UK ensemble seeks scores to celebrate Karl Marx

UK ensemble seeks scores to celebrate Karl Marx


norman lebrecht

February 28, 2018

Some mistake, surely?

The Birmingham Contemporary Music Group has put out an international call for new compositions to mark the 2018 bicentenary of the birth of Karl Marx.

Would that be the same Karl Marx whose ideology enslaved half the world, causing hundreds of millions of deaths?

Think again, BCMG.

Press release below.

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group has joined forces with the Karl Marx Ausstellungsgesellschaft Trier, Kammermusikalische Vereinigung Trier and Hessicher Rundfunk to launch an international call for scores. Composers are invited to submit scores that reflect on Marx’s findings, and overriding concerns for the advancement of society that continue to influence social, political and artistic thought today. Prizes total over €18,000, with the winning works in three categories – ensemble, duo, and sound art/radiophonic – performed by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group in Marx’s birthplace, Trier, and in Birmingham in September 2018. The competition is being organised by Verein zur Förderung des Jubiläumsprogrammes des Karl Marx Jahres in Trier.

The closing date for score submissions is 9am on 29 June 2018. Full details at


  • clarrieu says:

    Well, to start with…
    Ah, some problem there: “From 1939 to 1945 he (….) composed music for Nazi ceremonies and contributed to songbooks for the Hitler Youth”

  • John Borstlap says:

    Marx made some useful observations that anybody else with some clear eye could have made, and often indeed made, and constructed an incredibly perverse theory out of it all which deluded millions, indeed, and brought out the worst of that part of humanity which is obsessed with power over others.

    Although the music which the BCMG presents, as a whole no longer answers the strict postwar modernist utopian requirements (because most composers no longer take such things seriously), its idealism is still infested with utopian longing as their website reveals:

    “….innovative pioneering Sound Investment ….developing the music of today for the audiences of tomorrow…. supporting composers to push the boundaries of their art, collaborate across art forms and create their most innovative work….. enabling innovative art form development….”

    We call this ‘art speak’, as the ‘newspeak’ in Orwell’s well-known book: “In the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), Newspeak is a controlled language, of restricted grammar and limited vocabulary, a linguistic design meant to limit the freedom of thought—personal identity, self-expression, free will—that ideologically threatens the régime of Big Brother and the Party, who thus criminalized such concepts as thoughtcrime, contradictions of Ingsoc orthodoxy.”

    So, the BCMG’s focus on Marx instead of, for instance, Debussy (who died 100 years ago this year), is not surprising, as is the group’s leading man – Herr Meier: a German, and their location of Marx’ Celebrations in Trier, Germany, after all that is the country where postwar modernism is still held in high regard, like a time capsule.

  • Will Duffay says:

    Is it Marx’s fault that Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and other leaders were psychopathic power-grabbers who twisted his theories for their own gain? Marx was one of the greatest political thinkers in history, and it seems appropraite to celebrate his birth.

    • Doug says:

      What exactly has the founder of the Church of Envy contributed to humanity? A few slogans? Marxism is the methamphetamine of the masses. It must be a point of pride to count yourself among Lenin’s useful idiots.

      • steven holloway says:

        No follower of Marx I, but if by the “Church of Envy” you mean Marxism, ’tis well to remember that the man himself declared, “I am not a Marxist”. He did not appreciate people styling themselves such, nor what those people espoused. Will is, of course, correct. Marx is not responsible for the evils of Lenin, Stalin, Mao…any more than Hegel is to blame for Hitler, another tedious trope. A shame you descend into insulting Will. Again, any hope of an intelligent discussion of a question on SD is scotched before it’s had a chance to get under way.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Not quite….. Marx understood the economic factor in much of what happens in history, but made the mistake to think it was the only factor, and trying to ‘explain’ history (with Hegel’s misconceived idea of some independent force of history at hand) along materialist lines. Combined with a misconceived understanding of Darwin, such thinking gave birth to 20C totalitarian and materialistic ideas about history and society, and modernism in music, which after WW II wielded its totalitarian ideology to streamline both the past, the present and the future, entirely comparable with what Orwell tried to explain in his book. So, Marx definitely has some responsibility in making such insanity possible, with his nonsense he gave teeth to the philistines and made purely materialistic and generalizing, dehumanizing thinking about groups of people salonfähig.

          The link between Marxism and musical modernism is clear for everyone willing to have an objective look. All the conventional distortions of music history as practiced in the last century finds its source in such totalitarian thinking: ‘The history of music proceeds from Bach, through Haydn, Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, and then via Schoenberg and Webern to Stockhausen and me. All else is irrelevant.’ (Boulez)

          • steven holloway says:

            I know that, John. I spent 35 years teaching Philosophy of History and writing thereon. I deem any deterministic theory of historical factors misguided. I follow in the path of Collingwood and Oakeshott. But your mode of argument is the other side of the deterministic coin. It is regressive, moving back in time until you come to Hegel, but you can go on and on like that, looking next to who was to blame for Hegel, and then who was to blame for….Keep on like that and all you do is wind up with Mitochondrial Eve and other primitives — the ones whose comments are to be found scattered throughout SD, happy as skylarks.

      • Alex Davies says:

        I was actually going to comment to make exactly the same point as Will. Marx’s importance and influence cannot be underestimated. Together with Freud, he is without a doubt one of the most significant figures in modern intellectual history. There can be few fields of intellectual activity (including politics, economics, history, social science, philosophy, and theology and religion) in which Marx’s influence cannot be seen.

        And, as Will hints at, Marx died in 1883. He’d been dead for 34 years by the time of the Russian Revolution. And let us also not take the Russian Revolution and the early years of the Soviet Union out of context (as well as the origins of various other similar revolutions around the world). To be sure, the later atrocities committed in the name of various communist dictatorships around the world were among the worst in human history. But in many instances (most clearly in the case of Russia) the regimes which socialism supplanted were themselves appallingly repressive and saw the great majority of the population living in abject poverty. In the early years Russia/the Soviet Union enjoyed the benefits of rapid modernisation, industrialisation, urbanisation, economic growth, investment in infrastructure, higher rates of literacy and education, and intellectual freedom.

        Of course, every sane person will be horrified by the gulags, the show trials, the famines, the invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, martial law in Poland, and so on, but let us not unjustly blame Marx for this, and let us also appreciate his unique significance in the history of the modern world.

        • John Borstlap says:

          ‘In his “Hanging Order” telegram of August 11, 1918, Lenin instructed communists to execute refractory peasants by public hanging: “This needs to be accomplished in such a way that people for hundreds of miles around will see, tremble, know, and scream out.” From its beginning and throughout much of its existence, the Soviet state relied on fear for its hold on power. The show trials of the 1930s continued a Bolshevik pedagogy that inculcated obedience by way of spectacular terror.’

          • Mike Schachter says:

            There are still Marxist fellow-travellers, with which Western universities are so richly endowed, who seem to believe that Lenin was a benign humanitarian, as against the evil Stalin. Of course he was a murderer who did at least die relatively young. If he had lived as long as Stalin he would probably have murdered even more than his illustrious successor.

          • Alex Davies says:

            I for one do not mean to paint Lenin as some kind of pacifist. All I’m saying is that Tsarist Russia was an autocratic regime in which almost unimaginable wealth was concentrated in the hands of the imperial family and the nobility and the vast majority of the population lived in the most extreme poverty. Victorian and Edwardian Britain seems fair and egalitarian by comparison. And the tsars were also, of course, pretty keen on mass murder themselves. Nicholas II, the last of the tsars, is credited with the deaths of up to 1.5 million people, e.g. state-sponsored pogroms against the Jews, massacres of German civilians, murders of prisoners of war, and large-scale slaughter on the southern borders of the empire. The tsars also were not exactly doing wonders for the Russian economy, if you compare the level of economic development of Russia in 1917 with the level of economic development of Britain, despite Britain having only a fraction of Russia’s population and natural resources.

      • Will Duffay says:

        Church of Envy is an interesting but very misleading point. It suggest – completely falaciously, of course – that the only thing holding back the workers is their sloth or stupidity. Whereas the fact, of course, is that wealth and power are entwined, and without one or the other (or a massive lump of good luck) you are almost certainly doomed to subservience.

  • C Porumbescu says:

    Well, fair play to them, they’re simply following the money. There’s cash on the table to pay for new music so they’re ticking the requisite boxes to get hold of it. Marx knew all about how that works.

    And as everyone knows: Right wing philosophies that murder millions are pure, irredeemable evil. Left wing philosophies that murder millions are merely a justifiable breaking of eggs to make a lovely progressive omelette. Comes with avocado and sourdough these days.

  • Gary says:

    Marx has been misrepresented by both “communists” and capitalists both for their own reasons.

    • Gerhard says:

      Right you are, and holding Marx responsable for the atrocities committed by people after him pretending to be his followers has the same intellectual merit as holding Jesus, the rabbi, responsable for all the countless atrocities committed in his name during all the centuries since his lifetime.

      • Michael Comins says:


      • John Borstlap says:

        And that is even more absurd, since there is no conclusive evidence that Christ ever existed.

        • V.Lind says:

          Doesn’t stop him getting blamed, though!

          • John Borstlap says:

            Nothing is as generously administered, and without any expectation of return, than blame.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          Er…don’t know why people keep claiming this since there is abundant evidence the historical figure of Jesus did exist, and not just in early Christian writings. The historical evidence for Jesus is better than many/most other classical figures, including many Roman emperors. This does not necessarily mean that Jesus was the god, son of god, but still his existence as an historical figure is well-attested.

  • Perkin says:

    The John Doe Choir have announced that they will perform Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

    Would that be the same Jesus Christ whose ideology enslaved half the world, causing hundreds of millions of deaths?

    • Doug says:

      No, the one that eventually invented our present high standard of life and the Internet where you make your pathetic living as a useful idiot troll. Got any more Marxist slogans?

      • Tom Hartley says:

        We’re talking about the guy who said, “Take everything you have and give it to the poor,” right?

        • Gerhard says:

          Shhh … That was only a slip of tongue, for sure. He didn’t really mean it. After all, it would border to, um, ideologies which are very very bad for our economy. We can’t have that!

  • Michael says:

    A UK ensemble is celebrating Karl Marx? That sounds right.

  • Mike Z says:

    Well, we now see totalitarianism seeding or taking hold in democracies. So “by the Marx is responsible for the atrocities that followed in his name only” logic, let’s blame Athens for Trump.

    It’s noteworthy that his was a theory of economic evolution. And evolution cannot be forced or fast-tracked. To do so in biology is the stuff of a horror film; and the attempts for political economies yielded similar results.

    • Michael says:

      We should blame Athens for Trump. Democracy is a terrible system and one the American Founding Fathers warned against. Which is why they created a Constitutional Republic, where there are divisions of powers and checks and balances should the people elect a despot (and history has shown they often do). The fact that Trump has not been able to seize absolute control is a testament to the strength of the American system.

      The critique of Marx is not necessarily that he wrote the framework for Lenin and Mao but that he incited them to violence with ridiculous talk of class struggle and exploitation. He misconstrued the basic nature of economic relationships whereby the masses of people benefit from capitalist ingenuity and job creation, not are exploited by it.

      • steven holloway says:

        I am most truly dumbfounded that in 2018 anyone could write that last sentence of yours. Your must be a True Believer, so I hope no one wastes time trying to explain how shockingly out of touch your comment is. The game isn’t worth the candle.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The Canadian academic Jordan Peterson explains how marxism went into postmodernism, and that seems about right. It contributes to the dehumanizing of individuals, by defining them above all as merely a member of a group, a kind of process of abstraction denying the real person, like serialism in music denying the reality of the individual intervals and relationships.

    ‘Peterson believes that postmodern philosophers and sociologists since the 1960s, while typically claiming to reject Marxism and Communism, because they were discredited as economic ideologies as well by the exposure of crimes in the Soviet Union, have actually built upon and extended their core tenets. He states that it is difficult to understand contemporary society without considering the influence of postmodernism which initially spread from France to the United States through the English department at Yale University. He argues that they “started to play a sleight of hand, and instead of pitting the proletariat, the working class, against the bourgeois, they started to pit the oppressed against the oppressor. That opened up the avenue to identifying any number of groups as oppressed and oppressor and to continue the same narrative under a different name … The people who hold this doctrine – this radical, postmodern, communitarian doctrine that makes racial identity or sexual identity or gender identity or some kind of group identity paramount – they’ve got control over most low-to-mid level bureaucratic structures, and many governments as well”.’

    An ensemble that wants to celebrate marxism should take a reading course instead of letting destructive ideologies enter the territory of music.

    • Michael says:

      Collectivism (in all its variants) dehumanizes the individual. I’ll never understand why collectivism in the form of fascism is almost universally condemned but collectivism in the form of socialism is trendy. Fascism and socialism (and Nazism and communism) are not opposites. To paraphrase one writer, they are superficial variants of the same theme – collectivism.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Agreed. Generalizations are only helpful as an abstract background, but as soon as it is applied to concrete human beings, the latter should be in the foreground. The millions of deaths perpetrated by the 20C Russian and Chinese regimes are staggering… surely Marx would not have meant such atrocities but the attempt to put humanity in neat boxes is the beginning of such disasters.

      • Mike Z says:

        Oh, Michael. Who cooks your dinner? Collectivism begins at home.

        • Michael says:

          Mike Z – I agree that we are not primarily an individual based society but rather a family based society. Capitalists are champions of individualism but individualism does not mean siloed people fending for themselves bereft of relationships with other people. It means that people have the right to choose with whom they associate. In our personal lives, most people choose to associate with friends and family. Economically, free markets are a collaboration of the labor of countless people working together, directly or indirectly, to achieve a marketable good. Both types of relationships are entirely within the definition of individualism because they are volitional.

          Collectivism, conversely, forces people to work for the benefit of society. It subjugates the individual to society. But society doesn’t actually exist; it is just a collection of individuals. Thus, collectivism necessarily means the subjugation of some individuals to other individuals. We know that collectivism is about force because if people wanted it, they are free to set up a private, communist-style society right now and freely live there. But to my knowledge, no one has ever done that with any degree of success with the exception of the Israeli kibbutz, and even there less than 5% of the population choose to live on a kibbutz.

          My point is that what separates collectivism and individualism is not whether to participate in society but rather *how* one participates in society. Collectivism coerces participation at the point of a gun. Individualism allows personal choice.

    • steven holloway says:

      Right. So we should blame Marx for Postmodernism as well, then. I am starting to feel a bit guilty about this. I’ve already blamed him for Donald Trump, Jennifer Aniston, and Milton Babbitt.

    • Mike Z says:

      Jordan Peterson? Seriously? A modern pederast who forgoes sex in pursuit of young men’s paternal credit cards.

  • SVM says:

    By that logic, we must censor any reference to great intellectuals whose ideas have gone on to facilitate genocide…

    Albert Einstein invented the atomic bomb, a technology that has caused untold environmental and human damage to date, and continues to blight international relations today. Einstein even wrote to POTUS, encouraging him explicitly to develop an atomic bomb during WW2.

    • Michael says:

      I’m not sure what “logic” to which you refer but there is a material difference between celebrating a mass-murderer and referencing one.

      All men are fallible. All men have their faults. Some of the American Founding Fathers were slave owners. Christopher Columbus may have mistreated Native Americans. Martin Luther King was a womanizer. When we celebrate the aforementioned men, we celebrate their universally lauded achievements (the penning of the Declaration of Independence, the discovery of the New World for Europe, the Civil Rights movement). For that reason, it is appropriate to celebrate them in spite of their faults.

      Karl Marx’s achievements, however, led to mass-murder and starvation. They are not celebrating a great man in spite of his faults. They are celebrating the faults. This is immoral.

      • Gerhard says:

        Have you ever read anything by Marx, or are you only regurgitating the stuff about him that others have fed to you?

        • Michael says:

          I have read The Communist Manifesto but that is wholly irrelevant. Does one need to read “Mein Kampf” to know Hitler was evil? If I’ve mischaracterized anything, you’re free to correct me.

          • Gerhard says:

            While Hitler himself ordered and commanded the Nazi atrocities until the end, the Communist Manifesto precedes the Russian Revolution by seven decades. Hard to overlook a certain difference in personal responsibilities …

    • Gerhard says:

      “By that logic, we must censor any reference to great intellectuals whose ideas have gone on to facilitate genocide…” This seems to be exactly the agenda, here and elsewhere. But only the ones whose ideas go against the leading consensus, of course. We are not going to apply the same scrutiny to our brilliant economists, industrial leaders, and politicians, whose ideas are responsible for great numbers of deaths, are we?

      • John Borstlap says:

        Sometimes, cause and effect are very close to each other. However long it took for Marx’s ideas to become diabolical in their effects, Marx himself was a very unpleasant person, maltreating his own family, hating Jews, etc. etc. – so, no doubt some of that poison went into his abstract ponderings.