art music, Classical music, concert etiquette, Critical Race theory, faux-elitism, good art, Hadyn, Ludwig van Beethoven, microagressions, Ode To Joy, romantic music, symphony orchestras, the Fifth symphony, The Ninth Symphony, the piano
Ludwig van Beethoven is remembered in the public imagination as one of the greatest composers of all time, a wild-haired, brooding, deaf genius. He is generally thought to be a classical composer, as in “classical” music, though when most use the term, they actually refer to “art” music. Beethoven’s career spanned the Classical and Romantic eras. He benefited from the invention and fast development of the piano, writing for instruments with five octaves, and eventually seven (contemporary pianos have 88 keys, a bit more than seven octaves), and was first known as a piano virtuoso (he studied under Haydn).
Beethoven’s piano works are an important part of the canon, and it was he that arguably elevated the piano and the symphony to its importance in art music and performance today. Virtually every remotely educated person knows some of Beethoven’s music, or at least is familiar with many of its themes, even if they cannot identify the name of the work or movement. Arguably the most famous four notes in music are the beginning of his Fifth Symphony.
And of course, most people are at least passingly familiar with Beethoven’s struggle with deafness toward the end of his life. He lived to 56, which for his time—1770 to 1827—wasn’t a particularly short life. This Wikipedia entry has a list of his works —they’re voluminous—though I am always reluctant to take Wikipedia at face value.
In any case, few, if any would deny Beethoven’s originality, talent or importance in the scheme of music. This is why, of course, he must be exposed as a racist and oppressor of alphabet victim groups that would not exist for centuries after his death. My favorite Bookworm, Andrea Widburg, explains at The American Thinker:
Leftists need to destroy the past to ensure that people have no point of comparison when they suffer the miseries, indignities, and multiple forms of slavery that make up daily life under leftism. That may explain why leftists, not content with destroying America’s history, are reaching out to destroy any culture derived from white people. The latest historical personage to end up in the left’s crosshairs, believe it or not, is Beethoven. Apparently, he is such a painful symbol of ‘exclusion and elitism’ that it would be best if he were canceled along with the Founding Fathers.
This bizarre, entirely reductive view comes from Vox, where Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding launched their assault against Beethoven.
Widburg provides a bit of their background, which is slim indeed, to be pronouncing on the works, to say nothing of the history or beliefs, of one of history’s genuine giants. Take the link if you’re interested, but we continue:
Sloan and Harding open their plaint about Beethoven’s microaggressions by stating that Beethoven’s ever-popular Fifth Symphony is musically magnificent and that it’s ‘a metaphor for Beethoven’s personal resilience in the face of his oncoming deafness.’ Don’t believe it, though. That opening was just to lead you down the primrose path. Instead, Sloan and Harding explain that this attitude is a typical product of white, male elitism:
‘Or rather, that’s long been the popular read among wealthy white men who embraced Beethoven and turned his symphony into a symbol of their superiority and importance. For others — 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 that ‘all women shall be gagged by officers duly licensed for the purpose before they’re allowed to enter a concert room.’
Today, some aspects of classical culture are still about policing who’s in and who’s out, and much of it started with Beethoven’s Fifth. 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’s more about demonstrating belonging than appreciating the music.
I’ve often observed that when we try to impose contemporary leftist sensibilities on history, we make no sense and eliminate the opportunity to educate ourselves, and to learn what lessons history has to teach. In this case, what Sloan and Harding apparently see as white elitism, is actually concert etiquette. When one is paying to hear a concert—hear a concert—etiquette and common sense require attentive silence. This is more commonly called “being polite,” or more colloquially “not being a jackass,” and is the kind of behavior expected by civilized people at concerts, funerals, most church services, movies and a variety of other gatherings. And no, it’s not about “belonging,” and is very much about “appreciating the music,” which is exceedingly difficult when people are talking, cheering, snorting, coughing or being otherwise rude and annoying.
Dressing up a bit is also very much about being polite and demonstrating respect for the artistry of the performers. Reaching that level of skill takes a lifetime of unimaginable sacrifice and dedication. One might also consider it paying homage to the composer, and demonstrating at least a modicum of self-respect. Faux-elitism these days resides in the terminally woke and eternally aggrieved.
Oh, some attending such concerts are snobs, but knowing the business of music as I do, I can assure you gentle readers, symphony orchestras very well know they cannot survive on the sole patronage of such snotty creatures. They always seek to expand their audiences, but do expect basic manners, as every good mother expects them from her children.
The article is short. If you want to know how Beethoven is now a microaggression to emotionally incontinent woke Millennials, you have to listen to this dense duo’s podcast:
‘In the third episode of our four-part series The 5th, a collaboration between Vox’s Switched on Pop and the New York Philharmonic that breaks down the music and meaning of this inescapable work of music, we ask how Beethoven’s symphony was transformed from a symbol of triumph and freedom into a symbol of exclusion, elitism, and gatekeeping — everything we love to hate about classical music today. How did the meaning of this symphony get so twisted?’
Actually, it didn’t. Sloan and Harding, on the other hand… Really, if they’re attacking “a symbol of triumph and freedom,” one wonders why they’re not vomiting on the Ninth Symphony and its uplifting “Ode To Joy”? I suppose that would require some knowledge of music, rather than slavish devotion to Critical Race Theory. I’ll keep this brief.
All good art, to be differentiated from mere entertainment, is a never-ending source of education, edification and amazement. One cannot possibly capture all the greatness, the wonder of one of Beethoven’s symphonies on the first, or even the tenth sitting. Every time one returns to the work, there are new joys to be discovered, new insights to be gained, new connections to be made. Even more, every time we return to The Fifth, we can discover new things, because we are new, we have new experiences and are capable of new understandings, and the live performance is new, a precious moment in time, never to be repeated again.
There is nothing wrong with mere entertainment, but good art is more, far more, and it’s important to understand the distinction. Just as one may get great enjoyment from pop music—and I do, in listening and mostly in performing it—there is nothing like performing the work of the masters. It is steps and levels beyond, examples of the best of which human beings are capable, and it is a legacy for all time, so long as civilization exists.
And there, gentle readers, is the point. Ankle biters like Sloan and Harding are not competent critics. They see everything through the lens of Critical Race Theory, which is a narrow, racist view of human nature and life, a self-defeating, nihilistic unfalsifiable complaint, whose only resolution is to make millions utterly miserable. Beethoven uplifts and elevates, ankle biters denigrate and destroy. Life without good art, as opposed to pedophilia like “Cuties,” is degraded, devoid of greatness.
While I may know more than most, I am not sufficiently versed in musicology and history to discourse on the finer points of Beethoven’s symphonies, but I know enough to recognize greatness, and to appreciate at least some of why it is great. Critical Race Theory—Sloan and Harding—ain’t it. As long as civilization persists, Beethoven will be performed, heard and revered. He is that important.
People like Sloan and Harding would hasten civilization’s demise. They are not important.
Old Barn said:
They are here to seize the opportunities for good that are presented to them and through which they could serve even greater good and find meaning. They choose to wallow in a sh## pile of vanity, which is why all they see is rubbish and all they smell stinks. “Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness.” Luke 11:34.
Mike McDaniel said:
Dear Old Barn:
Sloan and Harding better find some different instruments to play because virtually every musical instrument in the Western repertoire (as well many of those of more modern types of music) were either invented by or manufactured by dead white males.
And better find another language and format to issue their polemics in while they’re at it. Which would be to the great benefit of all, since they wouldn’t be able to vent their frustrations at all to anybody in any recognizable means of communication.
there’s always banging sticks on a hollow log and blowing into seashells or horns
Mike McDaniel said:
I’ve always favored running about naked and baying at the moon…
March Hare said:
As a Boomer I was fortunate that Saturday morning cartoons often used classical music. Not just Warner Brothers, but Disney’s “Silly Symphonies” were broadcast. And we had Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphonies for Children.” Thus we were exposed to classical music from a young age and heard it almost as often as we heard pop, even if our parents weren’t music “snobs.”
That isn’t happening now, although music scores often share classical music roots. When my kids were young, we often listened to classical music in the car because I didn’t have to worry about anything inappropriate playing on the radio. Did it make a difference? Yes, I think the exposure made them comfortable with listening to classical music. They may miss some of the nuance, but many of the works by great composers are familiar.
Mike McDaniel said:
Dear March Hare:
“Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit…”
Mike, this illustrates today’s column perfectly.
Mike McDaniel said:
It does indeed; thanks!
March Hare said:
Should be *movie scores, no music scores. And not just “Kill the wabbit.” There was one where Bugs directs an opera singer at what looks like the Hollywood Bowl and one with a whale that could sing opera (Figaro?) that I think was a Disney cartoon.
Mike McDaniel said:
Dear March Hare:
Loved them all.