BBC Radio 3 is accused of ‘relentless wokeness’

BBC Radio 3 is accused of ‘relentless wokeness’


norman lebrecht

December 11, 2020

A former Boris Johnson advisor has spoken out in the House of Lords against the ‘relentless wokeness’ of the BBC’s classical station.

Lord Moylan said: ‘In my Neanderthal fashion I have found that BBC Radio 3 has been the mainstay of my life for nearly 50 years and it’s a fine example of public service broadcasting. But in recent years it has been infected by a sort of relentless wokeness, which I think is a sort of tendency of public service broadcasting.’

He explained later that his objection was to the over-promotion of sidelined women composers – he singled out the romantic American Amy Beach, over the main highways of Beethoven and Brahms.

Hazy as he might be about detail, he’s not wrong about Radio 3’s levelling agenda.



  • Anthony Sayer says:

    There was quite a long article about it in the Telegraph. I gave up on R3 years ago.

    • Kenneth says:

      This article reminded me of something similar. The layout is more of a virtue-signalling ego-stroking contest, if not much more. These identity politics are pernicious and ever-more rampant; infiltrating even the best of organizations.

      • Humanity is better than pity says:

        Indeed, the supposed “wokeness” movement ends up being equivocated just as harshly with “get woke, go broke”. Sarcasm always yields financial wastelands. The left boycotts, the right stops paying.

        The getting woke crowd always comes off as insulting. It’s merely the new version of “dumbing down” and disgusting appeasement for those who want permission to act out and force their acceptance by society no matter how reprehensible their behavior.

        This is precisely why universal, free education has fallen flat in America. One is actually expected to work for their money, create value and earn their place in society. Success beyond that is both available via freedom and up to the individual. That’s why overt handouts to those who are able-bodied and minded have always been eschewed. It’s clearly worked on the whole which is why immigrants and refugees flock to the US constantly. We want to see people succeed but on their own.

        People simply don’t want to be told what to do or how to act contrary to looking up to and forward towards positive, affirming notions and goals. I’m always happy to see success in all forms and help those to either get where they desire or when they have legitimate problems.

        • Urban Dictionary says:

          You need to consult the Urban Dictionary on the word “woke”.
          Good explanation:

          “The act of being very pretentious about how much you care about a social issue”

          “Deluded or fake awareness.”

          “When a successful enterprise is deliberately run into the ground for the sake of liberal ideals.”

          ‘”Wokeness” occurs when a white, upper-class person pretends to hold opinions they imagine a black lower-class person might hold. The word itself is an incorrect tense of “awake” – referring to the perception that the black working class have a poor grasp of grammar. ‘

          “[…] having just discovered some politically Progressive ‘truth’ about society or the oppression and class status of marginalized people, and the obligation to treat them as extra-special/revered in society.”

          “[…] In short people who are ‘woke’ are fake amateurs who aren’t at the slightest into politics and are most likely victims of indoctrination from biased and lying media”

          “Being completely deranged, hysterical and seeing racism/oppression in virtually everything.”

          “To be asleep and uncritically accept whatever nonsense social science professors dream up to advance Marxist goals. As with most liberal speak the meaning of the word is the opposite of the word’s standard meaning.”


        • Maria says:

          I have to keep reminding me what this rampant use of the word ‘woke’ actually means ! At least the Americanism of being ‘furloughed’ is now understood!

        • Paul Brownsey says:

          “This is precisely why universal, free education has fallen flat in America. One is actually expected to work for their money, create value and earn their place in society. Success beyond that is both available via freedom and up to the individual. That’s why overt handouts to those who are able-bodied and minded have always been eschewed. It’s clearly worked on the whole which is why immigrants and refugees flock to the US constantly. We want to see people succeed but on their own.”

          No, ‘This’ is NOT “precisely why universal, free education has fallen flat in America,” if it has. Do try to ensure there is some sort of plausible link between your premise and your conclusion.

          One notes that you think that children have no rights as independent persons and if their parents fail to or can’t provide for their kids’ education, it is entirely right that the kids should suffer and not be provided with–horror!–a free education.

          • Everybody pays says:

            You’re clearly not an American who owns property.

            Try looking up a Property Tax Notice generated from a County (sometimes City depending upon the tax structure). You’ll see a list of itemizations. At least one line item is for Public Schools, sometimes broken out as subsections predicated on districts. BOTH businesses and homeowners pay for education and a whole lot more! If you rent, it’s rolled into your base rent per month. That’s just elementary through high school portion before you get to the ‘hidden’ taxes and additional fees which fund portions of higher ed through construction, overlays, etc. Each State, County, etc. is different but still collects taxes for public works.

            In other words, there is no such thing as a ‘free education’ or free anything for that matter. Hence the strong opinions of tax payers in the US.

          • Bill says:

            And we all know that businesses derive no benefit whatsoever from an educated population, right.

      • Anon says:

        I counted 12 white males, of the 100 influential people.
        I’m so proud of the progress we have made. Perhaps next year they can get it under 10.

    • Will Duffay says:

      Given that the commercial alternatives to R3 are dreadful, do you not bother with classical music radio at all?
      But it’s a shame you gave up, though, because you’re missing out on an extraordinary breadth of great music from across the centuries. Your loss.

    • John Salter says:

      I gave up on the Telegraph years ago.

    • Brian Brotherston says:

      Sick and tired of listening to all those useless female composers !!

  • Caractacus says:

    While I agree that ‘wokeness’ (what a dreadful word) is becoming rather rampant, and not just on the BBC, it is an important issue. With regard to the promotion of composers such as Amy Beach and others, I always felt it was a good thing that we could hear music by little-known composers. Often it introduces us to new by-ways in music which we can then explore at leisure. Do we really want the Classic FM general practice of broadcasting well-known and popular pieces over and over again throughout the day? Don’t get me wrong, I like some of Classic FM’s output and they certainly bring music to the masses, but I also like to be challenged sometimes and I certainly don’t want ‘music to relax with’. The argument about giving exposure to less well-known composers can also be applied to recordings, where it can be reasonably argued that the works of such composers deserve to be heard, even if they are of ‘lesser quality’ (whatever that may mean). The BBC must be encouraged to continue giving us our cultural fix. I realise there are some people who would not care if the Beeb vanished overnight, but I for one value the cultural output, even if that output does sometimes appear dumbed down. If the BBC were to go I doubt that it would be replaced by anything better.

    • microview says:

      “I certainly don’t want ‘music to relax with’…”
      I couldn’t agree more. And now R3 takes a leaf out of their books starting a new track without first identifying the previous one played.

    • Dragonetti says:

      Yes, I have to agree about the need for an occasional intellectual challenge and the BBC does that very well on R3 on the whole. However I do have to (slightly) side with some of those whose antennae are twitching when they hear a lot of the current output. It is a given that women were sorely under represented in the 19th C and even for oldies like me, the comparatively recent past too. That doesn’t mean that it’s now necessary to unearth every twopenny-halfpenny composer solely on account of their gender, ditto ethnicity. Most good stuff will surface sometime. Look at Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann for starters.
      What we need now is to recognise the bad things from before and build on the good. Every young composer and musician deserves a chance to be heard and judged worthy of further listening or not, regardless of gender or whatever. How we do that now I’m not sure but history tells us that whatever the popular forces throw up in arts, politics or life in general, the pendulum will sometime swing back the other way.
      Let’s all put gentle but continual pressure on the BBC not to go too far in current trends but also we must cherish it. I for one can say that when a daft, pseudo posh woman’s voice announces “relaxing classics at all hours of the bloody day or night on Radio 3” (or however they say the equivalent on Classic fm) THAT’S when I finally give up on the BBC. Till then, I’m hanging on in there and like others, I would be bereft if they were to go or be diluted even more.

      • Sharon says:

        In the US there are radio stations that specialize in “easy listening” although sometimes the music is pop. This music is used in stores, elevators etc. Because this music is used for commercial puposes they can charge for their advertising which is generally after a larger span of music than one might find in other commercial radio in the the US. Do such stations exist in England?
        Incidentally, government and non profit radio in the US have published schedules and there are websites such as “NPR fan” where one can find them consolidated. I do not find it objectionable to have a show of “easy listening” classical music, especially late night, when everyone is aware of the time such music will be played. Not everything always has to be an educational experience, whether politicized i.e. “woke” or not.

        • V. Lind says:

          Sounds to me as if you are arguing for the chacun à son goût school, in which I wholly concur.

          I realise this is a classical music site aimed at classical music fans, who are fighting their corner and often feel as if they are doing so from a position of terrific weakness, given the adversities classical music faces in this modern world.

          And it is clear that many here have a wide range of musical interests, from the site-owner, who often touts favourites of his own like the singer Barbara, and Leonard Cohen, among others — to the recent tributes by posters to John Lennon and Greg Bottini’s eloquent tribute to Charlie Pride just this weekend.

          But there is also a strain of intolerance expressed by others for those whose tastes may be wide-ranging, or for artists and the institutions that support their endeavours that fall outside the most narrow parameters of classical music as they see it.

          It is counter-productive, aside from unpleasant. The way to boost classical music is not enhanced by scorning anyone who can experience the joy of music elsewhere.

  • Programming says:

    Composers like Amy Beach are the main highways, and should be listened to and cherished as much and Beethoven and Brahms. Kudos to the BBC for challenging the norm and showing new listeners that there is more to music then dead white men. If we continue to only showcase Mozart, Strauss etc (as fantastic as their music is) then how are we going to encourage underrepresented people to join our wonderful world. We need to be programming music as diverse as our country/world is! Broaden your minds people.

    • Kenneth says:

      As quality as Amy Beach’s music is, it is of utmost importance to recognize that these ‘woke’ movements are behind such composers not because of their quality, but because of their gender. And this is happening everywhere from the universities to the concert halls… and that is not the ideology which can lead to sustainable art.

      Everyone with sense is for meritocracy and equality of opportunity. But when we start playing with quotas, our paths begin to diverge from true art-making.

      • William Safford says:

        Here’s the funny thing–for many years, many people have had no objection whatsoever when music is rejected because the composer isn’t a dead white European male. But encourage the consideration of a composer who doesn’t fit that category, and all of a sudden scary thoughts about quotas or dumbing down or concerns about true art-making rear their ugly heads.

      • Garry Humphreys says:

        Yes. I wonder what Mrs Beach would have thought of it all. It’s just music after all. Can Lord Moylan (whoever he may be) identify the race or gender of a composer just by listening to the music? Bet he can’t . . . and so what? Anyway, the quality of the music is in the hearing, and the more we hear the better. An ‘agenda’ is irrelevant.

    • Please give me a break says:

      Yeah no. Why would we need to “encourage underrepresented people to join our wonderful world”? It’s not “our” world or even a world at all, it’s just music, and they can discover it or not for themselves, and it’s not our problem who is “underrepresented” – whatever that is supposed to mean. If it’s so worth discovering, that is so mainly because of your dreaded dead white men, who are not so easily dismissed as you would wish.

    • Anon says:

      Why have millions of Asians (many of them women) become musicians and music lovers? Because of dead white males.
      Some people just hear great music.

      • David says:

        I think we often miss the nuances when discussing this issue. The point isn’t to label one superior/more important over the other, or to give absolute priority to certain groups. No one is going to brush off Mozart as an insignificant dead white male. But the argument here is that “great music” does not happen in a vacuum. There are potentially other “Mozarts” in many different groups, who may never see the light due to biased and self-perpetuating structure. What we perceive now to be “great” is also cultural, and should not be taken to be absolute either. This is about equality of opportunity that will enrich everyone’s collective life. Even if you are personally satisfied with what you hear now (I personally am more than fulfilled by the music we already have), it shouldn’t stop you from supporting as much good music to come out of our society in the future. This type of equality of opportunity is hard to achieve without conscious adjustment of certain outcomes at first. If we wanted foreigners to participate equally outside of their native country, we don’t just throw them in to a local school/workplace and call it “equality of opportunity” and expect them to thrive. We have to accord them special training and opportunities so that they can eventually adapt. In the same way, certain groups in today’s society need extra help due to the systematic issues we face, and the goal is that such help and adjustments will be unnecessary in the near future as the system itself starts to change.

        I think we need to stop seeing this as an attack, but simply as a way to build upon what we already have to make it better. Those who support the “wokeness” (terrible terrible word) also need to take a more nuanced and realistic approach as well and try to respect all parties.

    • Drew Barnard says:

      No, this is completely wrong. Of course no one thinks that Beach is as great as Beethoven and Brahms. No one has ever enjoyed Beethoven and Brahms because they are “dead white men”–what a silly phrase! They represent some of the pinnacles of musical inspiration and until recently, we were able to enjoy them for the sheer pleasure of their music. Ironically, it’s a disservice to female talent to suggest they should be included merely to increase “diversity.” Of course we should encourage female talent, maybe even hear more Beach–without silly hyperbole comparing her with Beethoven. But classical music is in trouble if we stop listening and programing on the basis of great music. We aren’t going to save music by endless identity politics.

      It’s sad to think that some people are more interested in checking the sex and race of the composer than simply discovering great music. We are moving backwards, folks. Let’s stop before it’s too late.

    • Uncomfortable Facts says:

      Amy Beach is in fact a good example why music deserves its spot on the pedestal of greatness based on its quality and not on gender or race. I played several of her works and unfortunately it’s just average syrupy stuff that many long forgotten composers of both genders would write those days. Clara Schumann is of course whole another caliber but still far away from her husband. It’s only in 20th century that we started having truly great women composers (and writers) on a more regular basis. In the past mediocre music would be pushed onto the radio often for nationalist reasons (composers that have sentimental value for country’s musical history but haven’t made it worldwide), now there are simply more reasons added. If it was truly about music quality, then they’d put much more Gubaidulina instead, but programming this kind of music is too courageous for most classical radio stations. So essentially it’s still all about classism, even with a SJW mask on.

    • Le Křenek du jour says:

      > “We need to be programming music as diverse as our country/world is!”

      The classic Carswell plea, re-woked.

      In 1970, President Richard Nixon nominated one G. Harold Carswell to the Supreme Court.
      Among that undistinguished judge’s unsavoury accomplishments, it emerged during the Senate hearings that Carswell had been an advocate of white supremacism and racial segregation.
      When Senator George McGovern noted that Carswell had only two salient traits, “racism and mediocrity”, a reliably backward Senator from Nebraska named Roman Hruska sprang to the judge’s defense:

      “ Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?
      We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos. ”

      (N.B. For younger readers: Justices Brandeis, Frankfurter and Cardozo rank among the most eminent members of the Supreme Court ever. They also happened to be Jewish, and that’s what Senator Hruska’s poisoned barb aimed at.)

      So much for representation, as opposed to quality and competence.

      The bat of reactionaries Right and Left, Trumpites and Woke alike, united in common hate of the one thing that matters, because it is the one thing that is due to the public: excellence.

      • William Safford says:

        “ Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?
        We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos. ”

        I’d always assumed that the senator was being ironic. I now see that I have some more reading to do about this.

        Fun piece of trivia: Professor Peter Schickele cites this quote in his “Definitive Biography of P.D.Q. Bach.”

    • Brian Brotherston says:


  • Douglas Cairns says:

    A friend of mine when at school was once gently reprimanded by his headmaster: “You cannot expect everyone to have heard of Cormac Rigby.” The old days of Radio 3!
    I’ve always felt that Radio 3 has never really needed to attract an audience because those who listened to it knew exactly why they were tuning in.
    Tangential: anyone know who this gloriously voiced announcer is?

    • Daniel says:

      It is the wonderful Peter Barker.

      • Douglas says:

        Thanks. It is a great voice!

      • BruceB says:

        That is beautiful. I wonder if he does audiobooks or anything.

      • Peter Phillips says:

        Forty years or so on I still miss the hapless and anarchic Tom Crowe, a former Irish Guards officer, who once announced, “I can’t read the news this morning because there doesn’t seem to be any.” Then there was Patricia Hughes, who once said after a particular cacophonous piece, “Following that, let’s have some music.” There was more wit around then. 3breakfast will continue to be a staple in my life however.

        • Garry Humphreys says:

          And, I think Tom Crowe again, when the music overran a few seconds and crashed the time signal: ‘I hope the Mendelssohn didn’t spoil your enjoyment of the pips!’

    • Stephen Diviani says:

      Radio 3 was major part of my education when I was a kid and I will always be grateful – not only the music but plays and talks as well. Sure the presenters sounded ‘posh’ but they were also authoritative and weren’t scared of using ‘big’ words, which I could look up in a dictionary. All very different from today when so many of the the well educated and – yes! – ‘posh’ presenters talk down to listeners like they want to be our mates. Urgh.

      On the issue of ‘yoof’, I’d say from my – pre-Covid – concert/opera going that the ratio of old to young is pretty much what it was back in the 1970s/80s.

      All that said, R3 is still pretty marvelous: would any other UK radio station broadcast, in full, Gyorgy Kurtag’s opera ‘Fin de partie’?

      Back on topic: it does drive me a bit crazy listening to third-rate music broadcast only because it was composed by a woman. And I don’t include Amy Beach in that generalization.

  • V. Lind says:

    Surely in a 24-hour day and a 7-day week there is some room for minor composers? And not necessarily always in the small hours. As long as Radio 3 remains the one bastion in an increasingly pop-dominated world of classical music, and remembers what it is there for — to provide classical music to the audience that desires it (and it is larger than it looks if nto as large as we would all wish).

    I see enough whingeing on here about the eternal repetitions of Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, etc. rather than more innovative programming — there is often lively debate on what we want when we go to concerts. Presumably the same feelings obtain when SD participants turn on Radio 3.

    I noticed myself, looking as I regularly do at the schedule of R3 in the weeks after BLM exploded that there seemed suddenly to be a huge number of programmes cobbled together on black musicians. Perhaps some were archival. It was clearly responsive to the outside world. But the majority of the week’s programmes seemed to feature the usual suspects, which is not to denigrate — every performance from Wigmore Hall is different, every Choral Evensong, and long may they be there for the picking.

    Lord Moylan’s objection is somewhat undermined by his attention to “sidelined women composers.” Is his objection that they are women? Series on women composers, most of whom may well have been “sidelined,” strikes me as a proper avenue of inquiry for Radio 3. Similarly minority ethnic composers. Possibly composers under 35. Maybe Australian artists. Or Canadian, Or Venezuelan. There are lots of topics, and they all still allow a lot of room for presentation of symphonies, concerti, operas, etc., by the giants of our field.

    Theatres embrace new plays and still present Shakespeare and Congreve and Shaw and all the masterpieces that inform the best of the new work. Why can’t music?

    • Greg Bottini says:

      1000% agreed, Ms. Lind.

    • Marfisa says:

      I am nearly 100% in agreement with V. Lind. But I do disagree about the validity of a series on women composers. Why pluck women out of their historical and cultural context simply because of their sex? Are there enough significant musical connections between them to make it sensible to consider them as a group? A series of programmes on the New England composers of the later nineteenth/early twentieth century, including Mrs H. H. A. Beach, would be better.

      I well understand the contemporary desire to highlight the under-represented and the downtrodden, but that is a socio-political agenda, not a musical one, and I am not sure whether Radio 3 should be undertaking it.

      • V. Lind says:

        Fair point.

        I am just aware of the tendency of programmers to operate thematically, and I think a documentary COULD be made on the subject of women composers, though your own suggestion re Ms. Beach is just as good.

        • Marfisa says:

          I’ve just had a look at wikipedia (what would we do without it these days):
          I had no idea there were so many! Which just goes to show that perhaps there is a need for such a documentary. But please let it not shout at us about the evil patriarchy, or dead white males! I would welcome some genuine, well–informed, non-judgmental, discussion of the reasons for role differentiation between men and women in the past, and for the present trend towards complete interchangeability. (I think the latter was also the aim of soviet governments in the last century, at least as far as the workers were concerned.)

  • Christopher Clift says:

    I am a bit ambivalent about the ‘new composers v established musical giants’ argument. My main belief is that only time will tell whether the music by the Amy Beaches of the world will stand up alongside Beethoven, Stravinsky, Strauss, et al but it must be given a chance. After all, quite a number of what are now established pieces in the mainstream ‘catalogue’ of our musical listening, began their life under clouds of hatred and received less than favourable comments at their first hearings. On the other hand, my partner makes the very valid point that composers like Stravinsky, and others like him, were badly received at the time, because they were starting to use completely ‘new’ harmonic techniques – including 12 tone writing, whereas many of the so-called ‘modern’ writers are using mostly the same techniques as earlier 20/21 century composers. Maybe that is the important difference.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Serious writers never thought of changing the language. Serious composers never want to invent their own musical language, they transform a language into personal expression making use of existing ways of musical communication. In this sense, ‘new music’ is merely a personal way of handling traditional means. But changing something on a more fundamental level, like what Schoenberg did with his 12-tone idea, destroys the musical dynamics which function under the surface of style.

      Since Schoenberg’s idea – which was something purely rational – offered composers which were less talented a way of seeming to write highbrow sophisticated music, it was taken-on by many poseurs. The rest is history – and one of the results is that ‘the classics’ have been put into a glass box in a museum culture and ‘new music’ turned into a children’s playground and sound art. Thank God there are composers again who want to go back to normal, and shatter the glass box to show that the classics are contemporary as ever and that their own work has a normal relation to them.

      • William Safford says:

        “Serious writers never thought of changing the language. Serious composers never want to invent their own musical language, they transform a language into personal expression making use of existing ways of musical communication.”

        Monteverdi was not a serious composer?

        • Marfisa says:

          Interesting comparison. Was Monteverdi as radical as Schoenberg? I rather think of Monteverdi as doing exactly what the second sentence of your quotation from Borstlap describes. Was even Schoenberg really so radical? I blame Bach and his even temperament!

          • William Safford says:

            I think it can be argued that Monteverdi was more radical than Schoenberg.

            Not only did Monteverdi change the very nature of harmony, he also changed the forms that he used, and created forms. Schoenberg changed harmony, but generally maintained the use of 18th and 19th century formal structures.

  • Tomtom says:

    We should all take a deep breath and remember exactly what BBC Radio 3 is. A quality channel revered the world over, that broadcasts uninterrupted serious music of all genres. Programmes like Donald Macleod’s ‘Composer of the Week’ are of top quality, and unequalled in the world of radio. Classic FM has its place, but if the future consisted just of endless loops of the Star Wars theme and The Lark Ascending, I’ll switch off my radio!

  • RW2013 says:

    Amy may stay, pictured conductress not.

  • Jon says:

    I am amazed that this idiot was awake long enough to notice the ‘woke’. He couldn’t be bothered to keep his eyes open during the initial reviews of the Grenfell Tower disaster, he was a member of the Kensigton council who was quite keen on poor people being packed into death traps. Nice way to get given a peerage by your mates.
    No problem with criticising R3 (and can we get rid of the excruciating Sean Rafferty while we are at it?) but let’s have it done by someone who actually knows what they are talking about.

    • christopher storey says:

      Jon : how can you single out Seamus O’Bollock ( as I am afraid he is known in out household ) for criticism ?

    • Stephen Gould says:

      Let me state at the outset that Lord Moylan is a good friend, and one-time business partner of mine.

      First, while he did fall asleep at the review, he had no responsibility nor authority in the Grenfell Towers disaster – and indeed, he was one of the very few senior Tories who was not blamed.

      Second, his classical knowledge is more than sufficient to make well-informed comments about R3 and classical music in general, even if his tastes veer away from much of 20thC.

  • Tribonian says:

    I gave up Radio 4 in the morning many years ago, but Radio 3 is fast becoming unbearable at that time of day. Every morning there seems to be a folk item put there to prove Tom Lehrer’s point about folk music being so bad because it was written by the people, followed by something, or rather anything, by a woman, plus something selected based on the ethnicity of the composer. But they still have Bach before Eight, which only highlights how ghastly most of their woke choices are.

    Anyone who wanted to make a case that there hasn’t been a first rate woman composer since Hildegard of Bingen would start by playing some Amy Beach followed by something by Bach.

    • Marfisa says:

      Your nom de guerre, the great Byzantine lawyer, would have made short shrift of that case and that argument. But maybe that was your point?

  • John Borstlap says:

    The problem with wokeness in a cultural context is that it is morally-driven and not quality-driven. It is normal to present works by composers which have been neglected, but there are many different reasons of such neglect and not all of them are always a result of social injustice.

    For instance, Nicolas Bacri and David Matthews have been studiously and carefully neglected not because of some social injustice, or because they belong to a minority, or are ehtnically-challenged, but simply because these are composers who belong to the 21st century and not to the 20th – they came-out at the other end of the dark tunnel of misunderstandings of the postwar period.

    • Jon says:

      I think the genuine issue here is not wehther comparison to JSB is going to leave a composer looking a bit second-rate (because let’s face it that would happen to pretty much everything written after 1827), but the simple fact that the supposedly ‘woke’ (I am getting to detest that word too) composers are simply different and something new (a point made above)?
      I too cringe at a blast of folk or some dire modernist scraping and twitching over my morning cuppa. But if they write in an idiom that is broadly ‘classical music’ I think that the music of Amy Beach, Louise Farrenc, Fanny Mendelssohn, Elizabeth Maconchy and the wonderful Imogen Holst, should be given a go.

    • Bone says:

      I’ve enjoyed Dave Matthew’s guitar playing, but his voice and band are not my cup of tea.

      I really understand the concern about equity: is there a reason BIPOC/females are underrepresented in art music unrelated to quality? I don’t know the answer. What I DO know is that there has been a veritable flood of art music and performance by these underrepresented groups in the past few years. IMHO, not a bit has contributed to the argument that anything significant was missed by its absence.

  • Robert Belgrave says:

    Radio 3 is a perfect example of what the French call ” niveler par le bas. “

  • Robert Belgrave says:


  • Robert Belgrave says:

    You mean the political correctness brigade is on the move…..

  • JAMES LISNEY says:

    Whatever the merits of Lord Moylan’s comments, he should at least be willing and able to discuss the works of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms – and why that would negate the appreciation of the music of Beach, Bacewicz and Boulanger. I have regularly programmed all six of those composers and there is value and succour in all of them.
    Indeed my first concert of 2021 includes Beethoven, Bartok and Beach. What’s not to enjoy?

  • NOrbert says:

    I dearly love Radio 3 (the only BBC ‘product’ I consume), but how I wish the younger oxbridge educated presenters, would stop dropping their T’s, and pretending to be ‘down with the kids in the hood…’

  • Will Duffay says:

    He’s talking absolute nonsense, in a rubbishy Tory tabloid. It’s just part of the continuing campaign against the BBC by the vile rightists, and the attempt to slowdown the necessary advance of decency and equality in our country.

    • Allen says:

      The BBC is advancing decency and equality? I don’t think many people agree, if the number of cancelled licence fees is anything to go by. Even respected journalists like Robin Aitken are giving up on it.

      A healthy organisation understands the importance of diversity of opinion, not just skin colour.

  • Will Duffay says:

    “He explained later that his objection was to the over-promotion of sidelined women composers – he singled out the romantic American Amy Beach, over the main highways of Beethoven and Brahms.”

    This is fairly meaningless. I’ve heard no Beach on R3, a station which has spent most of the year playing everything Beethoven wrote. It’s just a lazy attempt by a grim Tory to run down a great institution. They’ll not be happy until we’re all watching Fox News and listening to Talk Radio.

    • christopher storey says:

      Will Dufay : you can obtain a free hearing test on the NHS. Then you may hear Amy Beach on R3. her music has been broadcast on it quite frequently recently . I may say that I find Amy Beach far and away the best of the women composers

      • Marfisa says:

        “best of the women composers” is precisely what is wrong with this whole topic. There is no meaningful category of ‘women composers’. And another thing: I hate it when people start ranking composers as if they were contestants in a sleazy talent contest. Bach is not better than Vivaldi; Mozart is not better than Haydn; Mahler is not better than Bruckner; Beach is not better than Smyth.

        • William Safford says:

          It depends on the teleology of the category.

          Can I listen to a piece of music for the first time, by a composer new to me, and identify it as having been written by a woman? No. Can anyone? I feel comfortable asserting that nobody could. Even if a female composer were to attempt to embed clues–for example, quoting women’s suffrage songs–a male composer could also do so.

          So, the category of “woman composer” as a descriptor of the nature of the musical works, based on the fact that they were written by women composers, is invalid.

          However, can we identify women whose careers were held back or completely stifled because they were women? Yes.

          Why were their careers held back? Sometimes by personal choice, other times by enforcement of patriarchal standards, or for various other reasons.

          Are we aware, through scholarship, that women composers were discriminated against because they were women? Yes.

          Music by women who attempted to overcome these odds exists. Should we ignore it? I don’t think so. We should assess it on its own terms.

          Do women composers continue to experience an uphill battle? Men often say no, but women often say yes. Hmmmm….

          Should we encourage the research, examination, preparation, dissemination, and performance of such works? Sure, why not?

          So, “women composers” as a category of composers whose music has been historically deprecated, is valid.

          Yet many people, including several commenters on this blog, work assiduously to demean women composers, music of women composers, or any music that isn’t inside their little box of whom they consider serious composers.

          Re “sleazy talent contest”: I agree.

          • Marfisa says:

            William, I agree with all that you say. All I meant, and you express it better than I did, is that the category ‘female composers’ is not the same sort of thing as e.g. romantic composers, or minimalist composers, or serial composers. So if a classical music radio station puts on (as Radio 3 does) programs about particular styles of music, ‘Women Composers’ would not be a good subject. But it would be (and probably has been) a good subject for a program or a PhD with a socio-historical/political purpose. (I hope I am not digging myself deeper into a pit here!)

          • V. Lind says:

            I don’t think you are, unless you are saying that radio 3 has not remit to examine music in a wider context. I think your and Mr. Safford’s contributions to this discussion have been very valuable.

          • William Safford says:

            I’m happy to discuss this. No pit as far as I’m concerned.

            At first blush, I agree that a program that attempted to associate a particular style of music with women composers probably wouldn’t work. I don’t know of any school of composition with a lineage of women composers.

            Quite a few PhDs have been written on this general topic, and various subsets thereof, as I’m sure you know. Books, also. Then again, many of the reactionaries mock these researchers and these theses and these books, just as they mock the idea of women composers or that their output could be of any interest to anyone. Go figure.

  • Plato says:

    You’re right about this. But it will pass. People will realize that Marianna Martines, Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Fanny Hensel, Clara Schumann, Amy Beach , Florence Price may all have been decent composers, but there is a reason why they didn’t become as influential or widely performed as some of their contemporaries, this reason having very little to do with the color of their skin or their gender.

  • Humfrey Pelham says:

    I am the first to condemn “wokeness”, but I’ve never understood the bashing of Radio 3. The only “woke” annoyance I have noticed from Radio 3 is the endless playing of recordings by Chineke! – an orchestra notably substandard when compared to the rest of the recordings on Radio 3. (But even here Radio 3 are not as “woke” as Classic FM, who have given Chineke’s terribly annoying Chi-chi her own show!) As for women composers, I, like many other commenters here, do not object to discovering music I haven’t heard before. The “composer of the week” on Dora Pejačević, for example, was fascinating. Surely the whole reason anyone would listen to Radio 3 is to hear less commonly-played music.

  • BruceB says:

    A few thoughts come to mind:

    1) There’s always a lot of complaining about the endless repetition of the same 5-10 composers, but then there’s also a lot of complaining when some organization programs any composer not on that list. The takeaway: there is always a lot of complaining.

    2) This is a time of transition in the music business. During such times, it’s clear that the old way of doing things isn’t going to work anymore, but it’s not clear how to survive going forward. Individuals/ orchestras/ corporations (such as the BBC) inevitably try new things that don’t work, or only work for awhile. (Some of us remember how the Three Tenors “saved” classical music in the 1990s, giving rise to the 3 Irish Tenors, 3 Mo’ Tenors, 3 Sopranos, etc.) The difficulty is that it takes awhile — sometimes a year or two — to figure out what’s working and what’s not. The current highlighting of sidelined composers clearly addresses an issue that needs to be addressed. (Is it the right approach? The answer to every new idea is “probably not.”)

    3) There have always been lesser-known composers among the famous ones. Any time anyone tries to bring one of them into the spotlight, there is always the dual reaction of “let’s hear it and see if it’s good” vs. “if it was any good we’d have heard of it before, so why bother; that conductor or soloist is just trying to carve out a niche and make a name for themselves” (e.g. Mirga & Weinberg). Now there’s also the idea that some of these composers may not have been sidelined exclusively due to the quality of their music. So there’s an ingredient of wanting to bring that music forward specifically because of the reason — the possible reason — it was ignored. The reasoning might be described as: “It might be good, it might not; but either way, it was never given a chance because it was written by a _______. So let’s give it a try.”

    There will be complaining.

    In the meantime, Beethoven, Mozart, et al. are doing just fine.

  • Karl says:

    Has wokeness made into Brit TV too? It has here in the US. Some shows are so bad that they seem like parody.

    • V. Lind says:

      The first episode this season of Law & Order SVU, a programme I watch because a young family member likes it and I like to be able to discuss things she likes with her occasionally, was so “woke” it made me want to vomit.

      The story line raised an interesting and timely question, as to whether well-meaning cops had unrecognised racial bias in their attitudes, but — probably because it is American – it hammered the point home with a breast-beating mea culpa of a coda that made it an example of the very worst of what is properly criticised about wokery.

  • Mark (London) says:

    Get ready to take a knee the next time a black composer’s music is played on 3 .. BBC bares little resemblance to what a public broadcaster should be !

  • William Safford says:

    Amy Beach? AMY BEACH???

    The horror…the horror….

    (I routinely perform her Pastorale. It’s a well-crafted piece. Audiences like it.)

    I don’t listen to Radio 3, but as a general point, I would rather hear one performance of music by someone like Amy Beach than the ten thousandth performance of Beethoven 5 (as much as I like performing and listening to it). Heck, maybe even two performances of Beach. Or three!

    She’s not as good as Beethoven or Brahms? Even if so, so what? Neither are many dead male white European composers whose music we listen to.

    Yet why are women composers singled out? Hmmmmm….

    Piece of trivia: for most of her life, she actually preferred to be referred to as “Mrs. H. H. A. Beach.” Maybe Lord Moylan would prefer to listen to music by a Mrs. H. H. A. Beach than an Amy Beach? *shrug*

    • Karl says:

      The Beach Symphony is the the Nashua NH Symphony repertoire. They’ve played it a couple of times that I recall in 12 years. It’s not Beethoven but it’s still worth hearing.

      • Sol Siegel says:

        Actually, I think Beach’s best work is her Mass, a big piece written early in her career. But the only recordings don’t do it justice, and under current circumstances better ones aren’t likely anytime soon.

  • Fernandel says:

    To the gallows, to the gallows !

  • Paul Brownsey says:

    It might be interesting to consider composers who, once regarded as a negligible, are now regarded as titans; and vice-versa. Departing from the mainstream may bring new titans to our attention.

    • Marfisa says:

      You make an interesting point; the reputation of composers can wax and wane over time, and the canon now established is not written in stone. But I suspect that few who were regarded in their own time as negligible are now recognized as titans, though I am ready to be corrected. The great forgotten baroque composers who are now being performed and feted, such as Jan Dismas Zelenka, Leonardo Leo, Alessandro Scarlatti, were famous and admired in their life.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Be woke go broke, as they say.

    And while we’re on the subject of woke, what’s the point of Boris Johnson? He’s one of the major acolytes in this new religion.

  • BrianB says:

    Hey, I like Amy Beach! her Gaelic Symphony of 1896 is probably better than any other American symphony of the time.

    • Karl says:

      I will go next time they program it in Nashua. Hopefully some other orchestras start playing it too. We’re hearing lots of Florence Price now. She gets double recognition for being a black woman.

      • Sol Siegel says:

        I like Price’s 1st, which was played by Philadelphia in one of their recent online concerts. But I can’t say it ranks with Dvorak’s “New World”, on which it was modeled.

  • Basso Continuoso says:

    Amy Beach is hardly an offensive composer in any way. But there are plenty whose music is quite offensive to the ear, Goodbye-dulina.

  • V. Lind says:

    By the number of downvotes, I am guessing that a lot of people did not get your post…

    • V. Lind says:

      Don’t know about “most,” but certainly some. And when people chuck around the term “dead white males” so freely and derogatorily, it is sometimes hard to blame them!

  • Simon Morton says:

    It’s ‘popular’ TV themes now. That’s how low they have stooped. The sort of stuff that should be on Radio 2.