The Well-Tempered Ear

Will using first names with Beethoven and Mozart help fight racism and sexism in the concert hall?

October 28, 2020
5 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

Why do concert programs read simply Beethoven for Beethoven (below top), but Florence Price for Florence Price (below bottom)?

According to a recent controversial essay by Chris White (below), a professor of music theory at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, it reflects and reinforces sexism and racism.

White is calling for universal “fullnaming” to put women composers and composers of color on an equal footing with the traditional canon of dead white male composers. All people may be equal, but all composers and their music are not.

You can certainly make a case for his interesting argument against using “mononyns,” as he calls them. But it still seems less than convincing to many, including The Ear. It many ways it seems downright silly and arbitrary. Isn’t it obvious that not all composers are equal in quality of their work?

It is the latest dustup in the classical music world, coming right on the heels of, and logically linked to, the idea that Beethoven is responsible for sexism and racism in the concert hall and the so-called “cancel culture” that is allied with the social and political protest movements of the past year, including Black Lives Matter.

That was treated here in a previous post: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/09/19/did-beethoven-and-his-music-especially-the-iconic-fifth-symphony-foster-racism-exclusion-and-elitism-in-the-concert-hall-the-ear-thinks-that-is-pc-nonsense-what-do-you-think/

Here is a link to the complete article by White about the inclusion and absence of first names as it appeared on Slate: https://slate.com/culture/2020/10/fullname-famous-composers-racism-sexism.html

Funny, The Ear thinks of using only last names as little more than a function of: quality, importance and time; of fame and familiarity; and sometimes of promoting clarity and preventing confusion — not of race or gender.

It is why we say Bach (below) when we mean Johann Sebastian, and why we say Wilhelm Friedemann or Carl Philipp Emmanuel or Johann Christian when we mean one of his sons.

It is why we say Richard Strauss to distinguish him from Johann Strauss.

But it also why Haydn means Franz Joseph (below), not his less important brother Michael Haydn.

And why the American composer Henry Cowell is listed with his full name and not just Cowell.

Perhaps one day – if we hear enough of the music by the recently rediscovered Black female composer Florence Price often enough and like it enough – she will be known simply as Price. After all, the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu is not usually listed as simply Takemitsu. 

Actually, the Ear prefers using full names for all composers — famous or not, male or female, white or black — especially when it is for the general public. But it seems more a matter of politeness, respect and education than of sociopolitical change and social justice.

That is not to say that those of us in classical music don’t see a need to correct the racism and sexism of the past, to foster diversity and inclusiveness. White has a point. Still, the whole idea of using both names in all cases seems more than a bit naïve, superficial and simplistic as a solution to racism and sexism.

It sounds a lot like the kind of theoretical speculation and contrarian thinking you might expect from an assistant professor trying to get noticed and make his mark on big contemporary issues so that he can get tenure and become an associate professor. A high public profile certainly helps that.

But whatever you think of White’s motives or purpose, his essay is causing a “meltdown” on Twitter: https://mybroadband.co.za/forum/threads/‘fullnaming’-mozart-and-beethoven-to-fight-sexism-and-racism-twitter-squabbles-over-slate-article.1108776/

Should you want to know more about Professor White or to leave a message of either support or disagreement, here is a link to his home website: http://www.chriswmwhite.com

What do you think about the idea of using first names for all composers as a way to combat racism and sexism in classical music?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Is it au revoir — or adieu? The UW Chamber Orchestra will play a FREE concert this Sunday night, but then will be axed and fall silent next season.

April 29, 2014
10 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear hears: The UW Chamber Orchestra (below) will NOT exist next school year.

uw chamber orchestra USE

But not before it performs its final concert of the current season -– FREE and open to the public — this coming Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. Under the baton of acclaimed longtime conductor James Smith (below), the chamber orchestra will perform what seems a fitting final program.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

What could be a better farewell than a program that features two homages: One to Francois Couperin (Dance Suite) by Richard Strauss (below top) and one to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by French composer Jacques Ibert (below bottom). And then comes the true Mozart in a true masterpiece: the Symphony No. 39 in E-Flat Major.

richard strauss

Jacques Ibert

The UW-Madison has not released any specific information yet about the reasons involved in canceling the UW Chamber Orchestra, which, together with the UW Symphony Orchestra, makes up the orchestra program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

But from what The Ear hears, the decision has to do with several factors.

Because there are fewer scholarships, there are fewer students coming into the school and therefore entering the performance groups.

There are also fewer students because some major professors who attract a loyal following from afar are retiring. They include tuba player John Stevens, University Opera director William Farlow and pianist Todd Welbourne.

Other full-time faculty are leaving the UW-Madison School of Music (violinist Felicia Moye, below, to McGill University, soprano Julia Faulkner to the Lyric Opera of Chicago school) and have been replaced with one-year appointments (oboist Kostas Tiliakos, singer Elizabeth Hagedorn, violinists Eugene Purdue of Madison and Leslie Shank of the Twin Cities, below, tubist Tom Curry and University Opera director David Ronis from CUNY’s Aaron Copland School of Music in New York City). And short-term instructors simply do not attract as many loyal students, especially those whose talent is on a superior or professional level.

Felicia Moye color

Leslie Shank

Here are some links to stories about the new incoming academic staff from the terrific blog Fanfare:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/04/22/paq-tour-disanza-award-new-faculty/

Plus, there have been some financial problems, which have also caused the UW-Madison School of Music to scale back the new performing space it is seeking to build, and to substitute one-year appointments for tenure-track professorships.

All in all, the UW-Madison School of Music, which has traditionally enjoyed a fine reputation and a high ranking among public music schools, faces some serious challenges.

The only large instrumental classical ensemble that will continue to exist will be the UW Symphony Orchestra, but all the musicians I have talked to say the two groups offer very different playing experiences.

And The Ear finds it ironic that the smaller-scale chamber orchestras generally seem to be thriving around the country far more than the larger, more ambitious and more expensive symphony orchestras and opera companies, many of which face serious financial challenges. (Below is the famed St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, in which violinist Leslie Shank plays.)

St Paul Chamber Orchestra

I have not heard reactions about axing the UW Chamber Orchestra from staff or students -– perhaps because they have not yet heard the news — but I would welcome hearing some in the COMMENTS sections of this blog. I also think that members of the public and listeners should chime in with their reactions.

To The Ear, the demise of the UW Chamber Orchestra is a sad shame. After all, the question seems to ask itself: How does a major public School of Music maintain its status without providing the experience and repertoire of the smaller orchestra?

We will see.

In the meantime, I suggest that the performance this Sunday night is a MUST-HEAR concert. (Below is the UW Chamber Orchestra rehearsing with conductor James Smith.)

UW Chamber Orchestra rehearsing under James Smith

We really don’t know yet whether this is an au revoir or an adieu -– a temporary good-bye or a permanent farewell, no matter what the initial intent is.

But The Ear knows this much: In almost any organization, it is a lot easier to get rid of something than to revive it or bring it into being. Inertia is a powerful institutional force. So I would like to see a public groundswell or reaction to either keep  the UW Chamber Orchestra active next academic year or to bring back the UW Chamber Orchestra after a one-year sabbatical — if that sabbatical really is necessary.

The Ear has many wonderful memories of the UW Chamber Orchestra, in both solo concerts but also in collaborating with the UW Choral Union (below) and the UW Concert Choir.

UW Choral Union and Chamber orchestra full view 12-2011

Here, at the bottom in a YouTube video is one of those moments: from several years ago, the first movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s iconic Fifth Symphony:

 

 

 

 

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