How to decolonise classical music

How to decolonise classical music


norman lebrecht

May 03, 2021

Reports that a pack of Oxford aademics are planning o cancel leading composers because of their offensive attitudes and lifestyles have made headlines around the world.

Which composers need to be worried? These ones:

1 Handel
Invested in slave-owning companies

2 Mozart
Verbally abused women

3 Chopin

4 Wagner

5 Dvorak
Patronising to New World minorities

6 Debussy
Abused women

7 Stravinsky
Owned serfs

8 Richard Strauss
Head of Hitler’s Musikkammer

9 Carl Orff
Seriously f***ed

10 Leonard Bernstein

Who’s been left out?


11 Bruckner

12 Brahms
Paid for sex

13 Elgar

14 Saint-Saens

15 Gounod
Who knows?



16 Tchaikovsky
Wore furs

17 Gesualdo
Debussy, only worse

18 Puccini
Matreated staff

19 Rimsky-Korsakov
Upper class

20 Gershwin
Cultural appropriator


  • Genius Repairman says:

    Here are some more if you like:

    Too boring

    Too formalist

    Too young

    Too erratic

    Too arty

    Too emotional

    Too bland. Actually, bland is perfectly acceptable, so Reinecke is on the approved list.

  • Edoardo says:

    I remember Beethoven was single out to be the product and incarnation of western-white-cultural oppression

    • John Borstlap says:

      Beethoven spent more time on the suppression of inferior races than on writing symphonies, while keeping himself deaf for critique.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Yes, he had such a good life – full of privilege and luxury – you can see why that would fly.

      Barbarians will always have their excuses for going after our cultural and intellectual giants. They need to reduce them to the pygmies they themselves are.

  • John A says:

    Not sure where you’re getting your sources from, found nothing else on the web about this, unless you have insider knowledge that no one else knows about? The news that Oxford Univeristy is going to stop teaching from sheet music, which is the closest thing to this has been widley discredited. Oxford University are considering ‘decolonising’ their music dept, quite rightly so. It isn’t about diminishing white, European men, but raising up under represented composers/theorists etc.

    • UK Arts Administrator says:

      There’s a more extensive report of this at which quotes from a report, sadly behind a paywall, at The Daily Telegraph:

      Paragraphs from the CFM report include:

      “an academic from the University of Oxford proposed a lighter focus on Euro-American elite music, “arising from international Black Lives Matter demonstrations”.

      “They said they want to address the “white hegemony” in Oxford’s music syllabus, and to better represent other forms of music.

      “Possible changes to undergraduate courses include reducing the focus on canonic classical composers like Mozart and Beethoven, in a proposed move away from “white European music from the slave period”.

      “It was reported that the professor questioning the music curriculum’s “complicity in white supremacy” also proposed a lighter focus on western music notation, allegedly described in the documents as a “colonialist representational system”.


      “According to the documents, the faculty member also suggested learning skills like playing the piano, or conducting orchestras, should no longer be compulsory. They said these skills “structurally centre [around] white European music”, causing some “students of colour great distress”.

      “Documents also highlight the issue of an “almost all-white faculty” giving “privilege to white musics”.

      “The professor, hoping to expand their coverage of non-Eurocentric genres beyond hip-hop and jazz, proposed to rebrand “special topics” as “Introduction to Sociocultural and Historical Studies”.

      “Options focusing on Schubert’s music could also be changed to focus on ‘African and African Diasporic Musics’, ‘Global Musics’ or ‘Popular Musics’. ”

      Make of this what you will…

      • John A says:

        Ah, thank you so much for the context! I feel in these days of overblown hyperbole, it doesn’t seem as if these European composers are being ‘cancelled’, more that under-represented composers are being brought into the light, as they should be.

        At the end of the day, I suppose, sensationalism sells.

      • Allen says:

        “slave period”

        Interesting phrase.

        When wasn’t there a “slave period”?

      • John Borstlap says:

        With all due respect, but the formulations give away the bottomless stupidity of this Oxford ‘academic’:

        ‘… a proposed move away from “white European music from the slave period”.’
        The music of the classical period is not white, since music is an aural art form; also the 18th/19th century was not defined by slavery – there was a bit more going-on.

        ‘….the music curriculum’s “complicity in white supremacy”…’
        Composers from the classical period had nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with any idea of ‘white supremacy’ which is a novel American woke obsession. The central place of the works of these composers in any self-respecting music curriculum is entirely due to the quality and immense influence of the music, and its universal meaning and appeal for the entire globe. (‘Seid umschlungen, Millionen!’)

        ‘………… western music notation, allegedly described in the documents as a “colonialist representational system”.’
        This is, apart from extremely stupid, intellectual falsification: Western notation has developed over the ages since the Medieval period and has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with colonialism. But of course, if students are ethnically and musically challenged, they will have a nice excuse, supported by academia, to turn their failure into an asset. The formulation echos 20C French ‘philosopher’ Foucault, who – among many other misconceptions – treated prisons as political instruments of suppression of unwelcome thoughts, and the training to write beautifully as attempts to suppress individuality, comparable with army exercise.

        When playing an instrument and learning to conduct works which “structurally centre [around] white European music”, cause some “students of colour great distress”, these students should read about history so that they can make a distinction between the works of composers and the objectionable politics of the governments they happened to live under and for which they never have carried ANY responsibility – since there was no democracy at the time. And even if there had been a democratic system, they were NOT personally responsible for their government, in the same way that this crazy ‘academic’ is NOT personally responsible for the lies of the UK government when rpeparing for brexit.

        “Documents also highlight the issue of an “almost all-white faculty” giving “privilege to white musics”.
        Relating the ethnicity of teaching staff to the material they are supposed to teach, is full-blown racist. It is the same mistake that Wagner made when he wanted to criticize early industrialisation and capitalism and related it to the Jewish descent of bankers and industrialists. It is like thinking that communism is the result of having red hair after you have seen a red-haired communist. How stupid can you get?

        “The professor, hoping to expand their coverage of non-Eurocentric genres beyond hip-hop and jazz, proposed to rebrand “special topics” as “Introduction to Sociocultural and Historical Studies”.
        Translated, this means: hiphop and jazz is not enough, we need MORE non-Eurocentric musics and treat them as sociology. The professor is in the wrong faculty.

        “Options focusing on Schubert’s music could also be changed to focus on ‘African and African Diasporic Musics’, ‘Global Musics’ or ‘Popular Musics’. ”
        This academic should relocate ASAP to his preferred, non-European areas instead of teaching music at Oxford, where he obviously does not belong. Replacing Western classics by pop and non-Western music serves a type of student who has no interest in classical music. That’s OK but why demand from Oxford, of all places, that kind of stuff? One would expect that Oxford University should count as one of the best expertise educational institutions for Western classical music, not for pop and ‘black’ music, which have enough attention elsewhere and on quite another level.

        The whole thing reads as satire, and I still hope it will appear to have been a destasteful spoof.

        • Observer says:


        • Allen says:

          “lies of the UK government when rpeparing for brexit”

          Give it a rest, you sound like a pub bore.

          Why isn’t there a 20 mile queue of lorries on the M20 motorway?

          Why has Nissan increased investment in Sunderland?

          Why is the City expanding rather than contracting?

          Where are the food shortages?

          Where aren’t pharmaceuticals in short supply?


        • Marfisa says:

          Mr Borstlap, are you really saying that Oxford University should limit itself to Western classical music, and refuse to study other traditions? It is good and necessary to think about the world from a non-Eurocentric standpoint.

          Many students interested in classical music are also interested in the mainstream music of their time, which is ‘pop’ in all its variety. Dream Theater (progressive rock/heavy metal) was started by Mannes students. Their ‘The Count of Tuscany’ ( is a serious musical work (the composer Doug Helvering made a reaction video to it: I found it far more challenging, more enjoyable, indeed far more in the classical tradition, than most commissioned new ‘classical’ works. But I digress. There is much more to ‘pop’ than you imagine.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          Where, oh where, are Gilbert and Sullivan when they’re so DESPERATELY needed??!!! “yes, I’ve got him on the list…and he really won’t be missed”.

          • V.Lind says:

            Are you SERIOUS? That’s from The Mikado, surely the most racist thing ever put on a stage!!!!!!! 🙂

        • Marfisa says:

          Correction to my previous reply: Dream Theater was formed by Berklee students, not Mannes.

        • Mecky Messer says:

          What exactly do you mean by your phrase “ethnically challenged”? Like, are some Ethnicities (and their music/traditions, of course) “lesser” than others?

          Mhh where have I heard that before? Was it 1936 or 1937, not sure….

          Then you repeat like an albino baboon the same fallacies “X/Y music is better and universal”….well, reggaeton and hip hop is also now universal. Is it better?

      • NN says:

        Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

        To make it clear: I’m not defending colonialism at all but at least many Christian missionaries did many good things!

        Oral tradition is the part of the problem of African culture, I’m afraid. The successful development of Europe and Asia is based on their culture of writing (lat. cultura). So they passed on what was important for them. Therefore historical thinking is quite natural once you have a writing culture.

        Actually, in the 19th century Christian missionaries started to write down African history. So the “white” people gave the “black” people their own history and culture. They taught them reading, writing and maths sharing almost everything they knew with them.

        Also, ethnomusicologists transcribed a lot of music from Africa and many other continents to save their music from oblivion. And so any kind of music notation is something positive. Period!

        • Mecky Messer says:

          Now we have recordings and internet. Notation is as needed as a horse is needed for transportation.

          Was cute for a while, then the world moved on. Why don’t you?

          • NN says:

            Apart from transcriptions ethnomusicologists very early also made field recordings.

            However, so called western classical music is played from sheet music to guarantee a diversity(!) of interpretation. They cannot play from a recording.

            Re. “was cute for a while”: Music notation is much older than recordings… Btw: I’m working in the recording business (recordings based on music notation is business standard in many styles, from pop music to classical music).

            But certainly you are free to stay in your “modern move bubble” ignoring facts.

    • S. Hubert says:

      Do ANY other races count or is this for “blacks only”?

      • V.Lind says:

        I don’t think any of these musics are in any trouble in their own lands — certainly not Chinese Opera, Indian ragas, African music (always, when watching many movies about the last decades of the struggle for apartheid, I was moved by the musicality of many of the protests — it had that spirit of spontaneity I had noted in the Welsh).

        In Cuba and South America and throughout the Caribbean, I heard so much of their own music that I became a devotee, particularly of Brazilian and Cuban, but also of reggae after a visit to Jamaica).

        I would see no objection to the teaching of any of these “musics” in institutions that study music. But as additions, not replacements. And for those who chose to follow those “musics,” not imposed upon everyone out of some political agenda or attempt at social engineering. A concert pianist and teacher I know — he was an early-ish teacher of Jan Lisiecki — is a great admirer of Brazilian music. He is also a composer, and I would not be surprised if his interest in Brazilian music influenced his own work.

        But people have to make their own choices. Perhaps it is fair to say that they should open themselves up to other music than that of their own heritage, but that is no reason to suggest that they turn their backs on their own. Nobody is forcing minority students to study western classical, however we might think that it is as good a starting point as there is — very few people actually do start with it. Some of us get it earlier than others (I had the Brahms Lullaby and the Heidenröslein from the cradle and could sing them in German as soon as I could speak. The move to Italian arias was not much later). But others may have very different starts, no less legitimate if it starts an interest in and a response to music.

        As John Borstlap notes, this is an American woke obsession that seems to have captivated the well-meaning and extremely ill-advised in the UK. I doubt it is anything other than a joke in other continents.

      • Daniella S. says:

        No other races, ethnicities or religions are included in America’s populist Black Supremacy narrative.

        Others are clearly left to fend for themselves. When is the last time Democrats invoked Indians/Native Americans/Indigenous Peoples, etc. to actively DO something in the vein of “reparations” and asserting their rights to the lands long ago STOLEN from them?!?!

        Obama didn’t lift a finger in 8 years and his boyfriend Biden did nothing. Now in the first 100 days of Biden……NOTHING!

        Joe can’t handle the position or the press who’ve been openly chastising him for not having the balls to address them the way Trump and past men have. He’s too mentally ill and in obvious decline. The congressional address was vapid and laughable.

        So far as the RIGHTFULLY offended heirs to America, Democrats are allowing Indians to languish as having visible blacks under their thumb keeps their narrative going. Blacks are openly bitching though. Biden hasn’t done anything so far as executive orders, or even the other basic pandering. He just doesn’t care about them now that he’s attained some measure of power he can’t even grasp. Why is he not giving STOLEN riches back to Indians and Blacks yet?

        …Lefties will just say “I don’t know” as usual and pivot to non-human topics. Psaki does it since that’s all that girl is good for.


        • John Borstlap says:

          Minor correction: as far as I know, the North-American indians never possessed their land, they did not have the concept of ‘land property’ since it was a nomadic culture, considering nature as a natural environment for all beings, and suffused with spiritual meaning. It were the Europeans who thought this an excellent excuse to colonize, since the land was owned by nobody and was thus ‘free’. Call it a culture clash.

          • Ashu says:

            [Minor correction: as far as I know, the North-American indians never possessed their land, they did not have the concept of ‘land property’ since it was a nomadic culture, considering nature as a natural environment for all beings, and suffused with spiritual meaning.]

            “As far as I know” gets you nowhere, just as it did in the case of the Hindu civilization about which you felt entitled to pronounce similarly bombastic and meaningless generalizations a few days ago. The aboriginal peoples of the Americas did not have “a culture”. There were innumerable groups with innumerable different cultures, some nomadic, many settled and civilized.

          • John Borstlap says:

            There was quite a difference between the indians of the north and the indians of Middle America and South America, who had elaborate civilizations.

            The north American indians had an ‘attachment value’ related to the areas they lived in, which is a concept different from what the Europeans considered ‘land property’:


          • Leif Garrett says:

            Correct John!
            It is the same fact based finding as is the ‘attachment value’ Jews merely “feel” they have to Israel as they were placed on clearly Palestinian land. All the hostility towards Palestinians, Israeli erected walls and IDF brutality Jews have inflicted on the rightful owners of the land have never truly made it theirs, hence the baseless wars.

          • red feather says:

            It’s ok. Borstlap is merely speaking from his “white privilege” perspective as he desperately does in comment after comment attempting to needlessly respond to EVERYONE he’s threatened by intellectually. Poor Norman!!

            People like him look at Indians as they do blacks and others (not of his ‘believed’ higher-stature among primates). His clan uses rich cultures like Indians as pawns only to be invoked when they need to USE others to get their way. Then they get sarcastic and deflect back to anyone questioning their narcissism without helping the people they use.

            It should be noted quite auspiciously that Indians have no voice whatsoever in the Democrat/Leftist pantheon. They’ll screech Native American or Indigenous People during Thanksgiving but that’s it. Knocking statues was both embarrassing and illegal but funny when they got crushed to death. They’re not interested a bit in their TRUE predecessors of whom they’ve unjustly inherited the lands they wreak havoc on.

            The last time we heard anything about Indians out of the Left was chief wannabe 1000th% Elizabeth Warren! She tried to BS her way into presidential candidacy by defrauding the Indian culture. Fortunately science and facts TRUMPED her scam!

            One can only hope that Indians receive both the clearly rightful reparations and lands back they deserve. However it will only be by the graces of either the Republican Party (as they did to begin to ameliorate slavery) or with Trump 2.0. Biden is to unfit.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    If this is what they are up to now, who needs that kind of academics? Cancell non-STEM academics and fund other research instead (life sciences, technology, new weapons)! We can live with our good old grammar books withou upgrades for some decades, and read the good old classics for pleasure only (as they should be read).

    • PaulD says:

      STEM programs are no safe-harbor from the nihilists in the United States. Math is said to be racist. High schools focusing on STEM programs are under attack because Black students are “under represented” in them.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        The Bolsheviks tried all that and finally just ran out of body bags.

        • Pianofortissimo says:

          The Bolsheviks did not use body bags, Sue.

          • V.Lind says:

            Ignore SSF when she is on about the Bolsheviks. Nobody told her there is no Soviet Union any more. But she still obsesses on them. You might even say she gets bolshy about them.

  • erica.dubarre says:

    If you start this with composers, where do you end? Musicologists? Critics? Blog commentators?

    • John Borstlap says:

      I recieved already a letter from the British Anti Suprematist Front, complaining about my moral support for white music on SD’s comment sections, and ordering me to fire coloured staff, even if only lightly cappucino. So, I had to white-face three Syrian refugees working in the stable and the garden, which seemed to me better than kicking them out.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        My son has quite a few Kenyan female friends living in Australia. One of them had a white father who was murdered in Kenya because he had a farm. All of these women – without exception – have said they don’t want black partners, insisting they want ‘caramel’ babies with white partners. Life is so much more complex than the grievance tick-boxes trumpeted by the Left.

  • sam says:

    Bruckner should be banned not (simply) because he was a pedo but because his music is fucking monotonous.

    Whenever I suffer from insomnia, I put on Bruckner (any thing, any movement, it doesn’t matter), by the 10th bar, I’m out cold.

    Last month I had open heart operation, I told the anesthesiologist to just use Bruckner. Unfortunately, the entire surgical team fell asleep as well.

    • José Bergher says:

      They should have tried Claude Bolling’s Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano and Suite for Cello and Jazz Piano.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I take this as a posthumous comment.

      • José Bergher says:

        I find those two pieces by Bolling terribly monotonous and boring but perfectly suited for anesthesia purposes.

    • Allen says:

      Should have read some of your own posts instead.

      • Jack says:

        Thanks for the link, Max. That was a beautiful piece.

        I hope the CSO will put a Bruckner symphony on the 2021-2022 calendar.

    • Alank says:

      If you find the adagio of the 8th Symphony boring and monotonous then I wonder what music moves you.

      • BrianB says:

        I wonder how often Bruckner symphonies as a whole would be played if it were not for those truly inspired adagios.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Yes, and some of the most inspired musical themes ever found. But much of his music rambles and is crude, especially the ‘scherzi’.

    • Jack says:

      Some people instinctively understand Bruckner and some do not. Sadly, you fall into the latter category.

    • Baffled in Buffalo says:

      It’s very interesting that there’s been a big Bruckner revival, in the sense that many Minimalist composers are attracted to him, e.g. Mary Jane Leach has a piece called something like Bruckstücke. If one speculated 70 years ago, which 19th century composer(s) might greatly gain in influence, I don’t think anyone would have mentioned old A.B.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      He spoke well of you, though.

    • Concertgoer says:

      Pedophilia = sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children

      Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition

      • John Borstlap says:

        Bruckner liked girls in their puberty, which was not so unusual some time before the 19th century when marriages were concluded at 13 or 14 yrs.

        • Concertgoer says:

          You have no facts.

          • John Borstlap says:

            “In the 12th century, Canon law jurist Gratian, stated that consent for marriage could not take place before the age of 12 years old for females and 14 years old for males.”

            “There are recorded marriages of two- and three-year-olds: in 1564, a three-year-old named John was married to a two-year-old named Jane in the Bishop’s Court in Chester, England.”

            “The minimum age requirements of 12 and 14 were eventually written into English civil law. By default, these provisions became the minimum marriage ages in colonial America.”

            “In France, until the French Revolution, the marriageable age was 12 years for females and 14 for males. Revolutionary legislation in 1792 increased the age to 13 years for females and 15 for males. Under the Napoleonic Code in 1804, the marriageable age was set at 15 years old for females and 18 years old for males.”

            “Before 1929, Scots law followed Roman law in allowing a girl to marry at twelve years of age and a boy at fourteen, without any requirement for parental consent.”

            “In medieval Eastern Europe, the Slavic traditions of patrilocality of early and universal marriage (usually of a bride aged 12–15 years, with menarche occurring on average at 14) lingered.”

            “In Russia, before 1830 the age of consent for marriage was 15 years old for males and 13 years old for females (though 15 years old was preferred for females, so much so that it was written into the Law Code of 1649). Teenage marriage was practiced for chastity.”

            Ec. etc…..


          • Concertgoer says:

            You have no facts about Bruckner, one of our greatest composers, yet are making a disgusting allegation.

          • John Borstlap says:

            It is well known that Brucker wrote touching and elaborate ‘almost-love letters’ to girls, but never came close to even have a nice drink with any of them. Writing was as far as he could go.

          • Concertgoer says:

            That does not support “liked girls in their puberty” — a disgusting smear in any era.

          • John Borstlap says:

            This gives the meaning of ‘likes’ on social media a quite different shade.

    • fredrich Grantler says:

      So don`t listen to Bruckner……Case closed..

    • fredrich Grantler says:

      Just listen to something else…

  • phf655 says:

    took credit for music composed by his wife

    made racist comments while a resident conductor in New York

    extra marital affairs

    • John Borstlap says:

      Made his wife run away with his best friend

      Murdered his wife and her lover

      Forced his wife to accept a marriage à trois

      Wrote terrible bitter music

      Wrote such boring concerti grossi that they have been totally forgotten

      Decided for a gay life style

      Remained in the Soviet Union

      Never offered any grip on bad behavior


  • Tamino says:

    So much idiocy, grown out of the mother of idiocies: not understanding the difference between correlation and causation.
    We are doomed.

  • Marfisa says:

    These ‘reports’ have been fact-checked by Associated Press, over a month ago, and shown to be false:

    It also points out that the extreme suggestions reported in the Telegraph come from a single professor, not the whole pack.

    But don’t let me spoil the fun …

    • John Borstlap says:

      That’s why it begins to look like a spoof.

      • Marfisa says:

        You may disagree violently (as you do) with what this academic says, but, from a non-Eurocentric viewpoint, the arguments have a some validity. If you were a person from a colonized country, rather than a citizen of a colonizing nation, you would take them more seriously (though of course you could still disagree).

        In your earlier comment, “This academic should relocate ASAP to his preferred, non-European areas instead of teaching music at Oxford, where he obviously does not belong” is perilously close to the racist taunt “go back where you came from”.

        • John Borstlap says:

          That is a dishonest critique; the said ‘academic’ clearly does not like the tradition of musical education as cultivated at Oxford. There is nothing against teaching of non-western musical traditions, but that is something else than ‘decolonizing the curriculum’, or ‘decentralizing the classics’. There is a reason for the classics to be at the center of a European top university.

          Imagine the claim that at an Indian university, Indian musical traditions have to be decentralized to make place for Western pop, hiphop, or the ‘art’ of Lady Gaga.

          In my Cambridge days, treatment of non-European musical traditions was a normal part of the postgraduate corriculum and in no way undermined or ‘decolonized’ the lectures. Eastern traditions were analysed without colonial overtones, on the assumption that these traditions had in themselves no connection to what governments – local or colonial – did, be it good or bad. (There were also some good things – next to the many bad things – that European colonists achieved, let it not be forgotten in the total picture).

          • Marfisa says:

            Agreed, it was an unfair criticism.

            I am on the whole in favor of challenges to established traditions and ‘generally acknowledged truths’, and I find the current interest in decolonialization stimulating. It is not a matter of whether some European nations did good or bad things in their colonial activities; it is why they felt they were right in the first place to take over the territories and resources of other peoples, and interfere in their cultures, and how the viewpoint of those other people (and their descendants) can now be justly recognized and acknowledged. Very often the ‘right’ of the colonial powers were justified by an assertion of their general superiority, moral, cultural, religious, to the ‘lesser’ peoples they governed, and it was quite often expressed in racial terms.

            So while I do agree that the ideas of this particular academic, as reported, are over the top, I would not deny her or him a job in Oxford on that account alone.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Agreed upon the point of colonialism. But how to defend the position of an Oxford academic with such entirely nitwit ideas? They don’t meet any academic standards, THAT is the worrying thing. How will such nitwitticism influence other educational institutions if they get an example of ‘deconolialization of classical music’? How would that inspire the large number of people who want to have classical music demolished altogether, for being elitist, authoritarian and way beyond their own understanding? There is a wide-spread and increasing hatred of the art form by many people, who want to remove any sign that there may be something better than their own life experience – the egalitarians who want a soviet world where everybody is on their own level, so that they can feel safe from inferiority feelings.

  • marcus says:

    The logical end point of this is for all these people to resign and be replaced by experts in African/Asian/Etc. music?

  • The View from the West says:

    (re: St.John Passion)

  • DAVID says:

    Since these academics make a living merely due to the output produced by these monsters, I hope they will show some coherence and immediately give up their salaried positions, as well as the proceeds from their publications to an appropriate organization.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Preferring the Chinese Communist Party. And move there, while they’re at it.

      • BrianB says:

        Ironic, is it not, that only a few decades after the Red Guards and Mao’s (and Madame Mao’s) Cultural Revolution, that Western classical music is far more beloved, respected and embraced in Red China–and including even works like Turandot– rum notions of”cultural appropriation” be damned–than it now is amongst the “intelligentsia” and leftist Marxist academia in the West.

  • Music fan says:

    Neither Oxford academics nor frustrated bloggers are going to “cancel” composers whose music has been listened to for centuries.

    But it harms no one to openly discuss the real foibles of the composers listed above, along with many others. And it hardly serves the music or history to sweep such foibles under the rug. They were humans with human weaknesses.

    • BrianB says:

      Lucky you to have no such foibles. Or perhaps you do, as have I, but they at least had the mores and standards of two or more centuries back as context.

  • Miranda Green says:

    One can’t cleanse history by wiping it out. It is what it is and we should learn from it. It doesn’t do any good stopping listening to music, not looking at paintings, and pulling down architecture. We should remember the world for what it was and think about the mistakes that were made.

    • The View from America says:

      This comment makes entirely too much sense, and therefore should be canceled.

    • John Borstlap says:

      But it should be remembered that there have been quite some efforts to rewrite history and make disappear ‘unpleasant recollections’ by dictatorships, and we see this also in contemporary China.

  • Karlo says:

    Are these scholars also going to socially re-engineer themes present of misogyny-sexism-homophobia-racism-pedophelia-slavery…. as well as re-engineer the personal lives or artists who play rap, heavy metal, soul music, techno, trap, punk, disco, Kpop etc………or are they just going to deal in irrelevant dead white men? Nothing punches like a ‘scholar’ who wants to pick a fight with a long dead man who wore a wig and stockings.

  • Alank says:

    If they are so insistent that the faculty is too white, why don’t they be principled and resign and give their position to a person of color. And if they really want to prove their fealty to progressive politics, I have some suggestions on how they could permanently eliminate their carbon footprint.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It is entirely unacceptable that Gounod is supposed to not have had colonial benefits. Let’s have a closer look.

  • George says:

    Which leaves us with Verdi, Puccini, Rossini and Donizetti. 🙂

  • Grace S says:

    Fascinating to watch a complete meltdown on this thread at the prospect of making room for more music. One might almost think that the commenters weren’t as interested in good music so much as maintaining an unequal historical narrative that elevates white European men at the expense of everyone else…..

    • The View from America says:


    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Why don’t you be far more intellectually honest and just ask us for our money? That’s what it’s ALWAYS about, at its bedrock.

    • John Borstlap says:

      If something is better than something else, that does not mean that it only got its elevated position because of downgrading the other stuff. This latter is egalitarian thinking, the idea that if something is better, it can only be because of having pushed-down something else. It is like thinking: ‘your success is my misery’, i.e. simple envy dressed-up as social justice.

      • BrianB says:

        True, and the worldwide success of Western classical music over virtually all cultural divides has only to do with the universal human appeal those composers and their idioms achieved.
        In this connection, I always think how had the 1931 HMV Hugo Wolf Society depended solely on British, European and American subscribers, it would have foundered at the outset. But it was launched and rescued only with the aid of Japanese subscribers.
        But where the inuence goes the other way and non Western cultures have influenced Western composers, such as Britten vis a vis Noh drama or Balinese music, then they are charged with cultural appropriation.
        Heads we win, tails you lose

        • John Borstlap says:

          The influence of Eastern musical traditions in Western serious music is great, and led to entirely new styles (Debussy, Ravel, Roussel, Messiaen, etc.).

  • Max Raimi says:

    Well, this seems rather hysterical. How, pray tell, would “Oxford aademics” (sic) “cancel” these or any other composers, even if they wanted to?

  • DRehur says:

    Addressing some Euro-centric issues is good in the long run, I believe. It is commendable to trying to address these issues, but it will certainly ruffle some feathers. This article and how it presents itself, though… trash news.

  • Anthony Sanderson says:

    Might carry more credence if Oxford University wasn’t seeling out to a Chinese company with possible links to its military.

    Fighting 21st century colonialism should be more of a priority.

  • 18mebrumaire says:

    Oh yes, and let’s not forget (or forgive) Palestrina for profiting from the fur trade, Byrd for prosecuting old ladies through the courts, Scarlatti for irresponsible gambling, Haydn for leaving Rebecca Schroeter without a forwarding address, Mendelssohn for not fulfilling his early promise, Robert Schumann for not sharing in the household chores, Britten for not coming out in support of Stonewall. What a legacy to parade before the young!

  • Karl says:

    Isn’t hip hop too black? Maybe classical music and hip hop should make some trades. Angela Meade for Kanye West?


    Is Norman trying to throw out the baby with the bathwater?

  • PaulD says:

    Puccini, Gilbert and Sullivan – Orientalists.

  • TransalpineScholar says:

    Read the following very carefully:

    Then tell me if your so-called ‘reporting’ of the changes to the Oxford music dept curriculum is anywhere near the truth.

    Just for clarity, here’s a few key points from the Faculty website:

    “While retaining — *and in no way diminishing* — the Faculty’s traditional excellence in the critical analysis, history, and performance of a broad range of western art music from Machaut to Sound Art (via Mozart and Beethoven), we are also enhancing our students’ opportunities to study a range of non-western and popular music from across the world, alongside our courses in music composition, the psychology and sociology of music, music education, conducting, and much more.”

    – Note the words ‘retaining – and in now way dimishing…’

    “…other staff will continue to offer already established courses. These established courses include topics from Orlando di Lasso to Global Hip Hop to Music, Mind, and Behaviour in the first year, and from the Troubadours and the Renaissance Madrigal to the 19th-century Symphony, Women in Popular Music, the History of Music Education and World Jazz in the second and third years.”

    Notice any differences between the words above and the unsubstantiated claims by Norman Lebrecht in his hastily written blogpost?

  • Anthony Sanderson says:

    It’s not just the West that are cancelling their artists. The Chinese Communist Party are cancelling the Chinese director Cloé Zhao, who has just won an Oscar for the film Nomadland, for a post she made eight years ago about growing up under a culture of lies.

  • David A. Boxwell says:

    All those white males who “appropriated” music from cultures not their own: Copland, Gershwin, Bernstein, Milhaud, McPhee, Britten, Dvorak, Harrison, and many, many more!

    • M2N2K says:

      Not just “many more”, but probably most (if not all) finest “classical” composers who ever lived – of any skin color.

  • Micaelo Cassetti says:

    Massenet never wrote
    A Mass in A
    It would’ve been too bad
    If he had.

  • NN says:

    When in Rome do as the Romans do. So western conservatories/universities should be able to teach their “white” culture. And cultures of other “colours” could do this in their own territory. Thus “white” students, who are eager to study – say – “black” culture could do that on location of origin. That would be a fair win-win situation. Apart from this racisim is not only happening one way (“white” against other “colours”). Racism is everywhere…

  • SVM says:

    Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa

    Had his wife murdered

  • Anthony Sanderson says:

    I thought Beethoven lived for a time under enemy occupation. The imperialist Napoleon posted guards at his front door. Surely he should be hailed as a freedom fighter.

  • TransalpineScholar says:

    Here’s my position:
    I LOVE many of the traditional canonical composers – Josquin, Monteverdi, Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Berlioz, Verdi, Dvorak, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler, Sibelius, Elgar, Nielsen, Rachmaninov, Strauss, Schoenberg, Berg, Stravinsky, Vaughan Williams, Britten, Tippett, Lutoslawski etc. etc. etc. the list goes on and on.

    I have listened obsessively to music by these composers for the last twenty years, played many orchestral, chamber, and solo works by them, and appreciate the beauty that such music brings to our lives.

    I also happen to believe in expanding my horizons both musically and intellectually. I believe in listening to music from around the world, understanding the art and culture of other societes, and perhaps appreciate other perspectives and worldviews other than my own. In the last seven or eight years, I have broadened my musical appetite to include folk music from all sorts of countries, post-1960s jazz, pop and rock of various flavours, yes and classical/popular traditions from countries like India, Pakistan, Iran, Mali, Argentina, and Morroco.

    Can someone PLEASE tell me what is wrong with wanting to learn and teach all the above to the younger generations? Do people simply want to stick to two dozen classical composers? Do you see a mixture of European and non-European courses as some kind of threat to your native culture by any chance? If so, how would you articulate that using sound logic?

    And please avoid resorting to hyperbole, insults, or patronising language. Thanks very much folks!

    • John Borstlap says:

      There’s nothing wrong with learning about different types of music. But there is everything wrong with the idea that Western classical music is guilty-by-association because of having been written in times when governments did inhuman things. Forcing a relationship between colonialism and music is idiotic and not to be taken seriously. It creates ‘distress’ in young people still entirely ignorant of historical reality, and falfifies any music – including the ‘non-Western’ types as being ‘innocent of colonialism and slavery’. The so-called ‘connection’ is absurd and intellectually dishonest. Therefore, an ‘academic’ at Oxford advocating such idiocies is a scandal, the man is clearly not up to an academic level of thinking and is a threat to the quality of teching at the university.

    • Marfisa says:

      Sanest and best comment.

  • M McAlpine says:

    To me it would be a far better idea to cancel the idiot academics mentioned. They are cancelled in the minds of all sane people, anyway!

  • Marfisa says:

    “a pack of Oxford aademics [sic] are [sic] planning o[sic] cancel leading composers because of their offensive attitudes and lifestyles” – wherever did NL get this from? I know it makes a good game for the more reactionary types among SD readers, but the documents that the Telegraph got hold of, according to its reporting, say absolutely nothing about about the attitudes and lifestyles of individual composers.

    I note that comments on this post that try to correct misinformation about the proposed revision of the Oxford music curriculum, or (heaven forbid) approve of broadening it to include a wider range of musical cultures, get downvoted for their pains. Oh well, that is how it goes.

    [You can read the Telegraph free for one day if you give them your email address. Their report is at

    If there is a musicologist in the house (perhaps from Oxford?), can he or she explain why the Telegraph report gives a picture of a page that it describes as the manuscript score of Haydn’s Missa in tempore belli, but is in fact a ‘Canone perpetuo in 4. voci in hypodiapente, et hypodiapson’ by George Albrechtsberger, with a dedication in Latin hexameter verse to Joseph Haydn?

  • Eusebius says:

    the so-called euro white male elite classical music got its label in the 20th century, before that it was just pop music.

  • foxy says:

    The works of the great canon of western music, and accompanying recordings will still be around in a thousand years in the far east just as the works of the great classical writers survived in Arabic translation. So these philistine morons manage to storm an institution of prestige- its prestige turns to dust in their hands. Everything has its time. If all the others follow suit provision elsewhere will spring up- maybe a Japanese university could set up a campus in Oxford to fill the gap for choral and organ scholars who do not want to do a mickey mouse course and teach them how to write fugues/score read medieval notation etc or stuff that is actually harder to do than wingeing about how their preferred commercial dreck is more important than Beethoven cos I fink so an I’m a moosicologist and a(n) [insert identity] person.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I always loved Mickey Mouse. That does not make me illiterate!


      • John Borstlap says:

        Sorry about that, she had to accept numerous corrections in her letters and had to change her micky mouse socks which are prohibited here.

  • Eusebius says:

    what about victims of white slavery?

    • John Borstlap says:

      I was just thinking. I’ve to work here more hours than at my former job at the toilet paper factory and am criticized for every tiping mistake I make. I’m even criticrzed for the type of facial expression I wear on the monday morning. Monday morning! You know what I mean.


  • BrianB says:

    Tchaikovsky wore furs. Lol. This is all a sick joke right? Or satire like the Babylon Bee? Cos if it’s serious, an awful lot of people need psychiatric counseling.

  • SonicSinfonia says:

    It’s like the lists the Nazis, Stalin and the Stasi used to draw up… well done Oxford.

  • Allan Leicht says:

    Conspicuously missing: Verdi. Mensch. (And one can hear it.)

    • John Borstlap says:

      But he had a ‘moor’ in his Otello who murdered his wife because of being incapable of restraining violent emotions – as traditionally projected upon ‘coloured people’. So, Verdi was racist, after all. Also he accepted the commission of Aida for the festive opening of the Suez Canal which was designed by the British who had colonized Egypt, and dug by the poorly-paid locals, so: a form of capitalist and racist exploitation. So, he supported colonialism, and even colonialism by a non-Italian country. Also he lived years with a woman without being married, without giving her the deserved status in his household, so he was suppressing women as well. What more do we have? O yes – he is said to have enthusiastically approved of slavery and pederastry in Antiquity, but that may be merely a slander. On the list with him!

  • John Borstlap says:

    For people, wanting to better understand how it could be possible that such idiocy can be proposed at a place like Oxford, it is helpful to read a very sharp analysis of postmodern ‘thinking’ where the entire craziness of identity politics come from:


    “I’d argued that Shakespeare’s audience’s would not have found Desdemona’s attraction to Black Othello, who was Christian and a soldier for Venice, so difficult to understand because prejudice against skin color did not become prevalent until a little later in the seventeenth century when the Atlantic Slave Trade gained steam, and that religious and national differences were far more profound before that. I was told this was problematic by an eminent professor and asked how Black communities in contemporary America would feel about my claim. If today’s African Americans felt badly about it, it was implied, it either could not have been true in the seventeenth century or it is morally wrong to mention it.”