The Well-Tempered Ear

Did Beethoven and his Fifth Symphony foster racism, exclusion and elitism in the concert hall? The Ear thinks that is PC nonsense. What do you think?

September 19, 2020
8 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

Controversy has struck big among classical music critics and fans — just in time for the Beethoven Year that will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth this December. Plans call for celebrations by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, and others. 

At question is what seems yet another fallout and dust-up from the Black Lives Matter movement and the current struggle to foster social justice and racial equality.

In some ways, it all seems inevitable.

Now the history-denying advocates of cancel culture are suggesting that Beethoven (below) and his music – especially the popular Fifth Symphony (you can hear the famous opening in the YouTube schematic video at the bottom)  –  fostered white privilege and the rise of racism, sexism and homophobia in the concert hall.

That seems like quite an accusation for a single composer and a single piece of music that was premiered in 1808.

The assertion is food for thought. But not much.

In the end The Ear finds it a stretch and a totally bogus argument. He thinks that Beethoven attracted far more performers and audiences than he repelled. Others, including famed critic Norman Lebrecht in his blog Slipped Disc and a critic for the right-wing newspaper The New York Post, agree:

https://slippedisc.com/2020/09/beethovens-5th-is-a-symbol-of-exclusion-and-elitism/

https://nypost.com/2020/09/17/canceling-beethoven-is-the-latest-woke-madness-for-the-classical-music-world/

The Ear also thinks it is political correctness run amok, even for someone who, like himself, advocates strongly for diversity of composers, performers and audiences – but always with quality in mind — in the concert hall.

Just because Beethoven was such a great creative artist is hardly cause to blame him for the inability of other artists to succeed and for non-white audiences taking to classical music. Other forces — social, economic and political — explain that much better.

Yes, Beethoven is a towering and intimidating figure. And yes, his works often dominate programming. But both musicians and audiences return to him again and again because of the originality, power and first-rate quality of his many works.

Beethoven himself was deaf. That would certainly seem to qualify him as inclusive and a member of an important category of diversity.

No matter. The writers are happy to blame Ludwig and his work for exclusion and elitism. They argue that people of color, women and LGBTQ people have all felt alienated from classical music because of Beethoven’s legacy.

Of course, there is elitism in the arts. People may be equal, but creative talent is not.

And clearly, Beethoven was a towering and intimidating figure – more for the quality of his music than for the simple fact that it exists. Such exclusion and elitism have to do with other factors than the composition of the Fifth Symphony.

If The Ear recalls correctly, when he died Beethoven was given the largest state funeral up to that time for a non-royal, non-politician or non-military person.

And how do you explain that Beethoven’s music, so representative of Western culture, appeals deeply to and attracts so many Asians and Asian-Americans, and became both banned and symbolically central to those opposed to Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China?

But these days being provocative can become its own reward.

You can read the analysis and decide about its merits for yourself, then let us know what you think in the Comment section.

Here is a link to the opinion piece in Vox Magazine, a free online journal: https://www.vox.com/switched-on-pop/21437085/beethoven-5th-symphony-elitist-classism-switched-on-pop

What do you think about the idea that Beethoven played a large and seminal role in fostering an elitist and exclusive culture in classical music?

Did you ever feel alienated from classical music because of Beethoven or know others who have?

What is your favorite Beethoven composition?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: The Ear wishes you a Merry Christmas with three of his favorite pieces of music. What are yours?

December 25, 2019
3 Comments

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

Today – Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2019 – is Christmas Day.

There is so much great Christmas music written by so many great composers. You’ll hear a lot of it tomorrow morning on Wisconsin Public Radio, starting at 9 a.m..

But here are three of The Ear’s favorites.

One comes from the “Christmas Oratorio” by the German Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach and is loud, upbeat and brassy.

The second is “Lo, how a rose ere blooming” is by the early German baroque composer Michael Praetorius, and is so hauntingly quiet and intimate, sounding almost medieval or chant-like.

The third work, also intimate but on a much larger scale, is the “Shepherds’ Farewell to the Holy Family” from “The Childhood of the Christ” by the Romantic French composer Hector Berlioz.

Here they are, first the Praetorius — in the original German — and then the Bach and finally the Berlioz.

And here is a YouTube compilation with almost three hours of seasonal music:

What is your favorite piece of classical music to celebrate Christmas?

Leave your answer – with a YouTube link, if possible — in the Comment section.


Classical music: On Thanksgiving Day, what composer or piece of music do you give thanks for?

November 22, 2018
11 Comments

IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

ALERT: This morning, Wisconsin Public Radio will air not only music that is appropriate for Thanksgiving, but also performances by students marking the 50th anniversary of the Wisconsin School Music Association.

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Thanksgiving Day, 2018.

And today’s post is a simple one where readers can do the work.

The Ear simply wants to know: What composer or what piece of music do you give thanks for?

And why?

That doesn’t mean it is the only composer or work you give thanks for.

And anything is allowed.

You could name a famous composer such as Johann Sebastian Bach (below) or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven or Johannes Brahms. Or you could name a one of the many neglected composers.

You could also name a big work such as a symphony by Gustav Mahler or Anton Bruckner, or an opera by Giuseppe Verdi or Richard Wagner. Or you could name a small work, maybe a song by Franz Schubert or a prelude by Frederic Chopin (below).

The music itself does not have to relate to the Thanksgiving holiday.

All that matters is that you recognize the role that important music plays in your life and that you give an example of what music you are especially grateful for – perhaps with a YouTube link to a performance that adds to our sampler.

That’s it.

The Ear wants to hear.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and a Musical Thanksgiving!


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