In Cambridge, a call to ‘cancel Beethoven’

In Cambridge, a call to ‘cancel Beethoven’


norman lebrecht

December 26, 2020

A sputtering of anniversary slurs against Beethoven – that he was elitist, classist, white and suchlike – have reached their ultimate illogical conclusion in Varsity magazine:

Being a guaranteed ticket-seller and donor pleaser, he keeps reappearing in concert programmes to the exclusion of other, more diverse composers. In the neo-liberal world, where audiences prefer the familiar, such attitudes to programming are unlikely to change unless there is a mass cultural boycott (i.e. ‘cancelling’) of composers like Beethoven.

Is this therefore the way forward? 

Read on here.

See also: Time to cancel Musicology


  • marcus says:

    Why don’t these types just come straight out with it and cancel classical music full stop?

    • Ashu says:

      To be fair, they do – for themselves, with the pure unambivalence of philistine righteousness, which further motivates them to cancel it for everyone else.

    • Ben says:

      For that matter, reject anything produced by anyone who isn’t perfect. Consistency would at least solve global warming and the threat of nuclear war…

  • Alexander T says:

    You can’t “cancel” the Pyramids, you can’t “cancel” Mount Everest.
    Similarly, you can’t cancel Beethoven.
    Les chiens aboient et la caravane passe.

  • Duncan says:

    Leave Beethoven alone – cancel Cambridge instead…!!

  • Greg Bottini says:

    The whole idea is laughable.
    Sure, Beethoven may very well be overplayed (especially this year) at the expense of other composers of all sexes, ages, races, and nationalities, and I myself have many times on this very blog commented on the unimaginative programming of performing ensembles ranging from opera companies to solo players.
    But cancel Beethoven?
    “Beethoven”, to quote Otto Klemperer, “is so mighty!”
    The reason Beethoven is played so much is that people on all levels are reached by the unsurpassed musical revelations of his heart and mind.
    And Beethoven “elitist and white”? Nonsense.
    I think everyone at this point should be more concerned with surviving The Plague than with ridiculous notions such as “cancelling Beethoven”.

    • Jeff says:

      Yeah, trust me as a classical musician…. Beethoven was NOT overplayed this year…..

      • William Safford says:

        Had it not been for the pandemic, Beethoven would have been overplayed this year.

        Because of the pandemic, *everything* was underplayed this year, alas.

    • Jack says:

      Yeah, trust me as a classical musician…. Beethoven WAS overplayed this year…..

      I’m placing a moratorium in our house on the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th Symphonies. LvB usually gets a fair share of air time in any normal year. In my town, the old boy is dominating the airwaves.

      • Maria says:

        As a professional musician, Beethoven was hardly over played with concerts cancelled, and if you found too much on the radio, one can always turn it off! We were just so blessed to get Fidelio done so well in Covid times by Opera North.

        • Robert Beck says:

          UGH!! Maria, I wish I could! I use XM Radio and they have ONE Classical music station! A dozen pop/rap/rock stations…Pop broken down by decades. Stations for Pearl Jam, Tom Petty, Dave Matthews…I don’t begrudge any of them, but come….on… can’t at LEAST give me 5. Early/Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th Century and Contemporary. I mean we’re spanning 500+ years of music here….you can give me more than 1 channel.

          Additionally I listened a lot more this year (because one can only take in so much news) and they definitely had a “program” I heard LVB’s Choral Fantasie like 5 times this summer, Hayden 100 like 3 times, the same stuff from Debussy and Ravel etc. I just don’t understand it.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Any time Beethoven is aired on the radio here in the work place, there erupts a physical struggle between different staff about either turn it off or keep it on. It’s very divisive stuff!


  • Kenneth says:

    From Beethoven’s Heiligenstadt Testament:

    “Ah, it seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was within me. So I endured this wretched existence – truly wretched for so susceptible a body, which can be thrown by a sudden change from the best condition to the very worst. – Patience, they say, is what I must now choose for my guide, and I have done so – I hope my determination will remain firm to endure until it pleases the inexorable Parcae to break the thread. Perhaps I shall get better, perhaps not; I am ready. – Forced to become a philosopher already in my twenty-eighth year, – oh it is not easy, and for the artist much more difficult than for anyone else. – Divine One, thou seest my inmost soul thou knowest that therein dwells the love of mankind and the desire to do good. – Oh fellow men, when at some point you read this, consider then that you have done me an injustice; someone who has had misfortune man console himself to find a similar case to his, who despite all the limitations of Nature nevertheless did everything within his powers to become accepted among worthy artists and men.”

    Now let’s travel back to the polar opposite side of the greatness spectrum… they ask “Is this the way forward” as if they haven’t already made up their minds when they saw he was white. That’s all they think they need to know, isn’t it? And of course, I’d wager most of these people have no idea what the Heiligenstadt testament is. For shame.

    No. No it is not ‘the way forward.’ When you can match the awesome power of his oeuvre (or a fraction of it)… perhaps you too could merit such acclaim. Try build something worthy of your own vision before you mindlessly destroy. Because you happen to be attacking a man who gave more to humanity than most ever could, would, or will.

    • Marfisa says:

      “They ask “Is this therefore the way forward?”.”

      They answer immediately “Well, not really” before going on to make reasoned arguments. Try reading the article before assuming you know (on the basis of the SD headline) what it is about, what it is saying, and what it is attacking.

  • Alan says:

    Third rate undergraduate drivel

  • Terence says:

    When you read the whole, short article it is more balanced than this extract.

    It attempts to show the pointlessness of trying to exclude LvB from concert programmes.

    • M McAlpine says:

      Please…..don’t subject us to the whole of this pointless drivel by a senseless idiot from a deranged place of so-called learning.

    • Stuart says:

      I will never get those five minutes back. I read the whole article. Poorly written, cherry-picking arguments, badly reasoned. It is summed up by “The only real conclusion is that every way forward is problematic. Keeping everything the same also keeps the current problems in place. Decentralising Beethoven, however, could both lead to increased conservatism in programming and exacerbate classical music’s supposed decline”. A non-answer answer. Caps off a truly poor waste of space.

  • V. Lind says:

    What exactly is a “diverse composer”? A composer is male or female, white or black or something else, old or young, dead or alive. The cancel advocates, in this and other fields, seem to want to exclude white men, living or dead, from our consideration.

    I don’t disagree that a handful of composers may be disproportionately played — I am always happy when the line-up includes Sibelius or Fauré or Vaughan Williams or Copland. Among many others. The orchestra I attend most often generally, though not rigidly, programmes a rarer piece (though it might be Boccherini or Walton as often as a “new” composer), a concerto and a symphony. Less familiar pieces, including new, are usually offered first so there is no stampede for the door after an interval and before it starts. But they do not always get short shrift, if that is what this sort of programming implies — Corigliano, not a household name outside classical circles, gets proper attention, as do others. In the case of new Canadian composers, they are often invited onstage to take a bow and occasionally even to speak a few words, which somehow makes it all more valid to audiences. This is how new musicians get introduced, and if pieces go down well, someone will play them again.

    The whole cancel culture is misguided and misdirected. Of course it is crucial to encourage new voices in music, as in literature and art (which seem to make a better job of it without threatening to cancel Rembrandt — though Shakespeare has certainly come under attack). But while the RSC soldiers on, new plays are demanded, let alone allowed, and galleries all over the world show emerging artists — and if they are good enough they get into the big ones.

    Concert halls can’t survive if they are empty, so programmes that INCLUDE beloved works or composers along with less familiar or even new ones seems to me the way to go.

    And why shouldn’t audiences be able to go to concerts of composers and pieces they love to hear, perhaps because someone special is performing? To deny that is just destructive, not a creative alternative.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I’ve always tried to be a diverse composer which was easy in itself since there is only one of me. It was much more difficult to convince other people of my diversity.

  • Nijinsky says:

    Oh that’s interesting, and I’m sure it will work as soon as they get rid of their tinker toy toilets, their tinker toy bathrooms, their tinker toil classrooms, their tinker toily teachers that make students sit so long they wish they were in the tinker toy bathroom, with the tinker toy toilet, listening to the where’s of the tinker toiling teaching who isn’t in the tinker toily classroom anymore. Which truly makes toiling in the toilet more educational than passing out of there, with a degree. Of which the first is usually one too many…

    And I tink nothing OF IT!

  • IP says:

    It’s only natural, of course. The problem is really in SELLING tickets, which assumes a voluntary exchange of money for music. Once this is abolished, we can take audiences at gunpoint to listen to the correct music.

  • SVM says:

    I agree that there is a problem with the musical canon being too small, but let us ensure that the laudable quest to expand it is driven by the numerous excellent works that deserve to be heard more often (including some of Beethoven’s more obscure works), and *not* by extrinsic quotas and destructive boycotts. The overwhelming majority of composers, dead or alive, get *very* few performances, regardless of sex, gender, ethnicity, nationality, or other demographic factors. Let us reclaim the word “diversity” to mean “diversity of ideas” or “artistic diversity” or “stylistic diversity” (in fairness, the article under scrutiny, which uses the word “diversity” twice, could be read in that way, but I suspect Mitchell was using the term in its “identity politics” application, based on reading his previous /Varsity/ article (from August 2020), which talks at some length about gender-based quotas).

    In short, let us celebrate great music regardless of when, where, and by whom it was written. The good news is that many performers and promoters are already doing that. Barenboim’s juxtaposition of Beethoven and Boulez at the Proms in 2012 was an inspired programming choice. Earlier in 2020 (before the UK went into ‘lockdown’), I was deeply impressed by the Mozartists’ programmes of works by Mozart and Mozart’s contemporaries. And these are but the ‘tip of the iceberg’ — the music profession has innumerable indefatigable individuals, ensembles, and organisations who make heroic efforts to promote neglected works and composers, often not making any monetary profit and only rarely receiving any acclaim for such undertakings. Let us endeavour to afford greater support (financially, artistically, and as audience-members) to such undertakings.

  • Jerome Hoberman says:

    NL, did you actually bother to read the entire piece? And, even if so, did you pause — even if just for a few seconds — to consider what its point is, before dashing off your headline? Perhaps, like Emily Litella, you might follow this now with, “never mind!”

  • caranome says:

    Shut the front door!

  • Curvy Honk Glove says:

    So we need to cancel Beethoven for being elitist, but Strauss is safe even though he was a Nazi. I suppose it’s a moot point, anyway, as team blue has won here in America, and the end of the Anglo-European Patriarchy is nigh; and not a moment too soon.

  • G says:

    Did you read the article? Its conclusion, and most of its exposition, don’t call for Beethoven to be cancelled at all. I do enjoy SD’s pandering to its lowest common denominator in this poorly researched/concluded way, as it speaks volumes of the integrity of its writer/writers. And I look forward to the comments which similarly won’t have read the article, which won’t stop them from becoming outraged by your falsely drawn headline . Ah, but this is what slipped disc is about, and why many of us with more than half a brain return here — its about loving and laughing at the outrage being riled up in people by falsely reported outrage. The irony, the schadenfreude, the obliviousness, the hypocrisy, the head-in-the-sandness … SD and its readers have it all!

    • William Safford says:


      Granted, James Mitchell’s article’s title was a bit click-baitey.

      But it’s easy to tell who read the article and who didn’t, based on their comments.

  • Fridolf says:

    Somehow, even the greatly-esteemed James Mitchell—for all his internationally-recognized accomplishments, timeless artistic achievements, and unrivaled aesthetics—cannot eclipse Beethoven.

    Unfortunately, we are forced to await an intellect of even grander capacity than that of James Mitchell and a publication of even broader persuasive reach that Variety to lead us into the post-Beethoven utopia for which we have all been so eagerly yearning.

    Until then, regrettably, we are forced to subsist on the meager offerings of LvB, as we malign the countless clueless concert-goers, ticket-buyers, patrons, donors, students, and un-woke masses who insist on finding meaning his music.

    Until that time, we can only imagine the joy of a world without Beethoven …

  • M McAlpine says:

    Better idea is to cancel the idiots like the one who wrote this article. Hopefully though, he’s young, and you are allowed to be stupid when you are young.

  • Nijinsky says:

    I’m not an alcoholic petroleum product. My name isn’t Vaseline Nigh-Gin-ski, nor it is Nigh-Gin’s-key, Vaseline. I’m not a topsy turvey well lubricated slide downwards from the heights of snow, nor the secret way to avoid your own inebriation!

  • Olivier Levasseur says:

    Cancel Varsity!

  • sam says:

    Orchestras could at least try, for one season, not to program any Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart or Mahler, and see what happens.

    They may well be pleasantly surprised that their audience is a lot more knowledgeable and ahead of the curve than the administrators and music directors.

    • 18mebrumaire says:

      Or they might very quickly find themselves bankrupt and (if they are lucky) their former players retraining as delivery drivers.

    • J Barcelo says:

      I can tell you exactly what will happen. In the Phoenix, AZ area there is an orchestra, Musica Nova, whose leader is visionary. The slogan is “The Best Music You’ve Never Heard”. Over the years I’ve been to their concerts and have heard music by Gal, Raff, Atterberg, Reinecke, Arnell, Braunfels, and many other neglected composers. They often usually play to an audience of 50 or so. Other orchestras play the standard repertoire and pack the hall. Despite the pleas of people to try other music, the public knows what it likes and likes what it knows. No will change that. Thank God for recordings so that we can hear this obscure music.

    • Patricia says:

      And if you leave out the traditional canon of Western music, what do you put in its place?

    • Nijinsky says:

      I agree. They may pleasantly be surprised, as well. Whole flour (either spelling flower as well) gardens in France have such orchestras, blossoming mightily, but they’re usually called fleas, termites, abildahites, racket hedges or roaches of all sorts (cocks, buzzes, orange, red, purple and even you-niques)…

      And we all wonder what this reference to “Hairy” is…

  • Lokman Merican says:

    Yes, the way forward is to play more Beethoven.

  • sam says:

    Indeed, a real life experiment worked: Covid wiped out the entire Beethoven bicent-semicent-ennial (there, the word now exists!) and lo and behold, nothing bad happened to Beethoven, he wasn’t erased from the collective memory of humanity, 100 years of recordings did not vanish into a blackhole, and, as far as we know, he did not turn in his grave…

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      Dear Semi-Sentient Sam, in 2020 my visits to theatres included performances of “Leonore” (1805), “Leonore” (1806), “Fidelio,” the world premiere of Christian Jost’s “Egmont” commissioned to commemorate somebody’s birthday, and by far the best orchestral performance of the year was a “Sinfonia Eroica.” Maybe you should get out a bit more.

    • John Borstlap says:

      My Viennese informant tells me that he turned in his grave on the publication of that article, which was the second time; the first was on the premiere of Schoenberg’s opus 23 in the twenties.

  • Minutewaltz says:

    What a tragic article.

  • mary says:

    The ban on Beethoven must begin with conductors: if you have nothing new to say, please don’t do another Beethoven cycle.

    Same goes to pianists. Don’t add yet another complete Beethoven concerti or sonatas just because you can.

    Of course that would require a level of self-awareness that one doesn’t have anything new to say that is beyond most performing artists.

    Here are examples of wrong reasons to do a Beethoven cycle:

    1) To celebrate x years as music director of his/her orchestra
    2) To celebrate the conductor’s/pianist’s x years of age
    3) To demonstrate how the conductor/pianist has personally matured since his/her last cycle
    4) To demonstrate how a young conductor/pianist has learned the complete Beethoven at such an early age
    5) To do the musical equivalent of a last will and testament by a conductor/pianist before he/she retires

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Those are all good reasons to do a Beethoven cycle. However, you don’t need a REASON to do a Beethoven cycle other than that it will be another Beethoven cycle. Everybody loves Beethoven cycles. Diversity is another Brahms cycle.

      • Herbie G says:

        Ah, Pianofortissimo, we can’t have any more Brahms. He must be banned immediately. He wrote a little-known work called Triumphlied to commemorate the German victory in the Franco-Prussian war. Thus this work commemorates German imperialism. Therefore we should destroy all the recordings and scores and confine him to oblivion.

    • Garry Humphreys says:

      ‘If you have nothing new to say . . . ‘
      You don’t need to have anything ‘new’ to say – the composer has said it already – it’s all in the music, and the interpreter’s job is to find out (by studying the score) what this is.

  • Arnolphe says:

    Dumb and Dumber.

  • Giora says:

    People must really have a lot of free time to write such a huge mount of b…hit!!!

  • Interested Party says:

    I don’t think we should worry too much about what undergraduates write in student magazines.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed. But this article is a reflection of a widespread sense that classical music somehow should be get rid of, as if it were an irritant of modern times, and ‘of us, enlightened modern liberated people’. As a signal of a trend, it is significant. The rise of populism in the West is a threat to everything of value that the West has created, in spite of its abberations.

  • Bratsche brat says:

    Mass cultural boycott by whom? Which mass? The wealthy senior citizens who frequent classical music concert halls? 😛

  • Allen says:

    Beethoven may well be overplayed so far as concert audiences are concerned, but we must remember that a large number of people would not be able identify Dvořák’s “From the New World”, Eine kleine Nachtmusik or 1812, let alone the 2nd, 3rd or 4th movement of his fifth symphony.

    Classical music, even the allegedly overplayed stuff, is only reaching a fraction of its potential audience. Until it displaces some of the genuinely overplayed commercial dross and finds its way into our education system and mainstream TV (where, on the BBC at least, it used to put in an occasional appearance), overplayed Beethoven should not be our biggest concern.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Frank: ‘I think certain sound products, especially hip-hop, rap, and hard rock, should be cancelled. Even if I would never actively listen to it, that “stuff” is very disturbing in the public spaces, and it is definitely a bad influence for the young. Many people producing those sounds use drugs, and a few are or have been oppenly criminal.’

    Billy: ‘Your view is racist, shame on you!’

    Frank: ‘No racism at all – those can be black, white, or brown. It doen’t matter. What they are singing about is pornography, or that they want to crash and burn in hell, things like that.’

    Billy: ‘But they sell, man, they sell a lot and, you know, any Snoop Dogg is richer than Mme. de Guermantes.’

    Frank: ‘THAT was a good point. What’s wrong with people now a days?’

  • kjpmaestro says:

    Why is it that these detractors of Beethoven (the target in the line of sight in this particular circumstance) never deride a single piece of his most significant ouevre? Is it that they cannot find fault with Fidelio, the Missa Solemnis or the late string quartets (insert your own favourite work in place of mine) so they have to deride him for being appropriately recognised for his inestimable, lasting and incontrovertible contribution to Classical Music? Perhaps we should just avoid giving the naysayers any oxygen whatsoever upon which to promulgate their miserable ignorance?

    • William Safford says:

      Wellington’s Victory.

      • Marfisa says:

        As battle pieces go, Wellingtons Victory isn’t bad, though I wouldn’t call it my “favourite work” of Beethoven. It is not nearly as much fun as Biber’s Battaglia or Jannequin’s La Bataille, nor as good as Johann Christoph Bach’s War in Heaven “Es erhub sich ein Streit in Himmel”, or J.S. Bach’s victorious “Nun ist das Heil”.

        Wellington’s victory at Vittoria was a good thing for Europe. If it had gone the other way, and the Peninsular War been lost, Beethoven might have been forced to write celebratory music for the Emperor Napoleon on his third and final triumphal entry into Vienna.

        No battle over either the excellence of Beethoven or the desirability of a more diverse Classical music scene. Down with reactionaries who distort their opponents’ arguments, and the wilfully ignorant, who don’t bother to read them.

  • Emil says:

    Three things:
    1- The ‘cancel’ trope is as dumb as it is tired. ‘Cancelling Beethoven’ is not a thing.
    2- No one, in fact, is calling for Beethoven to be ‘cancelled’, whatever that means. Instead you get a ton of articles like this one discussing how outrageous it is to cancel Beethoven, when no one in fact is ‘cancelling’ him.
    3- Even the most conservative classical music aficionados tend to agree with what the author points out – that Beethoven is overplayed and that his music’s omnipresence crowds out other deserving composers. We read complaints about the boredom of orchestral season programmings and the shrinking repertoire on Slipped Disc itself every February/March, when seasons are announced. Calling for the repertoire to be widened – yes, including but not limited to more non-white-European-male composers – is not ‘cancelling’ Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, etc., it makes musical sense, unless we want to end up hearing the same 15 or so symphonies and concertos on repeat.

    • Anon says:

      The standard canon has hundreds of great works for orchestra, hundreds more for piano, hundreds of string quartets, and hundreds of operas. This great art is enough for several lifetimes.
      Nobody, literally nobody, knows the standard canon well enough to be “tired of it”.
      If there are a small handful of pieces that get programmed too often (in your opinion), perhaps those “greatest hits” could be given a rest. But then again, this small handful sells out large halls and brings about an extremely enthusiastic reaction from the audience every single time.

      • William Safford says:

        You’re technically correct, but the standard canon is still overplayed, to the detriment of variety in classical music concerts.

        For that matter, works even in the canon go in and out of fashion, as do composers.

        Thirty years ago, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a performance of the Grieg Piano Concerto, or the Schubert Unfinished (at least in the U.S.). Today, they appear in programs far less often, even though they’re just as good today as they were then. I would mind less, if they were being replaced by new works, or at least more variety. Instead, they seem to be replaced by yet more performances of, say, Beethoven.

        Ditto works of, for example, Howard Hanson. Of course, part of the reason for that is that his conducting students have mostly retired or passed away, and the next generation seems not to be promoting his works. This is a problem for many composers, whether living or deceased. (I’m not specifically advocating for Hanson’s music, but just using it as an example.)

  • dd says:

    Alas, there’s a lot of That/PC about:
    The Wokies: Top 10 CORPORATE panderers who plumbed new depths in 2020
    by Helen Buyniski
    Corporations went headlong into performative wokeness this year, falling over themselves to embody the spirit of diversity and inclusion. They mostly succeeded in alienating customers and bringing down torrents of mockery instead.
    While some companies deliberately set out to become woke standard-bearers, donating conspicuous sums to Black Lives Matter or delivering pompous press releases about their new direction, others were pushed into the PC pit unexpectedly – whether through guilt by association or because a publicity-hungry customer was able to bend the ear of a story-hungry tabloid.[…]

  • John Soutter says:

    Cancel Beethoven or culture – leave it to Tory shithead austerity ad all other shitheads!

  • Nurhan Arman says:

    Silly reflections on Beethoven’s legacy!

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    A good read about Beethoven: Charles Rosen’s essay ‘How to become immortal’, published in ‘The Frontiers of Meaning: Three Informal Lectures on Music’, Kahn & Averill, London, 1994.

  • Peter says:

    This is undergraduate student journalism and so should be taken as such. It reflects what may be widespread or may be a minority “woke” view, that Beethoven should be recast against today’s values. It fails to see that Beethoven overcame huge disadvantages in the context of his own time – poverty, child exploitation, dysfunctional family environment, alcoholic father, and later on illness and deafness. He was not elite. And his association with elitism of today is just a reflection of how his genius overcome all this.

    • John Borstlap says:


    • SVM says:

      Peter makes an important and eloquent point about how Beethoven was, in many respects, *not* “privileged”. But the fact remains that Beethoven was from a musical family (his alcoholic father was a court musician), a situation which would have given him some advantage in his early development as a musician (but not to the same extent as Mozart, whose father possessed far greater musical aptitude, means, and connections than Beethoven’s father). Having said that, there is no doubt that Beethoven’s musical accomplishments are at a level several orders of magnitude higher than the other musicians in his family.

      It seems to me that “coming from a family with one or more professional musicians” is a form of “privilege” that has not been scrutinised sufficiently. There are some double-barrelled surnames that are extraordinarily prolific in the UK music scene (this is nothing against double-barrelled names — I focus thereon simply because two people sharing the same double-barelled surname are statistically far more likely to be related than two people sharing the same single-barrelled surname)…

  • Pedro Morgado says:

    I suggest you read the whole article. It is not, in any way, a “call to cancel”.
    Unfortunately, if Mr. Lebrecht wrote a title that was not misleading, he would get a much lower number of “clicks”…
    Clickbait reaches classical culture.

  • Nick says:

    It’s about time!! Let’s cancel Beethoven: white, male, elite! All wrong!! Hello RAP’n CRAP!!

  • OMG! Cancelling Beethoven would be Cancelling Humanity…Mankind!!! The challenge for the performers is to present his music as what it is, particularly the later works when he reached complete deafness: FOREVER NEW and EMBRACING ALL HUMANS ON ALL CONTINENTS.

  • Patrick says:

    From Grout (and before) to McClary, I get tired of people telling me how I’m supposed to feel about Beethoven.

    Just buzz off. I don’t need you.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Frank: ‘My Beethoven is clever, more human, yes definitely better that yours.’

      Billy: ‘My Beethoven is more elitist, more racist, whiter, more dead and worthier to be cancelled than yours!’

  • JJC says:

    Better to cancel Cambridge.

  • Jeremy says:

    I doubt even napoleon whom beethoven erased would go so far as to silence beethoven. Even prokoveiv whom the communists disagreed wouldn’t go this far.

  • R.D. Eno says:

    The article does not propose “canceling” Beethoven. It offers a dispassionate appraisal of both the conservatism of “classical” audiences and the suggestion that “pale, male and stale” composers (everyone from Palestrina to Stravinsky) be excluded from the repertoire, and concludes that it would accomplish nothing useful. Not a full-throated endorsement of the western canon but by no means a cannon aimed at it.

  • Al Revzin says:

    Stupidity is well represented across the political spectrum .

  • The real tragedy of today is the shunting of all classical music to the rear burner in favor of East Listening (New Age chants and rants on one side, mediocre pop on the other). Until the early 20th century having a piano or organ in your house for your kids or family was routine. Teaching classical music, even when simplified, was standard in elementary schools. Attending public concerts, especially of the great pianists like Horowitz and Rubenstein, was considered normal…and was cheap. The disappearance of home-grown music, whether played or listened to, is one of the great intellectual disasters of American culture. Try to find Hindemith, Bartok, Stravinsky, Cowell, Varese, Ruggles, Ives on the high falutin’ WQXR, in the most musically sophisticated city in the US and you will have to wait a long time and search intensely. For today’s degraded musical culture Beethoven is at least a token or lip service. Let’s be grateful for that, while we recognize that almost no one
    has heard all 32 piano sonatas or 16 quartets of Beethoven. If all they want are his symphonies, let them have them. It’s better than the alternatives.

    • Patricia says:

      Gnu York CIty is not he most musically sophisticated city in the country. That is what their PR would have you believe.

  • Michael James says:

    It’s good to publish a satire on all this woke nonsense.

    I wonder how many readers will think it’s for real.

  • David says:

    ???? Did you even read the article? It doesn’t say to cancel Beethoven

  • Mary Zoeter says:

    Beethoven is believed to have said, “There are and will be a thousand princes; there is only one Beethoven.” Change “princes” to “cancelers” and there you have it.

  • rickst29 says:

    In the actual article, James Mitchell addressed all sides of the question, and did not recommend a particular “prescription” that performance organizations should swallow, in order to proceed with “good”standards.

    In this sputtering bit of flame bait, Norman Lebrecht accuses Mr. Mitchell of a “conclusion” which Mr. Mitchell never made. I was hooked by the bait, and found the original discussion slightly interesting, and decently balanced. I feel that Mr. Lebrecht’s mischaracterization is unbalanced and slightly offensive.

  • George Porter says:

    I suppose it never occurs to these people that a man might just want to write a piece of music.

  • Richard Zencker says:

    There are a lot of serious problems right now for those that love and perform classical music. The fact that Beethoven is played a lot is not one of them. And the article isn’t nearly as nasty as the title suggests; I think an editor may be partly to blame, as there really was no reason to waste the bytes.

  • William Safford says:

    When I first read this blog post, there were no comments yet.

    I was curious to see how many people would post comments *after* reading the article.

    More did than I initially expected.

    Kudos to all of you.

    I was also curious to see how many people would post comments *without* reading the article.

    Many did, and thereby made their ignorance clear.

    No surprise there.

    My opinion: I’d love to hear less Beethoven: not because his music isn’t worthy, but because there is so much more music to be written, performed, and listened to.

    For me, the shibboleth to break is not the greatness of Beethoven’s music, but its oversaturation in our concert halls.

    For that matter, we do not really hear all that many works of Beethoven’s. Just a handful get played over and over and over again.

    Heck, there’s a lot of Beethoven’s music that I’d like to hear more often: how about two fewer performances of the 9th and one more of the Missa Solemnis? How about two fewer of the 3rd and one more of the 8th? How about his cantatas? How about his Octet, which is not profound but is delightful to play and hear? Even his Septet, which was reportedly overplayed while he was alive, should get more airings today.

    But not Wellington’s Victory. Ugh.

    • Marfisa says:

      Wellington’s Victory – a special case, surely. Here is Scherchen rehearsing it: This is really worth watching, and the monolingual should not be put off by it being in German with Italian subtitles. I was alerted to this, and to Scherchen, by an older SD post.

      Since my New Year resolution is to give up my SD addiction, I would just like to thank Mr Lebrecht and his band of faithful commenters for the always stimulating, often educational, and frequently infuriating contributions to the classical music subculture. Here’s to a happier 2021.


    I wouldn’t give any INK to this preposterous proposal! Beethoven will be played exactly as many times, in as many places and as often as the world wants to hear it. ♥

  • David Lomas says:

    How many deaf composers are there in the musical canon? “Cancelling” Beethoven doesn’t increase diversity and inclusion; it reduces it.

  • Edgar says:

    “Cancelled or not, Beethoven will continue to force the classical music world to look at itself in the mirror and, maybe, this isn’t a bad thing.”

    The cancelers will soon be forgotten, or, at best, remembered as hopelessly, irredeemably, woke.

  • Keith Hedger says:

    Okay, so Varsity magazine. I guess everyone needs a place to learn to do what they want to do. Or, perhaps this is just tongue in cheek? If not, then I’d just say that the author obviously knows nothing about music. If they think that people still listen to Beethoven simply because his music is ‘familiar’ then they’ve totally missed the point. Beethoven is one of the MOST important, substantive composers in Western music. It’s hard to imagine a time when his music won’t be listened to. However I DO agree that there needs to more musical diversity in the presentations of our performing organizations…

  • John says:

    Canceling Beethoven is like canceling Thanksgiving, Christmas and your birthday. Get real dudes, the new Millenium is a vacuous pile of smoldering pop music. Beethoven has no match, he’s eternal.

  • Doug says:

    It fits the modern pattern of throwing out the good & great to make room for whatever is trendy. It’s simply wrong & stupid.

  • Gerald Martin says:

    This is all so tiresome; like canceling the sun coming up.

  • Dave says:

    It actually turns out to be quite a sensible article, if you disregard silliness such as equating the Proms last night right-wing lobby with the typical LvB audience.

    To summarise, get rid of LvB from programmes and some other way will need to be found to sell seats – and that might be less palatable to those who take offence at him.

  • Unreal understanding of music is the basis of this negativity.

  • Dustin says:

    I don’t think Beethoven is performed live frequently enough.

    • Robert Beck says:

      I don’t think INTERESTING Beethoven is performed enough. But 3,5,6,7,9 are played EVERY SINGLE year at the NY Phil. Fidelio doesn’t get done all that often. More of his piano sonatas should be performed outside of college recitals. I love MANY of his string quartets, and you don’t really hear a ton of them.

  • Van Brussel says:

    Before you want to “cancel” VAN Beethoven you need to be at least as good as he was. But I do not know the name of this ridicule person he is a nobody and as a nobody he will disappear. You cannot “cancel” a giant. And was he elitair, no he was a bussiness man.

  • Robert Beck says:

    I totally disagree with most of this sentiment, however I do wish the major houses took on more new stuff. I was a subscriber to the NY Phil for about 10 years. The Romantic period was SO heavily favored it was crazy. I gut that these are the big pieces that the donors know, but if they challenged their audience more, maybe they’d get a more diverse audience, and not just the same old blue haired old bitties spending their dead husband’s money.

    I’d even like to hear them take on lesser known composers (some of which were brilliant and totally timeless), but they need to sell tickets, and I get that as well. After all, it is a business. People and bills have to be paid, so they have to sell tickets.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Beethoven never intended that his work would become a monument and ‘classical’ in the sense of routine basis material. But much of bourgeois music life evolved, in the 19th century, on the basis of Beethoven’s orchestral works, which were very difficult to play, and in overcoming those difficulties orchestras and conductors acquired the technique to master the scores. Also for the chamber music circuit, his works form a basis, not only in terms of technique but of musicality and musical imagination as such. Overplaying the works diminishes their freshness, so a bit less Beethoven is good for him and for music life. But denying the place of the works is denying classical music’s very foundation, and missing a striking characteristic: the music is still contemporary.

    There is reason to be quite critical of some ways the symphonies and concerti are often played:

    “The romantic cult which enveloped this intensily alive music, spread a gloss of a superficial, petty-bourgeois taste over the works, which can still be heard in performances in the style of museum pieces. We should try to find the performances and recordings which give the music as it is: as wild flowers and not dried bouquets. The solemn, domesticated type of performance denies this music’s innate character…. and kills-off its most remarkable feature: it still sounds entirely contemporary.”

  • John F says:

    I showed this article to a friend who included in her reply remarks a quote from the late Black Country music singer Charlie Pride, “What we don’t need in country music is decisiveness, public criticism of each other and some arbitrary judgement of what belongs and what doesn’t.”
    I think Mr. Pride knew something about how to achieve success on his talents and rise above pettiness and discrimination.

  • John F says:

    “Decisiveness” should be “divisiveness”.

  • Aaron says:

    Here is a novel concept: Let me listen to what I want.

    I listen to Beethoven because I like the music. It is not eternal and internationally relevant because of his gender, race, classicism or heritage.

    If looking forward to you means Cardi B’s WAP, no thanks I’ll stick to the past.

    Your forward progress is a dark future insistent on commanding others what to like, think and listen to. I prefer self-determination. I will continue ignoring your attempts to deprive others of the things they enjoy because your hearts are consumed with hatred.

    • William Safford says:

      Here’s the essential flaw with your viewpoint: it impedes the creation of the very thing that you like.

      Had people in Beethoven’s time acted the way you profess to do, you would not have Beethoven’s music to enjoy today. Why? Because it would never have been created, because everyone then would have just been playing music by the likes of Monteverdi over and over again.*

      As for hatred, think about what you wrote. You complain about others trying to deny you what you want to hear. Yet you want to limit others from possibly hearing something that *they* want to hear. Even more so, you are limiting your own ability to hear something that you might enjoy hearing, if only you were to hear it. Then again, if your ears are closed to something new, then you probably won’t enjoy it anyway, so it could be a self-fulfilling prophesy.

      Your Cardi B comment, and your juxtaposition of it with your comment about “hatred,” is not only a straw man, it also gives us a glimpse into what your attitudes really are.

      *(There’s nothing wrong with Monteverdi’s music! That’s not my point.)

      • Aaron says:

        Here are the essential flaws with your viewpoint:

        1) You assume Beethoven is the only thing I listen to, which is untrue. It’s one of many things I find intrinsic value in. I’m not neurotically playing Beethoven on loop with my head in the sand.

        2) I am not limiting anyone from what they want to listen to. Nor am I telling them to listen to what I listen to. My point is that I am free to pursue that which I fancy and not what some populist movement demands.

        As a resident of Seattle, I assure you there is a very real enraged mob of neo-Marxists that would love to cancel Beethoven for the sake of destroying anything symbolic of Western civilization. But that is not my hatred, that is theirs.

        3) My point about Cardi B is that what is current or “progressive” is not necessarily valuable to me. If you are actually defending Cardi B, that’s on you to defend the indefensible. My opinion is that music has been on a banal depthless decline greatly accelerated over the past half century. I would place my bet that it is mere transient fads that will be nonexistent in 250 years because it is transcendentally vapid. Again, my opinion which I am entitled to.

        I don’t forsake innovation. In fact, quite the contrary. But I celebrate music that is resonat and worthy to my ears, not blindly celebrate progress for the sake of progress.

        The cold truth is that there is less diversity in “eternal” classical music because most of it sucks. If you want more women or people of color to showboat in the classical arena, they need to produce work that has the essence of greatness.

        The Seattle Symphony is constantly parading around “diversity composers” to revel in how great and progressive they are by deviating from the evil patriarchy of Beethoven.

        That’s why Clara Schumann draws an audience and Amy Beach and Sofia Gubaidulina will continue to be propped up for who they are superficially when their music is aimlesly terrible. And if you want great African American composers, listen to jazz because there are none in the classical arena.

        I say this purely out of regard for the work product, and could care less what attributes they identify with. Diversity quotas should not be an excuse to assault audiences ears and we pretend like it’s wonderful to rub to half steps together for 30 minutes followed by a eardrum dismaying gong.

        • William Safford says:

          Without people who supported Beethoven and his music, we would not have his music to play, and you would not have his music to listen to.

          We deny future generations their Beethovens, if we refuse to support current composers.

          For that matter, we deny ourselves our Beethovens.

          Of course, not everyone will become a Beethoven. Look at the conversation about Reicha, a contemporary of Beethoven. He was no Beethoven. However, he was a skilled composer, and he was important as a teacher of important composers such as Berlioz. But what if *he* hadn’t been supported? Even if you never listened to one note of Reicha’s music, would we then have Berlioz’s music, or the music of other pupils of his? (I perform Reicha’s music from time to time.)

          Re your comments about current composers, reflect on the following:

          “I confess freely that I could never get any enjoyment out of Beethoven’s last works. Yes, I must include among them even the much-admired Ninth Symphony, the fourth movement of which seems to me so ugly, in such bad taste, and in the conception of Schiller’s Ode so cheap that I cannot even now understand how such a genius as Beethoven could write it down. I find in it another corroboration of what I had noticed already in Vienna, that Beethoven was deficient in esthetic imagery and lacked the sense of beauty.” –Louis Spohr

          “Among new signs which bring about changes in Beethoven’s style, this sign that is like the sign of Cain, is nothing less than a violation of fundamental laws and of the most elementary rules of harmony–wrong chords, and agglomerations of notes intolerable to anyone who is not completely deprived of the auditory sense, and which elicited a memorable exclamation from a Beethoven pupil: ‘But it sounds damnably false!'” –A. Oulibicheff

          “Beethoven’s Second Symphony is a crass monster, a hideously writhing wounded dragon, that refuses to expire, and though bleeding in the Finale, furiously beats about with its tail erect.” –“Zeitung für die Elegente Welt”

          I could easily go on.

          In the 1800s, would *you* have liked Beethoven’s music? Perhaps you would have agreed with these critics that his music was “cheap” and “deficient” and a “crass monster,” if you had listened to Beethoven contemporaneous with him?

          How might that relate to how you listen to music today?

          Food for thought.

          Re Cardi B: she’s a false flag in this discussion.

          If you wanted your point to be made based on classical music, you could have mentioned someone like Boulez, or Stockhausen, or some living enfant terrible.

          But you didn’t.

          Cardi B is not a classical musician. Furthermore, you know it. You chose her on purpose, just as you chose to disparage those “neo-Marxists” in Seattle who do not like being murdered by the police and who believe in such un-American concepts like equality and justice….

          Or, if your words do not reflect your true beliefs, please feel free to correct or amend what you wrote.

  • JussiB says:

    When Beethoven studied with Haydn, he lied and cheated in order to get more money from his sponsor. And later he tried to pass off as aristocracy and treated his brother’s widow with utmost cruelty. I would boycott Beethoven on those moral grounds alone but fortunately I always separate art from the artists.