of them there was only one indigenous group involved. To me, they have serious legitimacy. The rest - middle class "look at me" wankers.

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Re: Beethoven and sickeningly stupid culture warriors

Post by barney » Sun Dec 06, 2020 7:23 am

diegobueno wrote:
Sat Dec 05, 2020 7:52 pm

A few decades ago feminist writer Susan McClary declared the beginning of the recap in the first movement of Beethoven's 9th represents "damming up energy which finally explodes in the throttling murderous rage of a rapist incapable of attaining release."
:lol: :lol: :lol:
[/quote]
So I can't really say that all these people are wrong. They are wrong only when they insist that the way they see Beethoven is the way I have to see it also.
[/quote]
I think that's a reasonable position, and I generally share it. But this time I'm prepared to say I think it's contemptible, using Beethoven as a megaphone for their own agendas.

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Re: Beethoven and sickeningly stupid culture warriors

Post by maestrob » Sun Dec 06, 2020 10:25 am

Oh good grief! :roll:

Great music is great music. Genius is genius. Doesn't matter the race or gender of the person involved. For that matter, the personal political views of the composer or performer don't signify either. Gieseking played extraordinary Debussy and set the standard by which modern pianists are measured in that repertoire. The fact that he was a dedicated Nazi supporter doesn't change that fact.

For a mature human being, it is possible to hold two contradictory facts about someone in your head at one time, thus admiring the good thing while denigrating the awful thing. Cancel culture wants to eliminate the good with the bad, and that hurts us as a society, I feel strongly.

The article you posted, Barney, shows that even a superficial study of Beethoven's life reveals that he loved all of humanity, not just white elites, an extraordinary level of consciousness for his time. Like many idealists, he was disappointed by the flaws in the political leaders of his time (such as Napoleon), but he had the insight to correct his opinions when they were shown to be wrong. That he had a spat with George Bridgetower, the original bi-racial dedicatee to his Kreutzer Sonata, certainly had nothing to do with the race of that magnificent violinist.

This is even more reason why canceling Beethoven is a ridiculous idea.

Some Jewish people I know can't stand to listen to Wagner's music for obvious reasons, but I've not heard any of them say that the rest of us shouldn't enjoy it if we want to. That, to me, is a reasonable, mature and sensible approach. While Daniel Barenboim, Leonard Bernstein and James Levine (George Szell was born a Jew, but his family converted to Catholicism early in his life long before he emigrated to the U. S., and he was taken to mass often as a boy.), all Jewish conductors, came to terms with the greatness of Wagner's music by holding two contradictory thoughts in their heads about the composer: that his music is great, and his prejudices were horrible.

On a much smaller scale, I've had my own experiences with cancel culture, the roots of which started to grow in the 1990's, when I first began to produce concerts. In the beginning of my venture, I managed to schedule two performances in the Bruno Walter Auditorium in Lincoln Center's Public Library, which is offered to the public free of charge. Since the price was right, even though the acoustics were quite dry, I presented two programs there in the early 1990's. When I asked for a future date, I was told in no uncertain terms by the director of programming that they were no longer interested in programs of music by "dead white men." :!:

In the end, that idiot did me a favor, as I moved my concerts to CAMI Hall (across the street from Carnegie Hall on 57th Street) for a year and then into Carnegie Hall when I had built a sufficiently large audience.

Thanks, Barney, for posting such a thorough and well thought out article.

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Re: Beethoven and sickeningly stupid culture warriors

Post by diegobueno » Sun Dec 06, 2020 10:29 am

Rach3 wrote:
Sat Dec 05, 2020 7:57 pm
I am a fan of some of the piano concertos of Aussie (?) Malcolm Williamson and piano sonatas of Kiwi Douglas Lilburn. Others from down under we should hear ? TIA.
I took a composition lesson with Malcolm Williamson. He was a composer in residence at my college (Florida State University, 1975) for one semester, giving seminars and teaching select students. I don't remember much about it except that he wasn't in love with my work nearly as much as I was and could tell that I wasn't receiving his advice in an entirely positive way. He apologized for offending me and I thanked him for looking at my music anyway. He was very polite. I hope I was too.

The opera department put on his opera Our Man in Havana while he was there, which I really liked. I snuck into the dress rehearsals and went to all the performances. I wish there were a video of that production, or better yet, more productions of the opera.
Black lives matter.

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Re: Beethoven and sickeningly stupid culture warriors

Post by barney » Sun Dec 06, 2020 12:33 pm

diegobueno wrote:
Sun Dec 06, 2020 10:29 am
Rach3 wrote:
Sat Dec 05, 2020 7:57 pm
I am a fan of some of the piano concertos of Aussie (?) Malcolm Williamson and piano sonatas of Kiwi Douglas Lilburn. Others from down under we should hear ? TIA.
I took a composition lesson with Malcolm Williamson. He was a composer in residence at my college (Florida State University, 1975) for one semester, giving seminars and teaching select students. I don't remember much about it except that he wasn't in love with my work nearly as much as I was and could tell that I wasn't receiving his advice in an entirely positive way. He apologized for offending me and I thanked him for looking at my music anyway. He was very polite. I hope I was too.

The opera department put on his opera Our Man in Havana while he was there, which I really liked. I snuck into the dress rehearsals and went to all the performances. I wish there were a video of that production, or better yet, more productions of the opera.
I went to Our Man in Havana put on by one of the smaller opera companies in Melbourne, and enjoyed it greatly.

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Re: Beethoven and sickeningly stupid culture warriors

Post by THEHORN » Tue Dec 08, 2020 5:06 pm

No, the music of Beethoven and other composers who happened to be "dead white European males " isn't being "canceled": by anyone , except perhaps by Covid-19 , at least for the time being when it cones to live performances . Much ado about nothing .
Not too long ago, a conservative columnist who contributes to the pathetic right-wing tabloidthe New York post, wrote an article for it bewailing how Beethoven is supposedly being "canceled " in the present day by those awful "politically correct " left-wing Americans .
I wrote a letter to them by email saying who ridiculous all of this is , and by golly, they printed it ! Yes they do sometimes print letters by liberals like me . And they
've done this with a number of my letters regarding politics and current events about seven or eight times with the last 15 years or so .

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Re: Beethoven and sickeningly stupid culture warriors

Post by Ricordanza » Wed Dec 09, 2020 7:07 am

THEHORN wrote:
Tue Dec 08, 2020 5:06 pm

I wrote a letter to them by email saying who ridiculous all of this is , and by golly, they printed it !
I'd like to read that letter. Can you post it here?

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Re: Beethoven and sickeningly stupid culture warriors

Post by maestrob » Wed Dec 09, 2020 11:33 am

Ricordanza wrote:
Wed Dec 09, 2020 7:07 am
THEHORN wrote:
Tue Dec 08, 2020 5:06 pm

I wrote a letter to them by email saying who ridiculous all of this is , and by golly, they printed it !
I'd like to read that letter. Can you post it here?
Yes, Robert, I too would be interested if you get the chance. 8)

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Re: Beethoven and sickeningly stupid culture warriors

Post by THEHORN » Wed Dec 09, 2020 7:22 pm

OK, here is the letter to the editor The title put up by the NY Poat editors is "Canceling Classics ".

"As a lifelong classical musician and an unabashed liberal , I found Jonathan Tobin's article
on the alleged threat of 'wokesters' to the immortal Ludwig van Beethoven and classical music in general downright laughable .
Editors parentheses (Not even Beethoven can escape Wokesters ,Post opinion September 28 ). Such "politically correct ' individuals are on no way typical among liberals . I have performed the music of Beethoven countless times myself and have never been bothered by his being one of those 'dead white utopian males '.
You can no more cancel Beethoven than you can cancel Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Van Gogh Goethe another European geniuses . "
Apparently, "wokester" is a recent coinage being used by conservatives as a word to attack liberals . But it's nothing but a straw man .

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Re: Beethoven and sickeningly stupid culture warriors

Post by Rach3 » Wed Dec 09, 2020 8:43 pm

THEHORN wrote:
Wed Dec 09, 2020 7:22 pm
Apparently, "wokester" is a recent coinage being used by conservatives as a word to attack liberals . But it's nothing but a straw man .

Bingo !

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Re: Beethoven and sickeningly stupid culture warriors

Post by Ricordanza » Thu Dec 10, 2020 6:35 am

THEHORN wrote:
Wed Dec 09, 2020 7:22 pm
OK, here is the letter to the editor The title put up by the NY Poat editors is "Canceling Classics ".

"As a lifelong classical musician and an unabashed liberal , I found Jonathan Tobin's article
on the alleged threat of 'wokesters' to the immortal Ludwig van Beethoven and classical music in general downright laughable .
Editors parentheses (Not even Beethoven can escape Wokesters ,Post opinion September 28 ). Such "politically correct ' individuals are on no way typical among liberals . I have performed the music of Beethoven countless times myself and have never been bothered by his being one of those 'dead white utopian males '.
You can no more cancel Beethoven than you can cancel Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Van Gogh Goethe another European geniuses . "
Apparently, "wokester" is a recent coinage being used by conservatives as a word to attack liberals . But it's nothing but a straw man .
Good letter, although I would note that there are some on the fringes who do argue that "dead white Europeans" should no longer be studied, performed, or revered. How much traction do these fringe advocates get? That's another question.

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Re: Beethoven and sickeningly stupid culture warriors

Post by maestrob » Thu Dec 10, 2020 9:47 am

Ricordanza wrote:
Thu Dec 10, 2020 6:35 am
THEHORN wrote:
Wed Dec 09, 2020 7:22 pm
OK, here is the letter to the editor The title put up by the NY Poat editors is "Canceling Classics ".

"As a lifelong classical musician and an unabashed liberal , I found Jonathan Tobin's article
on the alleged threat of 'wokesters' to the immortal Ludwig van Beethoven and classical music in general downright laughable .
Editors parentheses (Not even Beethoven can escape Wokesters ,Post opinion September 28 ). Such "politically correct ' individuals are on no way typical among liberals . I have performed the music of Beethoven countless times myself and have never been bothered by his being one of those 'dead white utopian males '.
You can no more cancel Beethoven than you can cancel Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Van Gogh Goethe another European geniuses . "
Apparently, "wokester" is a recent coinage being used by conservatives as a word to attack liberals . But it's nothing but a straw man .
Good letter, although I would note that there are some on the fringes who do argue that "dead white Europeans" should no longer be studied, performed, or revered. How much traction do these fringe advocates get? That's another question.
Well, Hank, I'm sure that none of the liberals on this forum feel that way! :lol:

Thanks, Robert, for posting that! 8)

OK, so I found the original Post editorial that you wrote in response to, read it, and then followed the link in that editorial to the Vox website piece that Jonathan Tobin responded to, which included the quote below from Anthony McGill, the well-known Black clarinetist in the New York Philharmonic. I imagine that it's this quote that prompted Tobin's column:
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.”
What amazes me is that neither piece even comes close to the idea of "Canceling Beethoven," yet the sensational headline the Post put over Tobin's column reads: "Canceling Beethoven is the latest woke madness for the classical-music world." So I must conclude that the idea came from the Post's opinion page editor, not from either writer!

In fact, McGill in his quote makes a quite rational point about orchestral repertoire that is shared by many critics that has nothing to do with politics at all, but instead has to do with increasing audiences. Only the Post could twist such a thing into a political argument!

Thus, I say, a pox on both houses. 😉 A straw man indeed!

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Re: Beethoven and sickeningly stupid culture warriors

Post by THEHORN » Thu Dec 10, 2020 6:41 pm

I'm glad you like my letter ! Thanks .

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Re: Beethoven and sickeningly stupid culture warriors

Post by diegobueno » Thu Dec 10, 2020 7:45 pm

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.”
They could have asked me and I would have said exactly the same thing. Anthony McGill, besides being a great great clarinetist, is right on here. Let people know that classical music is a living thing. It's being made by all kinds of people. The dead white guys are fine, but that's not all there is by a long shot.
Black lives matter.

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