Beethoven’s 5th is a ‘symbol of exclusion and elitism’

Beethoven’s 5th is a ‘symbol of exclusion and elitism’


norman lebrecht

September 17, 2020

There’s a bit of a stir about an article in the online magazine Vox which jumps on the anti-everything bandwaggon to denounce Beethoven’s 5th symphony, of all masterpieces, as white male supremacist.

Here’s a snippet:
We explore how Beethoven’s symphony was used to generate the strict culture of classical music — and the politics that undergird those norms of behavior.

Though concert etiquette that evolved in response to the Fifth may have had the goal of venerating the music, it can also act as a source of gatekeeping. “Polite society” first emerged as a set of cultural standards developed during the mid-18th century as bourgeois class signifiers. In Beethoven’s time, new social etiquette extended into the concert hall.

Today, some aspects of classical culture are still about policing who’s in and who’s out. 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 can feel as much about demonstrating belonging as appreciating the music.

For classical music critic James Bennett II, Beethoven’s popularity and centrality in classical culture is part of the problem. “As you perpetuate the idea that the giants of the music all look the same, it conveys to the ‘other’ that there’s not a stake in that music for them,” he says.

What they fail to explore is how Beethoven’s 5th served for millions as a symbol of freedom in the war against Nazism.

At least one of the co-authors, Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding, appears to be a white male.

One might think this was parody, but no: it’s what passes for reasoned argument in US media and academia right now.

This image, by the way, is being used widely to support spurious suggestions that Beethoven was African.


  • Ronald Cavaye says:

    “Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” Any fool can now spew rubbish onto the internet and we all read it.

  • Pam Easto says:

    I think Beethoven 5 entered popular culture in the series of ‘Beethoven’ films about a St Bernard dog

    • Allen says:

      Or the “V for Victory” message in WW2.

      • Ramesh Nair says:

        Absolutely! And as the booklet to the new recording of Beethoven 5 ( coupled with a Gossec symphony ) makes clear, the musical half-quotations in Op. 67 refer to music associated with the French Revolution : ‘a chorus to freedom by Gossec…. and Lacombe’s ‘Hymne a la Victoire’ :
        But REAL reason the Vox article’s claim that this work is a symbol of ‘elitism and exclusion’ fails at the first hurdle is that, the authors are blind to their own ‘elitism and exclusion’.

        After all, Beethoven is the most popular western classical composer in the world’s largest growing market for classical music : Mainland China ( along with the large and mature classical markets in Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and the overseas Chinese diaspora.) American articles such as this habitually conflate what happens in America with general sociological truths that hold across the world. One could make a claim that Beethoven’s music is X or Y in North America. But any such argument must present a persuasive case that any sociological observation of X and Y, also holds for another large ethnic group elsewhere in the world.

  • Adam says:

    Whether you like it or not, this is one part of Beethoven’s legacy. The authors of this essay don’t blame him personally and they don’t claim this is the only interpretation. They simply point out that Beethoven’s music and the resulting cult of genius have had negative effects, which is demonstrably true. The authors “fail” to explore Beethoven’s other possible symbolism not because they aren’t aware of it, but because it isn’t the subject of their essay. That’s how essays work generally. Topics. Theses. Evidence. You would look a lot better responding to the claims in said essay than dismissing it outright. After all, if it’s so obviously ridiculous, it shouldn’t be too difficult to rebut it, should it? Grumbling that everyone is “just too negative” these days isn’t a rebuttal. From a logical standpoint, the authors’ motivations are actually irrelevant. You either meet their argument head on or you don’t. I think you’d come off much better if you did.

    • Roman says:

      You say that it is demonstrably true. Could you demonstrate it, please?

    • Allen says:

      “After all, if it’s so obviously ridiculous, it shouldn’t be too difficult to rebut it, should it?”

      Not necessarily: “Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”

    • Herbie G says:

      Adam, your contribution is grammatically correct and a model of eloquence. It’s coherent and lucid; impressive in every respect. Every word is carefully chosen to be understandable by anyone from an Oxford don to a Trigger, the road sweeper in Only Fools and Horses; it pushes on with an irresistible, powerful and provocative thrust, sweeping readers along with it to the triumphant denouement.
      How disappointing then that despite all that, so far over 75 per cent of the readers have given it a ‘thumbs down’. Why is that then? Is it that most of the readers of SD are unashamed racists bent on enslaving non-whites, supporting Trump and his murderous police force and being members of a musical Ku Klux Klan, determined to eliminate every scintilla of the black cultural heritage? If so, then why are you casting pearls before swine by sharing your literary masterpiece on this overwhelmingly white supremacist blog alongside contributions from a band of incorrigible hatemongers?

      In default of that proposition, could there be an alternative explanation for this damning verdict? Could it just be that many readers – even perhaps a majority – would like to discuss music as such, and are fed up with the antics of the Society for Politicising Everything White? These people grasp anyone white and preferably famous (but some of them not) and cast upon them or their works the culpability for all the misfortunes of the non-whites. How many people who are reading this really care whether Beethoven’s manuscript paper was sold to him by someone whose brother-in-law’s greengrocer owned slaves? Would it matter if the ink with which he wrote his masterpieces was manufactured by a company whose workforce was one hundred per cent white?

      All the positive attributes of this posting that I mentioned above could be ascribed to the speeches of Churchill, John F Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln – but also to the hate-laden spewings of Hitler, Mussolini and Enoch Powell. In the case of Adam’s posting, I can only pass on it the verdict of Saphir on Reginald Bunthorne’s meaningless doggerel (in ‘Patience’ by G & S): ‘Nonsense, yes, perhaps – but oh, what precious nonsense!’

      Despite the meticulous authorship of Adam’s and the other postings that fantasise on the allegedly negative connotations of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, there’s not a scintilla of supporting documentary evidence. But there’s plenty of that to exculpate him from all the vacuous claptrap peddled by him and his ilk. Lest anyone accuse me of an entirely ad-hominem posting, let’s turn to addressing the facts – and I am perfectly ready to hear of any contrary evidence if such there is.

      Beethoven was renowned to be a humanitarian, strongly opposed to absolutism and oppression. To support this, look at the plot of ‘Fidelio’. On that score (sorry!) I need say no more. Beethoven was anti-royal. His initial admiration of Napoleon as a liberator from the yoke of oppression caused him to write a Heroic Symphony in his honour but when he heard that Napoleon had become emperor, Beethoven scratched out the dedication. There are accounts of his walking down the road and, when a prince or other such personage approached him surrounded by his courtly entourage or band of sycophants, he never (as was demanded by the customs of those times) stepped off the pavement to allow them to pass unhindered – he strode straight through the middle of the crowd. Yes, admittedly he did accept commissions from some of the nobility, but these were offered by cultured aristocrats (such as Archduke Rudolf) who admired Beethoven enough to pay him for his works and not treat him as an inferior artisan.

      But here’s the rub. The Kreutzer Sonata was written for violinist George Bridgetower, whose father was black, probably from Barbados. Beethoven was so enchanted with him and his playing that he wrote this sonata for him; at about 45 minutes long, flamboyant and bristling with technical difficulties, this was, at that time, arguably the grandest work of its kind ever written. It has of course entered the pantheon as one of Beethoven’s finest works. He and Bridgetower did fall out some time after their triumphant premier performance (but Beethoven fell out with just about everyone he knew) and he later changed the dedication to Rodolphe Kreutzer, a French virtuoso who never played it as he simply did not have Bridgetower’s technique or understanding of the work.

      So that’s Beethoven off the hook then. All those iconoclasts who attack eminent white personalities for the most ridiculous reasons are as moronically misinformed as the Nazi party hack who was instructed to pull down all the statues of Jewish composers. Being totally ignorant of anything cultural, and keen to be seen following his Fuhrer’s diktat, he decided to look for the statues of those with the largest noses. The first one he pulled down was that of Richard Wagner! Possibly an urban myth but it so well sums up those lame-brained nonentities who seek to advocate their own culture by destroying someone else’s.

      • MC says:

        and if a standing ovation, side by side with a thumbs up, and a medal could be assigned, then I would by all means offer a standing ovation and assign a medal to your comment.

    • Kaelan says:

      Ironically, I had an assignment about this exact controversy so I thought I’d share my perspective…

      Although Beethoven’s 5th symphony might have been popular among the wealthy and elite, I believe that it is certainly not a symbol of exclusion and elitism. I believe it is outlandish for people to say that “Wealthy white men 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 is predominantly a reminder of classical music’s history of exclusion and elitism”. Talking about how it is a constant reminder of “classical music’s history of exclusion and elitism”, detracts from the fact that it is still a beautiful and harmonious piece of music. It is an excuse for some people to talk about how even classical music is somehow an example of oppression that looks down upon women, LGBTQ+, as well as people of color. People of color, LGBTQ, as well as women and the rest of society should be able to enjoy listening to any type of music. I think that it is also disrespectful when you consider the fact that Beethoven, having loss his hearing, suffered from depression and struggled from committing suicide. Overall, saying that Beethoven’s 5th is oppressive, and elitist is a talking point and an excuse for those to put their blame on why society is full of elitism and oppression when in reality it’s not.

    • Virginia says:

      “The resulting cult of genius”… look, the cult of genius predates Beethoven’s Fifth symphony and it is an integral and fundamentally basic feature of being humans. Now, if some people fail to understand music altogether, or are incapable of feeling its pull on human sentiment and in a truly hypocritical and downright Nazi-racist manner attack each and every achievement of human genius, just because it has been achieved by the specific race they have decided to hate, it certainly isn’t Beethoven’s or the Fifth’s fault.
      Incidentally, when this rather neo-fascist campaign of intolerance against whomever is not perceived (or has failed to convince other to be perceived) as a victim of real or rather (oftentimes) completely made up circumstances, will both leave room to renewed freedom of thought and actual appreciation of the value of something, regardless of the race that produced it, Beethoven’s Fifth will still be there as a beacon of mankind’s greatest achievements. Whereas, most of the “essays” condemning it and its purported “negative effects” on “inclusion”, and most of the other essays produced in this unfortunate time (which do nothing else than play a puerile variation of the same rhetoric used by Nazis to condemn “Jewish” culture, switching targets) will be the subject of worldwide ridicule.

  • Adam says:

    I know complaining about “political correctness” is the go-to in circles like this, but your attitude is the flip side: a refusal to acknowledge uncomfortable facts when they threaten your idols. A refusal to engage in criticism. A retreat to vaguely conspiratorial thinking: “everyone is just anti- everything these days. It doesn’t mean anything.” It’s fair enough to point out trends, but it doesn’t make you look good when you won’t even try to rebut these arguments you supposedly disagree with so strongly. What exactly in the above essay is untrue? Which claims are false? It’d be nice to hear your thoughts instead of this Us vs. Them evasion.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Nice attempt at projection, since I recall you were asked about specifics in an earlier comment.

      Show me, don’t tell me.

    • Minnesota says:

      It would be nice to have some “facts” to argue against, but the assumptions and inferences behind the Vox piece are severely and absurdly fact-challenged. We’re not giving participation awards here.

    • M2N2K says:

      When nearly every statement is an unsupported stretch, then the totality of it becomes utter nonsense.

    • Donald Clarke says:

      You’re right, but that doesn’t matter much nowadays.

  • Alexander T says:

    Why spend so much time discussing American academia?
    1)These are their social problems. (Which is not to say that the UK doesn’t have its own problems with race relations.)
    2) It is not their music. (True,there are plenty of American classical composers. None of them, however, can a hold a candle to the likes of Beethoven Wagner, Debussy etc…)
    IMO it should be referred to as European, not Western, classical music as the current definition of Western excludes countries like Russia, Poland, Hungary. Countries whose contributions dwarf those of American composers.

    • Roman says:

      Unfortunately, the US significantly affects standards in academia to the rest of the world. And the direction the US has taken is worrying.

      • Doc Martin says:

        Quite so. Especially if their President recommends drinking bleach as a cure for cov-19!

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          That was bizarre, along with just about every other element of US politics including, but not limited to, women standing before the whole world and bawling (25 years too late) that they’d been sexually assaulted by a Supreme Court candidate. Toys being cast from cots – all too late.

        • E Rand says:

          show where he said that. You are either purposefully obtuse, or, worse, just obtuse.
          This hoax, like the “fine people” hoax has been debunked endlessly.

          • Geezer says:

            His silly advisor told him about chlorine dioxide and UV during a Press conference. I am not a fan of yanks or their silly Presidents.

          • William Safford says:

            I think you’re right. I don’t think that the orange enemy of the people recommended that people drink bleach.

            He recommended that they *inject* bleach.


          • Marfisa says:

            No, he did not.

            Listen to the youtube video again (if you can bear to), or read the transcript.

            I thought only right-wingers spread misinformation.

            All this has nothing to do with Beethoven or his later reception.

          • William Safford says:

            It’s in the video. Refute that.

          • M2N2K says:

            No, that “recommendation” myth is a complete fabrication – the current POTUS did not do any such thing. The clip helpfully provided here by WS clearly shows that DT merely SUGGESTED to his medical advisors that MAYBE such treatment could be CHECKED (tested). Then he reiterated most emphatically that he was not a doctor, implying quite explicitly that what we should take seriously and try to follow are not his amateurish guesswork but those real recommendations that are being given to us by health professionals.

  • Stephen Gould says:

    I wrote this parody review 20 years ago. Little did I realise…

    Louis Bay-Toven’s new piano concerto was “unveiled” last night to an informed but unappreciative audience.

    For reasons known only to himself the composer elected to write the piece in strict, even authoritarian, obedience to the musical style imposed by the old white male hegemony, which automatically narrowed the possibility of effective discourse, and alienated at least 60% of the audience from the very beginning.

    The “narrative”, if one can call such a poorly-communicating piece, began with a brutal thud in E-flat major – the key well-known to symbolise fascist imperialism, and surely no coincidence here – followed by a series of notes intended to establish the pianist as representative of the male oppressive archetype.

    The composer clearly though of course unconsciously intended to compensate for his own masculine inadequacies by writing an excessively long first movement, hence trying to perpetuate a supremacy myth while inadvertently revealing its lack of inherent validity.

    I will give the composer credit for consistency, if nothing else – the run-on between second and third movements could no doubt be justified by one (and perhaps, no more than one) of Louis Bay-Toven’s staunchest defenders on musical grounds, but to this critic’s ears, it was symbolic of imperial invasion and occupation, the inevitable undercurrent and hidden theme of male-dominated classical music.

    Society has moved on, Mr. Bay-Toven, and while your – I can find no better description – musical rape manual may have appealed to the privileged absolutists and proto-fascists of say Vienna in the early 1800s, it is out of place in modern civilisation.

    (I should note that one person in the audience was heard to remark “this is the Emperor of piano concertos” – a highly revealing remark – but bizarrely, the utterer regarded it as a compliment. I will concede that people are entitled to their own opinions, but in this case, common decency should have required the man to keep quiet and not offend the rest of the audience.)

  • Ken says:

    James Bennett ill just wants attention and for anyone, someone, to remember his name. Let’s not do it. Thanks.

    • MWnyc says:

      James Bennett didn’t write this essay.

      He has, by the way, written some interesting (and sometimes irreverent) stuff for his employer, WQXR in new York City.

  • Le Křenek du jour says:

    First things first:
    ‘ “Polite society” first emerged as a set of cultural standards developed during the mid-18th century as bourgeois class signifiers.’

    These ignoramuses would do well, for starters, to familiarize themselves with the work of Norbert Elias, starting with ‘The Civilizing Process, Vol.I. The History of Manners’, and proceed without pause to ‘The Court Society’.

    Then, before they spout any further nonsense, they are strongly advised to ingest Elias’ collected writings on Mozart (a slender volume, not to tax their limited capacity for comprehension), in which he emphasizes the sociological differences that led to vastly different outcomes in the respective careers of Mozart and Beethoven.

    Of course, Norbert Elias was White. Ungood.
    He was, as far as we know, Male. Plusungood.
    He is, biologically, deceased. Also ungood.
    And, to top the catalogue in the Woke Book of Sins, he was a Jew. Now that’s Doubleplusungood.

    Still, for anyone miscreant enough to prefer knowledge and understanding to Wokeness, here are references and extracts:

  • Michael Henry James says:

    The big four-note trombone theme in the finale of the 5th gives expression to a French Revolution song titled ‘la liberte’, according to the conductor John Eliot Gardiner. But what would he know compared with the connoisseurs at Vox?

  • Stuart says:

    I am not sure why anyone thinks this woke piece has anything to do with academia. One of the authors is a Phd student with a focus on musical theatre and pop music and the other has no musicological background at all. Their article is void of any rigour as to their assertions. They have made something up that fits their LA-influenced views of today back onto the early 19th century. This piece would never make it into an academic journal of any quality. Consider:

    Though concert etiquette that evolved in response to the Fifth may have had the goal of venerating the music, it can also act as a source of gatekeeping. “Polite society” first emerged as a set of cultural standards developed during the mid-18th century as bourgeois class signifiers. In Beethoven’s time, new social etiquette extended into the concert hall.

    Twaddle. US academia may be going off the rails seeing racism and white supremacy in everything, but this is not an example of academic thought.

    • Herbie G says:

      Spot on Stuart – but you are already using their terminology by calling it a ‘woke’ piece. Such words seep into our language, which gives them a measure of credibility. Consider ‘white privilege’. Using the term implies that such a thing is inherent in our society. Racism does exist, but there’s an implication that the very fact of being born white confers a life-long privilege upon someone. Tell that to a homeless white man or woman sleeping rough in a shop doorway when Marcus Rashford drives past in his posh car!

      Then take ‘cultural appropriation’, implying that one’s culture is subject to a patent that is breached every time anyone else has the temerity to adopt it. I guess we should ban Tippett’s music because as a white composer he used three Negro Spirituals in his ‘A Child of our Time’ or ban Benny Goodman recordings because jazz is the cultural heritage of black musicians – to say nothing of Porgy and Bess: a white composer’s setting of a story in which the dramatis personae are black. Funny that because until recently such ‘cultural appropriation’ was taken as an honour for the culture being appropriated, giving it elevated status and influence.
      I’ll end with another term of my own, which I don’t think has been adopted yet (if I am wrong, please disabuse me). What about ‘White Guilt’ – the assertion that all misfortunes experienced by black people individually and collectively were and are caused by the whites. Hmmm – shades of the Third Reich, except that in that case it wasn’t the white people who were to blame…

      • William Safford says:

        If you are white in America, then you have white privilege, whether or not you realize or acknowledge it.

        • M2N2K says:

          That is one of imperfections of democracy – majority “rules”. However, in contemporary USA this imbalance is largely neutralized by white guilt – to a greater extent than in most other white-majority countries. Besides, whites are projected to become a minority here within just a couple of decades.

          • William Safford says:

            Your last sentence is on point, and is a major reason why we see so much racism rearing its ugly head in America right now.

            White supremacists are terrified that they will lose control when they become the minority.

            They are terrified that they will be treated, as a minority, as they treated others when they were the majority.

            We see fear in their eyes.

            They fear any diminution of their white privilege. They fear any rewriting of the law to eliminate or reduce structural racism.

            The good news for them is that it will not be an eye-for-an-eye. There will not be a New Apartheid in the U.S., where whites are subjugated or even enslaved. That will not be their karma.

            They have difficulty accepting this, since it’s what they and their ancestors did to others. They fear the evil obverse of the Golden Rule.

          • M2N2K says:

            You may be partially correct about motivations of those you call “white supremacists”, but the problem is that in any case all governmental and corporate measures that include racial quotas and/or preferences result in more racism rather than less which makes such measures very harmful instead of them being helpful. Improved education coupled with colorblind policies is a much better remedy.

          • William Safford says:

            “Colorblind” policies are, at best, a naive panacea unrealized in the real world. They obscure the very real and active racism in the country.

            At worst, those who profess to be “colorblind,” in fact, are nothing of the sort. They are profoundly racist, they enact profoundly racist policies and procedures, and they use “colorblind” propaganda to cloak their real intent.

          • M2N2K says:

            If colorblind policies are “profoundly racist”, then I rest my case and introduce you to George Orwell, while I will enjoy being in the company of the great MLK.

          • William Safford says:

            I agree. There is something profoundly Orwellian in the use of the term “colorblind” by white supremacists to whitewash white supremacism.

            I recommend that you read up on 19th century Supreme Court decisions, that eviscerated the 13th through 15th Constitutional Amendments for a century. The word “colorblind” was employed, as they created “separate but equal” and similar white supremacist legal edifices.

            They were Orwellian before George Orwell was born.

          • nemo says:

            White supremacy and white racism were the problems of American past. Black racism has become problem in the American present and will culminate in American future. I am white European and a fan of Martin Luther’s Jr.’s Civil Rights Movement and I reject every form of racism (white, black or Asian). You shold be more concerned about black racism than white racism in America nowadays. By the way, I experienced black racism when I was visiting USA on at least couple of occasions so I know what I am talking about.

          • William Safford says:


            What you describe is confirmation bias.

          • nemo says:

            I absolutely disagree and strongly object to you trying to patronize me. As a European (and antirasist) I have a privilege to be able to objective as an external observer of the American society. Social observations cannot be done objectively if an observer is a part of the social group (the USA in this case) he observes. Regarding the US social structure, I am at the distance while you are not. Quite on the contrary to your belief, I find you biased. Having observed your comments, I believe this bias of yours is a consequence of certain ideological constructs (you created in your mind) which, however, have nothing to do with the real-life processes. My guess is that in a 15 years’ time you will realize how utterly wrong you are right now. Next time, try to answer with arguments instead of being judgmental of the person you know absolutely nothing about.

          • William Safford says:

            All right–in that case, please describe what you witnessed in America, that leads you to believe that “Black racism has become problem in the American present and will culminate in American future.”

          • nemo says:

            When I was a graduate student and a guest of the State Department (later I completed my master’s degree from American studies) back in 1999 I was often walking alone in the streets of Washington D.C. My first encounter with black racism was when I was asking a black security guard in a mall where I could buy an American national flag. My English is excellent and I was told that in America on several occasions and in different parts of the States and Canada. However, he was telling me that he does not understand me and cannot help me. There were about ten ways of describing American national flag I used and he did not help me. I was puzzled by the look in his eyes because which I did not understand it at that time because it was the first time for me to encounter a racist. Later I understood because I got quite the same look from several blacks and one Native American, actually indigenous person from Canada. It was the look of frustration, rage, hatred and contempt. I clearly remember it even now after 20 years. Later I went to Anacostia in D.C. by Metro. Anacostia was the last station. After the stop before the last I suddenly realized that I was the only white left on the metro and that the other ten people or so were (literally all) staring at me. I did not know then that 99.99 people living in Anacostia were black. When I got out of the Metro I asked a black Metro officer at the station whether it is safe there (my standard question in the States whenever I was in any doubts). He said nothing and just stared at me with that gaze I was describing before. Now, you must understand that I was always and everywhere very polite while travelling in the States. And I asked him again explaining that I was a visitor from Europe (using the Sir title all the time). Then he slowly asked me: “Do you think safe for you or safe for me?” I laughed kindly and said that for me, of course. He then said that I should be fine during the day. His gaze never changed. Then I went to the bus stop where about ten buses were standing. I wanted to get to the a certain in Anacostia and had a map of Anacostia with me. I chose one of the buses and told the black driver that I wanted to get to the park and asked her kindly (using the title Madam) if she could help me. She gave me that same gaze and said she couldn’t. Then I asked another black Metro officer standing at the bus parking lot for help and I explained her I wanted to get to the park and which bus should I take. She was a kind person, looking at me casually and said kindly that of course she will help me. To my shock she went to that very same bus driver I was speaking to (out of ten buses!) and asked her to help me by letting me know when to get down. She basically asked her for a favor. That bus driver than helped me because she was doing a favor to her colleague and not me. A few days later, I was having dinner with some Americans of the upper class, very rich white people. The dinner was organized by the State department. They asked me during the dinner if I saw something interesting here in D.C. I told them I was in Anacostia alone and they almost screamed. They treated me, as if I came from the war zone. A few days earlier two whites were beaten to death by a juvenile gang with baseball bats in Anacostia. That’s why their reaction was such. I must say that I met a lot of black Americans and Native Americans in the States and some indigenous people in Canada. Most of them were nice. However, some of them were racist. And I spent only a total of 12 weeks in the States on four occasions from 1998-2001. Meeting so many black racists in such a short period of time shows that there is a problem with black racism in the States. I met app. one hundred Native Americans in the US and in Canada and only one of them (Canadian) was racist towards me. Most of them were extremely friendly towards me. Much more than American blacks. Therefore, I believe that there is no problem with Native American racism in the North America. However, black racism is a different story. Regarding the future. What I hear from media reporting in the last few years, I find that situation regarding black racism is much worse in the States than it was 20 years ago. Black celebrities making racist statement against whites, polite white people being called as “mean mad white man” at distinguished debates, political activists (black and white) instigating the fire of black anger against whites, and all this exaggeration with “White Guilt” nonsense clearly shows that black racism is on the march and things will only get worse here. If you want me to prove that “White Guilt” is nonsense, just say it. I can prove it to you historically beyond doubt that it is a nonsense.

          • William Safford says:

            Thank you for your description.

            Without contradicting your experiences in any way, I now understand the source of your error.

            Through your experiences with certain individuals and a neighborhood, you experienced several of the pernicious effects of white supremacy, of structural racism, of racism writ large, by interacting with people who have experienced it since birth. You witnessed certain details, without understanding the big picture.

            Why does Anacostia have such a large Black population? Because of white flight after a superhighway was built right through it.

            Why were so many of those people angry? Well, I imagine that you would also be angry, if you had been treated so poorly from birth the way that most or all of them were.

            Plus, the reality is that anyone can be a jerk: white, Black, or polkadot. *shrug*

            Is there such a thing as a “black racist?” Yes, but I suspect that most of what you experienced was angry people.

            Is there such a thing as “white guilt?” Perhaps, but that is used more often as an epithet by bigoted people. Instead of labeling someone who believes in the equality of all people a “white traitor,” as was common in previous decades, they say that that person has “white guilt.”

            In other words, my previous comment stands. You had a few unpleasant experiences, you extrapolated from them, you expected to see certain things based on them, you interpreted them through your filters, and you had them reinforced by those “upper class, very rich white people” (who have and expressed their own prejudices) and others.

            It is confirmation bias in action.

          • nemo says:

            Thank you for your comment. I laughed sincerely. During that dinner, I later talked in low voice with a person sitting next to me, an older business owner, and told him that I don’t understand the reaction of other Americans at the table when I mentioned me being in Anacostia. I said that generally I found people there OK. He said that the majority of people in Anacostia were good people, very good Christians and that juvenile gangs are actually the problem there. I agreed with that observation. However, those few people I described were still black racists. Your sweet talking about angry people and the highway etc. does not change that. I was treated badly only because of the color of my skin – that is the fact. If I had been black, I would have been treated much better. So you are only in denial and trying to find excuses that I am wrong so that your own creation in mind that black racism does not exist would be confirmed. I find this ridiculous and typically liberal American. Of course, some people of all races are jerks. However, some people of all races are racists too. And situation in the USA is getting worse regarding black racism. Americans finally realized that white racism is bad. Thank God. However, it appears that Americans do not realize that black racism is bad too. Such people like yourself who claim that black racism does not exist even encourage it. Because if you say that black racism in the USA cannot exist because black people do not have enough of the position of power to be racist (or similar liberal nonsense) than you open the field to black racists to express their racism freely (exactly that is happening right now). And that would anger a lot of white people who are not racist right now but could become in future after being provoked constantly (through media if not personally). And thus you get a vicious circle of racism in the States. How will “one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners … be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood,” if the “sons of former slaves” are mad at the “sons of former slave owners” and cannot get over it? By the way, I was not angry with those black racists. I was grateful for the experience because I learned an important lesson (you obviously still have not) and understood the American society and culture even more. Of course, I understood their anger because I knew that they were simple poor people trying to find someone responsible of their misery. And that someone happened to be me at that time. I was even a bit sympathetic towards them. However, that does not mean that black racism is OK. And it surely does not mean that black racism does not exist. The true reason of anger of the blacks in America has nothing to do with white supremacy in the past and so on. The true reason is poverty. And the poverty is not only a problem of black Americans but also of many other Americans of all other races. And it is the direct result of American economy. In Europe, we have social and welfare state and have much less problems in this perspective than Americans do. All this mumbo jumbo about black Americans being victims of slavery, segregation etc. in the past is just a diversion of white rich people in America, to canalize the anger of a part of poor people in the safe direction so that relatively brutal economy is untouched. It is much more convenient that there are BLM protests against police than having social unrests because of the poverty which is a direct consequence of the system of American economy under which there will always be a lot of terribly poor people. Don’t get tricked by racial diversion. It is just cheap propaganda. Regarding the position of black Americans, I find what Candace Owens has to say very smart. I came to similar conclusions as she did more than 15 years ago by studying the American society.

          • William Safford says:

            You continue to mistake cause for effect.

            I was prepared to discuss several pertinent issues: the pernicious effects of white supremacy on America; the fact that America never had the equivalent of the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation, and it shows in every part of our society; and much more. I was even set to agree with you in a discussion of how elites in the U.S. have historically used racial grievance as a tool to pit poor white people against minorities, while reaping the benefits from above.

            However, you showed you hand with the following sentence:

            “I find this ridiculous and typically liberal American.”

            You just lost credibility.

          • nemo says:

            You are wrong again about my “hand”. I am neither American liberal nor American conservative because I am a European living in Europe. I am critical of both. American liberals are gravely mistaken in the social field. American conservatives are gravely mistaken in the field of economy. “White supremacy in America”, as you refer to it, having effect on the lives of present black Americans is a fairy tale. Only Native American truly suffered – not from white supremacy – but from constant white aggression which was actually a genocide. American blacks of the present also benefited from their ancestors being moved to America (same as most whites did). Even poor black Americans have better quality of life today as they would have now in Africa (even if they were among the rich Africans) if their ancestors were not driven to America by force. This is the reality check. Besides, truly black Americans are rarity in the States. More than 70 percent of “black Americans” are in fact mulattos. And because of that – philosophically speaking – “white supremacy” refers to them as well because they have white ancestors too. If a child has a 100% black father and a 100% white mother – is he/she black or white? I believe neither or both. You cannot declare such a child as black only because that – in fact – would be white racism. Unless you appreciate “one-drop rule” which is an utterly racist perspective in the USA (not Europe) – and if you do you should be ashamed of yourself. I don’t like American liberal perspective of the position of American blacks because it is a racist perspective. Even though liberals try to show themselves as antiracist, racism in deeply rooted in their argumentative manner (the mentioned “one-drop rule” for instance). Yes, I believe that white liberals are in fact bigger racist than conservatives nowadays in America. Striking at first glance but very true if you reach to the liberal and conservative cores. And the majority black community is unfortunately completely buying liberal ideological BS right now which is agaist its longterm interest as the future – I am sure of that – will prove. And where is your credibility? Not once have you answered on my arguments. You were only making some completely missed ethical assumptions about me and giving some patronizing judgments about me. I find it ridiculous. Get a grip.

          • William Safford says:

            You are wrong. Racism, white supremacy, bigotry, xenophobia, and much more, are alive and well in the United States.

            To deny this, is to deny reality. To deny this despite all the evidence to the contrary, is to maintain a white supremacist fictional outlook.

            You repeat the racist tropes, as you make the case against your argument.

            “Put yourselves in our shoes for just a moment….Imagine how it feels to wake up every day and do your best to uphold the values that this country claims to hold dear—truth, honor, decency—only to have those efforts met by scorn. Not only by your fellow citizens, but by a sitting president.”

            –Michelle Obama

            This is just a hint at what the life experiences are for millions of people in America.

          • nemo says:

            You are a reasonably good writer but, obviously, very poor reader. Your entire post is another shot in the dark. Where did I say that “racism, white supremacy, bigotry, xenophobia, and much more” are not “alive” in the USA? I agree with you 100% on this one. However, my statement that “white supremacy in America”, as you refer to it, having effect on the lives of present black Americans is a fairy tale” still stands. Why? Because all those Americans who are openly pursuing the idea of white supremacy are socially marginalized by the American majority, have no social power, and are immediately “lynched” by mainstream media. And you’ve made me laugh again. Do you seriously quote Michelle Obama on this matter? Are you kidding me? She is one of the most privileged black Americans. She has been more privileged then most white Americans. Princeton University and Harvard Law School, for example. Poor, poor Michelle Obama. She has suffered tremendously in her life. (ROFL) Yeah, right. I think your credibility just went down the toilet. Why? Because you are quoting a person who is a part of the American political establishment and part of the elites who play the card of racism to prevent social unrests in America. And I do not know, why you chose this ridiculous quote from the former first lady grudging about Trump. You can attribute a lot of bad things to Trump. However, you cannot attribute racism to him. For that, there is no evidence. In addition, in his four years Trump in fact did more for the black American community than Obama did in eight years. I follow the work of American presidents from the mid-eighties. You had bad presidents and OK presidents. Bad presidents were Reagan, Bush Jr. and Obama. OK presidents were Bush Sr., Clinton and Trump. In fact, Trump was the best of the three – probably because he is the only one who is not a part of the American political establishment (Democrat or Republican – it does not matter because this is in fact all one establishment of the privileged rich). It is funny that a billionaire did so much for the little man in America. A little hint for you: try to be less superficial and shallow in your comments because you are embarrassing yourself.

          • William Safford says:

            Wow–you’re neck deep in the right wing propaganda lie machine.

            Again, you are wrong on almost all counts, and again you are repeating falsehoods as if they were fact.

            You continue to ruin your credibility.

            You attempt to claim the existence and prominence of “black racism.” This is primarily your invention, and certainly is not relevant in any context that you have yet cited.

            You continue to deprecate the very real and pernicious power of systemic racism and white supremacy in the United States.

            The fish rots from the head down, as the expression goes, and right now we have a white supremacist President, who also happens to be the most incompetent President at least since Buchanan in the 19th century, and possibly the worst of all our history.

            He, in turn, has emboldened his supporters. You need look no farther than the events in Charlottesville, VA for one example of this: neo-Nazis and other white supremacists marched in August, 2017 in his name, and murdered one person.

            You claim that there is no evidence of the white supremacy of the infectious orange enemy of the people. Then you are either woefully or willfully ignorant:

            -Lawsuit against the Trumps in NYC, in which he and his father signed consent decrees prohibiting them from discriminating against African-American renters–and then were sued again for violating the terms of the consent decree.

            -The so-called “birther” conspiracy, in which the orange enemy of the people claimed that President Obama was born in Kenya, when, in fact, Obama was born in Hawaii.

            And so much more.

            You speak either from ignorance, or an active desire to pawn off lies as facts and create a false narrative to blame the victims. Only you know which is the case. We can infer an answer based on your writings. If the issue is ignorance, then you may want to unlearn all the dreck that you just repeated. You have a lot of work to do.

            Either way, thank you for showing us your true colors. They’re ugly, but at least you’re forthright about your bigotry and right-wing propaganda.

          • Jim says:

            You didn’t read those decisions very carefully….or at all. Harlan’s dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson specifically uses the term “color-blind” (favorably) in opposition to the separate but equal underpinning of the majority decision. And it wouldn’t make any sense for those earlier decisions to be characterized as “color blind” when they would necessarily HAVE to make a distinction between the races for the “separate” of separate but equal to make any sense.

  • Doc Martin says:

    The doctor and the artist have much in common. The doctor tends to the weaknesses of the flesh, the infirmities of the mind and artists too are healers. Their art is nourishment for the human soul, without it we whither and die.

    For me the fifth, is an exercise in compression, everything about it is concise, compressed and tight the very opposite of the sixth, which is an exercise in thematic expansion.

    To compose a symphony based on a simple four note motif which reappears in various guises in each successive movement is a stroke of genius. It suggests to me that Beethoven was having a laugh. His Rhinelander sense of humour must have been something. Rather as Joyce did with his HCE character in Finnegans Wake.

    As I understand it, he composed it for a planned trip to Paris which never happened at the time there was talk of a possible wee job with Jerome Bonaparte in Westphalia. In the end the various princes in Vienna clubbed together with a better offer.

    I seem to recall when it was performed in Paris in the 1840s, some old Imperial guardsman, a veteran of Waterloo, got up and waved his sword in the finale shouting, C’est l’empereur!

    (Doc Martin is a retired GP based in Belfast)

  • Guest says:

    Whomever wrote the piece has obviously not been to very many classical concerts, including ours.
    We have no dress code (other than, please wear clothes) and we have high-level donors who come-as-they-are, sometimes meaning jeans.
    And while most of our audience observes the convention of not applauding between movements, if the spirit moves you, applaud away.
    Our goal is to draw people in and feel welcome at a classical experience, not push them away.

    • MWnyc says:

      Wellll …

      I think there really is still a bit of an exclusive/exclusionary culture around concert etiquette, but that problem comes just about entirely from a subset of audience members.

      I’ve noticed that even the horror stories that prominent Black classical musicians have been sharing lately involve audience members and/or donors much more than they involve institutions themselves.

      The institutions mostly seem anxious to welcome newcomers and not to be intimidating or prejudiced. But there’s a limit to what they can do about snobbish patrons.

  • Dragonetti says:

    Please sir! Could somebody stop the world? I want to get off.
    Thank you.

  • Lancelot Spratt says:

    The fifth is all about “Through darkness to light”, from c minor to C major, quite appropriate for us today. It should be called the “Hope” symphony.

    A book I started reading during the lockdown is Beethoven’s Symphonies. Nine Approaches to Art and Ideas. Martin Geck, Trans. Stewart Spencer.

  • Is the article about Beethoven’s music, or about the patrician rituals of classical music concerts?

  • Doc Martin says:

    Here is a wee snippet of the Andante con moto made during the recording with Orchester Wiener Akademie , Martin Haselböck.

    It compares very favourably with the celebrated Kleiber recording. They recorded all the symphonies in places used by Beethoven.

    • Le Křenek du jour says:

      I absolutely love the entire ResoundBeethoven series, and got every item in it as soon as released. It deserves to be much better known.
      Thanks for pointing it out.
      (Martin Haselböck is a favourite of mine, and much underrated in my opinion.)

      The video you linked shows a nice contrast between the august (but very lively and cheerful!) surroundings and the zestfully casual, if not outright scruffy, attire of the players. Only the music matters!

      A perfect way to rubbish the idiotic assertions of Messrs. Sloan and Harding: “suonando”.

  • C Thomson says:

    Often it seems that American so-called intellectualism is eager and ready to examine anything that isn’t something.

    As for the Vox piece, the logic doesn’t add up.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Thanks for giving us a snippet Norman. It saves us from insulting our intelligence by reading the rest of the tripe and nonsense that is no doubt spewed forth by the woke no-brainers who wrote it.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    All Music that is not Classical has no class.

  • Ricardo T says:

    All this conversation is bullshit. Music means nothing but itself, all the rest are made up associations and apropriations.

    • Herbie G says:

      Bullshit Ricardo? I wouldn’t speak that highly of it!

    • José Bergher says:

      Sometime in the early 60s, an TV station interviewed the conductor Josef Krips. The interviewer asked, “Maestro Krips, would you please tell us what is music?
      Krips answered, “Music…is…MUSIC!!!”

  • Ed says:

    I don’t want to imagine a culture designed by these people.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Concert hall etiquette developed for obvious reasons: be silent so that everybody can actually hear the music; keep your coughs inside for the same reason; dress in style out of respect for the occasion and the art form because a live concert is a special occasion; any veneration you might succumb to is accepted as a bonus but it is not an obligation. Applause or boo’s are allowed after the work to provide some lively feedback for the performers. The offering of flowers, or even whole bouquets, as an expression of enthusiasm and gratefulness, is allowed, according to local cultural habits. Screaming, undressing, fisticuffs and spontaneous fainting are only allowed with contemporary indigestible sound art.

    Who would complain about concert etiquette? Only the people wealthy enough to afford a ticket but substantially illiterate to totally miss the point a the live concert.

    And then, if you really cannot stand those concert mores, just stay away and play a CD at home where you can undress, cough, fight and faint without hindering someone else. It can even be done in groups of likeminded.

    • Kenneth says:

      Hear, hear!

    • Patricia says:

      During Mozart’s time, if an audience really liked something they heard, they broke into applause during the movement. There is no evidence to suggest that the musicians resented this.

      • John Borstlap says:

        That does not mean that it is a good custom. It means that the audience was underdeveloped. Mozart himself wrote in one of his letters to his father that for him the greatest compliment during a concert was the silence of the audience.

  • Dennis says:

    I’m not sure which is worse: the inane and Vox article claiming concert etiquette “evolved in response to the Fifth” (excepting the first 4 notes, I doubt anyone on the Vox staff could distinguish the 5th from the 3rd, 7th, 9th, etc.) and essentially denouncing all European art forms as inherently “white supremacist,” or the attempt to claim the 5th as a “symbol of freedom in the war against Nazism.” Both are philistine reductions of art to suit political and ideological ends.

  • Don’t worry.

    That op-ed will cause exactly zero Beethoven performances to be cancelled.

    But his thesis is sloppy and erroneous. No one was paying attention to music until Beethoven? It is preposterous.

    It was the opera world, not Beethoven’s 5th, that created audience etiquette.

    Opera houses began enforcing bans on mid-act encores.

    Wagner wrote operas without separate “numbers” to discourage audience interruptions and other composers followed suit.

    And audiences themselves began shooshing other audience members so they could hear what was being sung.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Wagner also made sure that in his Festspielhaus the seats were so uncomfortable that the punishing of the flesh would induce a longing for redemption through the work of art.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    Total humbug.

  • Andrew Matthews says:

    As Celibidache rightly observed, music does not exist. That being the case it cannot have the characteristics that these people ascribe to it.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That is a new observation, I thought music has been around at least since the 9th century – art music, that is.

    • Elena Drambareanu says:

      It is not in the air,it is in your heart and mind if you have them and are happy and grateful to have them uplifted.

  • marcus says:

    Do these guys make a living churning out this garbage?

  • Ricky says:

    HVK: the master. Unforgettable master.!!!

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    It is paradoxical that the only civilization which is evaluated critically is the one (and only one) which gave the world the concepts of justice, equality and freedom.Every other civilisation is held to be sacrosanct. Absurd.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed… ‘away with us!’

      It is self-flagellation for the crimes of the forefathers, so that one looks morally superior by self-destruction.

      Freud and Jung would have a field day.

  • Fan says:

    Before people on this board attack the original article under the baton of Mr. Lebrecht, you probably shall read its last sentence:

    “ Find out how Beethoven’s Fifth went from symbolizing freedom to a more complicated legacy — and how the symphony’s original meaning might be recovered”

    In other words, the article, which is not particularly profound, is not about Beethoven 5 but about its reception and how it was taken advantage by a status-conscious crowd to brand themselves. I doubt anyone in these days will claim everyone going to concerts or operas are for the love of art.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Assumptions about audience motivation are always speculative and vulnerable to projection. For instance, French ‘philosopher’ Bourdieu claimed that the classical music world is merely bourgeois posturing to exclude ‘other people’ from their dominating class. He was wrong and merely revealed what he thought about music.

      • Fan says:

        Putting Bourdieu in quotation mark probably would be a compliment to him who would have been more pleased to be called a sociologist, an ethnographer or even a scientist. Philosophy has lost its prestige among real thinkers.

    • Allen says:

      “I doubt anyone in these days will claim everyone going to concerts or operas are for the love of art.”

      You could construct a similar argument about virtually anything. I don’t think that everyone going to football matches is interested in sport – there’s clearly a “laddish” tribal mentality.

      There are “upmarket” restaurants, clubs and sporting events where people can be “seen”, and can freely mingle. In the 21st century, classical concerts and operas (long ones in particular) seem to be a very poor choice and, in the UK, more likely to attract tabloid spite than appreciation – sadly.

      David McVicar’s Salome is a social occasion? I don’t think so. Gave me nightmares.

    • William Safford says:

      Your comment is far more subtle and nuanced than many of the commenters on this blog.

  • Morgan says:

    Norman, the article is far more nuanced and is prefatory to a podcast. Your positioning is too slanted. The podcast (three of five out) are OK, nothing truly new, but you should read more closely and with a sense of the nuance. Don’t become the hammer to the nail; that would be beneath you.

  • ira says:

    what is the story of that dark image of beethoven?

    • John Borstlap says:

      B was known for conducting a strict hygiene regime with daily showers. Only his dressing habits were slovenly. In other words: he was clean but careless. On one day when he had sent the housekeeper away, suspecting her of peeping into his sketches, he tried to bake an omelet and the pan got on fire. That was when the picture was taken.

  • Richard says:

    They lost me at “white men.” Read on, though…

  • Joe Sebesta says:

    There are people in this world with to much time on their hands. Don’t stop here with all the racial divide that’s being created I’m sure if you look hard enough you can find something on a cave wall that hurting your feelings. Grow up and act like an adult and tackle the problems of today.

  • Andrew says:

    Complete nonsense. A classical concert is no more elitist or subject to behavioural norms than Glastonbury and us far less costly to attend. There’s a certain breed of commentator -the types who tell you opera is elitist – who can’t cope with their ignorance of music which makes them feel inadequate. They try to cover this by making stupid comments like the above about Beethoven’s 5th. Pathetic and sad.

  • Werner says:

    If you think Beethoven has to live up to YOUR standards… go ahead and be a f*cking genius. And after that: P*ss off.

  • Elvira says:

    To create interest ,make a foolish statement and …voilà people
    are reacting
    The secret to be noticed when you have nothing to say.

  • William Safford says:

    The usual nattering nabobs of negativism are at it again.

    Most of them clearly did not read the article. At least one admitted as much.

    I just read it.

    There’s nothing particularly new or revolutionary about that article. Did audiences change their behavior around then? In a general sense, yes. Was it specifically due to Beethoven 5? Probably not. As someone else pointed out, the changes occurred in opera audiences as much as anywhere else. IIRC, Taruskin addresses this topic; at a convenient moment, I’ll thumb through his tome and look up what he wrote about it.

    So, when you read many of the comments, keep in mind that you are reading less about the article or the ideas contained therein, and more about the personal biases and agenda of commenters who didn’t bother to read the article for themselves.

    I do like the quote in the article by Anthony McGill (who just won the Avery Fischer Prize):

    “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.”

    I agree. I like listening to Beethoven 5. I like performing Beethoven 5. But there is so much more music out there just waiting to be played, or commissioned. Let’s play it! Let’s commission it then play it!

  • Mahler says:

    As a coloured person from a non-classical background, I am confirm concerts from the outside experience are nothing like this. Beethoven’s 5th was almost the last concert I saw before the pandemic. There was no dress code (and this is one of the oldest orchestras in the world). People just didn’t clap between movements out of respect. Everyone had a great time. No rich people spat on me. This Vox article is utter nonsense. Classical music is for everyone and always will be. Having manners is now “white supremacy”. No it’s called being respectful. If you want to scream throughout concerts and come in a bikini you are not fighting classicism, you are a degenerate and an idiot. Just have fun without disturbing others. Not hard to ask for

  • Escamillo says:

    Let’s put on the mammoth skins – it’s back to the cave.

  • Roberto says:

    Doesn’t he indeed look black in this picture? LvB had a handful of portraits taken plus one or two casts. They all look completely different. Can someone explain, please?

  • Charlie says:

    America is currently experiencing a Cultural Revolution. Just like in 1960s China and in so many other places, these radicals aim to erase history and burden innocent people with guilt and original sin based not on anything they have done, but on their skin color. I work in the arts and in education and have personally witnessed the rapid spread of this ideology in the last few months. Either stand up against it or watch large parts of our arts disappear.

    • William Safford says:

      Is your idea of “arts,” Confederate white supremacist iconography, by any chance?

      • M2N2K says:

        If it has artistic merit and value, then it is part of the arts.

        • William Safford says:

          Please describe for all of us, the artistic merit and value of Confederate white supremacist propaganda iconography.

          • M2N2K says:

            Learn to read: you must have missed the very first word of my previous comment.

          • William Safford says:

            Your comment leads the reader to believe that you believe that there is artistic merit to white supremacist icons.

            If you retract that impression, and thereby agree that there is no artistic merit to them, then we are in agreement.

          • Virginia says:

            to be true, art is art regardless of what it is intended to mean. If we were so fool as to state that a work of art is such, only when the topic is conforming to a certain opinion, we would be no different than Nazis burning books because they didn’t conform to their opinion of art. Remember the concept of “degenerated art” which included Mahler’s music? Stating that art is “degenerated” because it doesn’t suit your view of the world is wrong, not because your view of the world is wrong, but because art is about creativity and nothing else. Even a movie about Nazi propaganda, if it has any artistic value, is art; even a Communist movie made in Soviet Union could be art, if it has artistic value. It might even happen that some of the garbage we produce when we are restricted on what we can or cannot say in the fear that someone might or might not be offended by our words, could one day pass as art, although it’s very difficult to produce anything artistically creative when you put restraints on what an artist is allowed to say or not say (it’s called censorship, and it tends to cripple, rather than favour the arts).
            So, just to be very clear, Art remains Art even if the topic is the deranged and totally cretin belief in the supremacy of the German “race” over the “other races” of the world. And garbage remains garbage even when the topic is inclusiveness and equality. The topic does not make an artwork. The topic, in fact, is completely irrelevant when it comes to define art. Human creativity and the ability to depict even the same old message in a totally new way makes art. So, no: politically correctness live on a totally different planet than Art. In fact, it’s very likely going to be a burden for the Arts.

  • Ann says:

    FFS…. Academic A-holes have to disect or denigrate anything and everything it make it be about elitism, WP, heinous American forefathers or prejudice. If they can’t exploit it they ruin it for everyone else. Now explain the intricacies of street musicians or indigenous drummers.

  • Clyde Jennings says:

    Has it become an academic rite of passage in some circles to find some great target to build a case against? Built with pseudo arguments that are ultimately silly and groundless ideas.

    I heard this same sort of attack on 19th century opera from, of all people, the granddaughter of William Grant Still of all people, whom many white musicians brought forward for years.

    I agree it’s sad that we had—and have—a society like that. But it won’t get fixed by stupidly attacking a genius who died nearly 200 years ago.

  • True North says:

    Nobody who has any common sense at all would say that Beethoven was “African.” However, some images do portray him with a rather dark complexion. And genetics play funny tricks sometimes. Consider this: my father had a friend from earliest childhood with whom he grew up in a tiny village in central Europe. Our families have lived in that area as far back as history records. But when I was recently looking through an old photo album from their youth, I was startled to come across a picture of my father’s friend as a teenager. With his black hair in tight curls and his skin quite strikingly several shades darker than the other boys, he simply did not appear Caucasian in the least. I cannot explain this, but I would not be very surprised if a DNA test revealed a small amount of North African heritage somewhere in his genetic history. And I would similarly not be too surprised if Beethoven, born nearby and of the same central European stock, had similar colouring as this young man. It IS possible.

    • John Borstlap says:

      In the 17th and 18th century, people from N-Africa (‘Moors’ ) were living in great numbers in Europe, many of them having respected jobs at the courts, some groups settling in England:

      Flanders, where B’s forefather came from, also had many contacts with non-European lands, and the great international painter Rubens often had them as models:

      This means he had them around in Antwerp, a busy international trade centre.

      So, it is perfectly possible that some ‘moor’ had strayed through B’s genetic line. So what?

      • Count Zero says:

        Well “in great numbers” is an exaggeration. In the case of Britain there were always some black servants of Caribbean families, especially in London, and there were sailors from all parts of the globe passing through the port and often stuck there for months. There may have been a peak of a few thousand “black” people, mostly men, at the end of the C18th — in a city of almost a million people. The figure declined in the first half of the nineteenth century. So yes there were always black people in Britain but relatively few in number and mostly confined to London or a handful of other great ports. There seem to be people who want to project the image of a contemporary multicultural society back to other centuries. This is bad history.

    • William Safford says:

      You may be interested in the documentary “Little White Lie” by Lacey Schwartz. Raised white and Jewish, but with a dark complexion that was initially attributed to a Mediterranean ancestor, she discovered in high school that she is, in fact, half-Black.

  • Michael Endres says:

    Just to clear the confusion at Vox:

    Nearly all great composers in most of classical music’s history are indeed white.
    But the reason for that scandalon is that it originates from Europe, not Texas or Oklahoma.

    But the magazine has got other areas where their expertise is convincing.

  • Lynn Brown says:

    The radio broadcast of concerts was a game changer for concert ettiquette since every minute counted. The repeat of a movement (like the 7th allegretto) was played twice at the vocal demands of the audience.

  • Robert Pierre says:

    Monumental Stupidity. And not even surprising.

  • Fiddlist says:

    Getting so tired of reading this crap. Anti-everything indeed.

  • Stephen Lawrence says:

    there’s an established set of conventions and etiquette (“don’t cough!”; “don’t cheer!”; “dress appropriately!”)….

    … And then there’s the standards for Promenaders

  • sycorax says:

    If memory doesn’t fail me one of the Beethoven’s symphonies – I think it was the Eroica – was first dedicated to Napoleon, but not because of him being emperor, but for being the outsider which over came the etablishment. And in Beethoven’s entire life is not much what one could interpret as him being a slave of the etablishment.

  • Pilar Silvela says:

    No se pueden decir más inectitudes en tan corto espacio….!

  • Tony Hayden says:

    Thank heavens the fifth will be around longer than you.

  • Maria says:

    Best to listen to the wonderful music and cut out the musiclogical and historical– or more hysterical – crap! Everyone trying to be an expert and spouting their heads off with an air of superiority, ending in defacing beauty but in the end says more about them than Beethoven’s Fifth.

  • Dave T says:

    For the (often modest) price of a ticket and for following “an established set of conventions and etiquette; don’t cough, don’t cheer, dress appropriately”— you, too, can be considered “polite society”. What could be easier? If that’s “gate keeping” then it’s not much of gate.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Nothing is safe from the woke crowd – also the visual arts are under siege:

  • Ricardo Lemus says:

    I don’t believe at all what this article says. Knowing Beethoven and his music, he didn’t have at all a racism aim. On the contrary, he was in favor of human freedom, equality. This article is poisonous to the image of a man, we all know, has a great human quality.

  • Mathias Broucek says:

    We should clearly allow clapping between movements three and four…

  • Jeremy says:

    Nate and Charlie are two of the most idiotic music commentators on the internet today. Their podcast is full of musical inaccuracies and errors, along with a strong dose of “We’re better than you because I have a doctorate from Berklee.” I don’t know why Vox keeps them on staff.

  • Oravla says:

    I lived 32 years in the States. Never ever anybody told me snything about any dressing code. At the NY Met Opera there were all kinds of people. Many with jeans and others with a suit and tie. Black, white, mulatos….you name it!! Elegant ladies and carelessly dressed ladies. Wasn’t the NY Met the epitome of refinement and elegance?? Yes, in the IXX Cent. Not since long ago.
    I live in Barcelona . Same thing for the Liceo opera house. They even have Pop concerts there since long long ago. What does that tell you? 1. You sre a jackass 2. You are really a racist. 3. You know nothing about Beethoven’s stormy dealings with the nobility of the day.
    Think before writing!. But then again, jackasses can’t think!!

  • Stephen Lord says:

    Shocking. And yet I am not shocked. The sad thing is that there will be some fools who will quickly run to “adjust.”

  • H Edwards says:

    Utter rubbish. Beethoven was one of the greatest composers who ever lived. You should read up on his life and his approach to life.
    There is no such thing as elitism. In this day and age of abundant access to music, everybody and anybody has access to Beethoven’s music. The same goes for many other great composers. The same also goes for many of the jazz greats, such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Archie Shepp – the list is almost endless.

  • Liam Allan-Dalgleish says:

    Beethoven was not of negro heritage ( negro is a perfectly acceptable historicism word; moreover, negro takes in a greater number of people than African. There is an increasing tendendency to think literally in black and white. If you’re white (= Honky) and black, well. . . .). As happened in the 60’s, this silly, phony argument about Beethoven being black—and,like Haydn, having the head of his corpse disappear, as if there were some terrible shame in being a composer, or a classical composer, or a black classical composer, or a white classical music composer, or, or white, or. . . . This nonsense has long since been disposed of. The people spreading this non-sense are racists pretending to protect some noble cause. Let’s think of the Duke: it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing—the Beethoven swing or any other type of swing except the child’s playground swing.

  • Count Zero says:

    Born into a working-class family in the north of England, I was introduced to classical music at my grammar school in the 1960s. At 15 and 16 I became an enthusiast. If I travelled 6 miles on a bus I could get to a public library which permitted me to borrow LPs of classical music and so I steadily expanded my knowledge and enjoyment. And there was the BBC Third Programme on the wireless. By the late 60s, as a student, I could occasionally scrape together the money to go to a concert.

    I am taking a while to get to the point. Far from being excluded, in the 1960s in Britain there were resources for anybody — anybody! — to access classical music. Of course there were posh people at The Festival Hall and other concert halls. Maybe some looked down their noses at scruffy long-haired students like me and my friends. I can’t say I noticed. If I had I would have stared right back at them. We had a right to be there — and in fact nobody ever challenged us. I never felt excluded. The music was written and performed for us not for snooty ladies in glittery dresses and disapproving men in bow ties attending because it was the done thing in polite society. Beethoven and Mahler and Sibelius spoke directly to us!

    Concert halls may be intimidating places for a newcomer. But you can wear what you want and be who you want, nobody will challenge you. Anybody who wants to be there to listen to Beethoven has a right to be there — if they have bought a ticket. On the other hand, standards of behaviour in the concert hall are not about excluding people — they are essential so we can all focus on the music. Lord preserve us from the ethos of the cinema these days — people munching on burgers, slurping on fizzy drinks and talking throughout the film.

  • the real racism is what this article implies: if you are of what is calumniated as an inferior race you had better keep your place by limiting your culture to rap, sports such as hoop dreams, a baby talk dialect of language, and costumes designed to look infantile. Dr. Tyson, a famous astrophysicist is of visibly African descent. When he was growing up and made the mistake of expressing the desire to study physics he was told, “You people are not supposed to become scientists. You should be interested in hoop dreams and entertainment.”
    I believe from what Beethoven expressed in his opera, Fidelio, he would be horrified at the lies which claim blacks, including some of the greatest concert artists and composers, are barred from his concerts. Standards of “polite society” such as no smoking and no disrupting the performance have nothing to do with crackpot junk science theories about race. They are legitimate culture anyone can easily enjoy practicing.