Europe organises ‘Beethoven is Black’ conference

Europe organises ‘Beethoven is Black’ conference


norman lebrecht

June 03, 2021

The early-music organisation REMA is putting on a ‘Beethoven is Black’ conference in Amsterdam tomorrow.

Keynote speaker will be Chi-Chi Nwanoku, founder of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Chineka Orchestra. On 18th September 2020, Chi-Chi was speaker at the REMA Symposium on Diversity in Early Music.

In their panel session will participate baroque violaist Patricia-Ann Neely (EMA Taskforce Inclusion and Diversity, US), pianist Luke Welch (Canada), Suriname-Dutch flutist Ronald Snijders, Orville Breeveld, Suriname-Dutch guitarist and podcast producer, and double bassist James Oesi (South Africa). The panel will be moderated by the Curaçao-Dutch television anchor Noraly Beyer. 

You couldn’t make it up? They just did.

Maybe we can get George Orwell to report it for


  • A.L. says:

    This whole thing is getting more absurd by the minute.

    • PeterB says:

      What’s getting more absurd by the minute are the knee-jerk reactions of people too lazy to inform themselves about what they deem absurd, let alone think about it for a minute.

      • Patrick says:

        Essentially they are trying to rewrite history! And this “in your face attitude” will, and has already riled many mild mannered easy going people!

      • Hayne says:

        So you’re saying post colonialism and critical race theory isn’t absurd?

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      You need to understand that feminists have become modern-day empire builders – no less than similar movements in the past which they, ironically, eschew.

      It’s deliciously ironic and funny.

  • E Rand says:

    surely THIS will be what gets blacks into the concert hall. REMA has finally solved this most vexing problem!

  • V.Lind says:

    Oh, please report — I can’t wait to hear what they are trying to put over.

    • Darrell says:

      I concur, already waiting for the ‘Proceedings… ‘

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Whatever it is you can be sure that it will be politically correct, woke, sanctimonious and self-righteous. All those endearing qualities we all love in the modern Left.
      You know, the ones we grew tired of with institutionalized religion; they’re baaaaack!!

      • Dave says:

        I’m seeing plenty of the endearing qualities of the modern right here. If I want to know who its members are in the arts world, I can just pop along to SD and see who is shouting “woke”.

  • La plus belle voix says:

    The REMA board consists of five men and one woman, the latter is styled Secretary. The admin team lists three women. Really a forward looking organisation then.

  • Nobody special says:

    While the title is admittedly lame, I encourage people to actually read the description of the conference. It has nothing to do with proving that Beethoven was black. The title is misleading and unnecessarily provocative and distracts from the important mission of the event.

    “The Museum Geelvinck’s project ‘Beethoven is Black’ addresses topics of equal representation, inclusion and diversity in the world of early and classical music. They advocate more colors of all shades on stage, in the classrooms of music institutions and at all venues, where music is enjoyed. A diverse voice will not only enrich the sound of music, but also nurtures the seeds for future generations of musicians to flourish.“

    • Patrick says:

      Thank you! Why are people so afraid of a diverse concert experience? There’s lots of great music out there. That’s all this is about.

      • E Rand says:

        Literally no one is “afraid” of a more diverse concert experience. Whether they actually want to pay for one without regard for quality is a different matter. My guess? People just want great music and are sick of race being injected into every facet of our lives.

        • Monsoon says:

          “People just want great music and are sick of race being injected into every facet of our lives.”

          The paradox of this complaint is that classical music has a shrinking audience problem; for music organizations to survive longterm, they’re going to have to figure out how to appeal to non-white audiences (the number of old white people aint growing), which is the point of this conference. Ignoring issues of “equal representation, inclusion and diversity in the world of early and classical music” will only help guarantee to continued decline of this art form.

          • Herbie G says:

            Yes. By the same argument, the circulation of The Times is not as high as it should be so they could improve it by filling its pages with news about BLM, LBGT+, Transgender and Rap.

          • John Borstlap says:

            The problem is that promotion of concert life in this way will not reach the ‘non-white’ audiences. And where it does casually touch the butterfly attention span of people not being aware of classical music, including ‘people of colour’, it won’t make any deep impression. Also the focus on skin colour and the references to slavery and white supermacy is entirely wrong, it is about culture and that means that there are conspicuously many people out there, of ALL ages, who could not care a damn about classical music or its survival problems. It is all the result of a twisted way of thinking, saturated with resentment.

            The notion that there exists something like classical music and its enriching benefits and meaning, should simply be a normal part of any school curriculum, including all kinds of ‘ethnicities’, because the art form has no ethnic or cultural barriers.

          • Sue Sonata Form says:

            Bravo, especially this: ‘It is all the result of a twisted way of thinking, saturated with resentment.’ I’d go further and say envy and murderous resentment.

          • Walter says:

            Excellent! You have described everything I have felt far better than I could have said it myself.

          • Derek H says:

            It is also white audiences and they should not distinguish. The majority of white people have little interest in classical music and don’t attend concerts.

            Two close relatives of mine have never been to a classical concert but if it is ‘Cabaret’ or ‘Phantom of the Opera’ etc. at the theatre, they will be keen to attend.

          • Sue Sonata Form says:

            Dear me: off to the gulag for them!! Don’t you love the Left: completely intolerant of any kind of tolerance!!

          • Derek H says:

            Many a true word….

            Yes, it is freedom of choice and if you want to attract new audiences, you have to interest them early and often to show that it is worthwhile.

            It is ‘daft’ to limit that to any specific group or class.

          • E Rand says:

            I’m still waiting for any evidence, whatsoever, that by “diversifying” our programs we increase the interest and attendance of non-white (and it must be said, non-asian) population. Is classical music’s problem amongst the Black and Brown community really the fact that our greatest composers are white? It seems to me that the current and dominant narrative that western values (and art) is a manifestation of white-supremacy and to be rejected as such may be a MUCH higher hurdle to jump.

          • Sue Sonata Form says:

            It’s about ‘shove over and give me your gig’.

            The childish Left thinks we haven’t seen this!! All emotion and hysteria; the lot of it.

          • Kuniko 2 says:

            So sayeth Sue Sonata. Doyenne of the Childish Right.

          • Anon says:

            Classical music does not have a shrinking audience. Most nearly every concert I’ve seen in the last 10 years has been sold out or nearly sold out.
            But it’s so much fun to make that baseless claim and propose solutions to a problem that doesn’t exist, eh?

          • John Borstlap says:

            It is also true that white heads are dying-off, but that new white heads are filling in the gaps – the latter is often forgotten. One cannot stop aging, i.e. getting a bit wiser.

          • Nick says:

            Not always wiser, sometimes only older!

          • Sue Sonata Form says:

            Memo to Monsoon: have you noticed the millions upon millions of Asians who love serious music? It’s not in decline AT ALL.

            You know, from the same cohorts who’ve had accusations of over-representation in at least one of America’s leading universities??

            Racism: it applies to your group but never to my groups.

          • Leopold says:

            What you are actually saying is that the music has to be dumbed down to be accessible for non-whites. Sounds problematic to me.

        • Donna Pasquale says:

          Ooh i do love your white liberal comments. So full of insight and humanity

        • BRUCEB says:

          Interesting assumption that a “more diverse concert experience” must be “without regard for quality.”

        • FrauGengerin says:

          Race and sex. I wonder if these people are so interested in these two aspects because without playing the race and sex (gender) card they would not make it in free competition on their own. They NEED gender and race to compensate for their own artistic and academic mediocrity.

          • John Borstlap says:

            That remains to be seen. How do we know that a rejection was based upon racist prejudice? The range of reasons for rejection, in any field, is infinite. That makes it so hard to fight discrimination. For instance, there are cases of discrimination against high quality, because it shows-up the mediocrity of others. Or discrimination against ‘outsiders’ unrelated to quality. The human inventory of rejection is wide and deep.

    • Hayne says:

      So in other words, Museum Geelvinck is another racist organization. Got it.

    • The View from America says:

      “The title is misleading and unnecessarily provocative and distracts from the important mission of the event.”

      Whose fault is that, then?

      • John Borstlap says:

        It’s ‘tongue-in-cheek’ but it does not come across in printing. It’s like a medical description of flatulence but without the reality of social disturbances.

    • Herbie G says:

      Sounds like bo*****s to me.

    • G.Vaillant says:

      I just don’t want anyone telling me that I should listen to more music by non-whites (or whatever the US-Americans consider “white”) just because someone tells me I have to, I don’t want people telling me that I should favor women on an entrance audition at the institution where I have a small studio just because someone thinks that we should have more women in the university, I don’t want history rewritten, I don’t want to use the current-fashion inclusive language just because someone thought everyone should do it, I don’t want to stop performing Wagner because he was a grade-A a***e, I don’t want to listen to music by non-europeans and non-USAmericans just because someone thinks they are underrepresented amd I have to, I don’t want to apologize for the mistakes of my grandparents or my great-grandparents….

      I want to be free to listen to what I want; I will take the best students regardless of their sex; I won’t ever attend a concert of tribal African music or mariachi because I don’t want to; I will speak freely without using ungrammatical because; I will perform Wagner and still think he was a terrible human being; and I will certainly not apologize for someone else’s mistakes and sins…

      This current equality/parity/political correctness/inclusion/visitility/etc. fashion is hurting society, is making the division between men and women, poor and rich, white and whatever is non-white for US-Americans bigger, and is making everyone of us less and less free. I will think and act within the law as I see fit.

      • John Borstlap says:

        A very sane comment.

        Freedom does not mean that one will inevitably use discriminatory or racist language or will act in an uncivil way.

        But this does not mean that uncivil behavior and language does not exist, or that discrimination does not exist. But it should not be fought with means that create barriers and totalitarian thought.

      • sabrinensis says:

        Supremely well said.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Pass me the bucket. I wonder if there’ll be on big enough, though.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Not unexpected but not sustainable over time because the interest in managing Beethoven’s legacy is weak. I guess the next nation to claim Beethoven ownership is China, where his music is played more and more.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Beethoven is a Chinese invention, I read it on internet so it must be true.


      • Pianofortissimo says:

        Dear Sally,

        That is quite plausible. My cousin Billy, who studies Mandarin, found this information in the Chinese internet: Beethoven descends directly from Zwarte Piet who fell in love with Beethoven’s grand-grandmother as she surprised him coming down the chimney with a bag of strooigoed.

        🙂 Pff

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        With one slight qualifier: “Made POPULAR in China”.

        Beethoven doesn’t need to have his legacy ‘managed’. He, of all people, would have found that idea appalling.

  • Mock Mahler says:

    Heavens! Slipped Disc is offended by a provocative title!

  • John Borstlap says:

    It is entirely irrelevant whether LvB was black or not. It’s a moot point anyway since there is no evidence except a far-fetched remark by Haydn who once casually asked a Viennese fellow musician: ‘And how is our moghul doing these days?’

    These crazy people merely use the composer to forward their political agenda of victimhood and social justice. They should do that entirely outside music life and focus on education.

    But this sort of victimhood indignation is quickly taking-over the country, because of all European countries, the Low Countries always look to the USA for guidance how to behave at home, so: the BLM movement is embraced in Holland as the New Church, liberating every member of thinking.

    Just very recently, the famous Reichs Museum in Amsterdam, which houses the wealth of 17C painting, one of the greatest collections of the world, opened an exhibition about slavery in that very age (the Golden Age of Holland), intending to show that all of Hollands wealth and culture was achieved over the backs of extensive slavery overseas. So: don’t be misled – they got so rich and famous because of plundering colonized lands through slavery.

    There are hardly any art works in the Reichs that give evidence of horrible, gruelling dehumanizing practices, as could be expected. So, this huge gap is filled with blown-up social justice mongering, to show that the Reichs is morally on the ‘right’ side today and cannot be accused of ‘white supremacy’ sentiments.

    Facts uncovered by historical research are generously overlooked, since they don’t fit the narrative, which shows such initiatives are entirely driven by political agendas, which have nothing to do with art. For instance, what is the point to have the Reichs involved in a social justice exercise? Interestingly, a year ago historians at Leiden University have made a careful calculation to find-out, on the basis of concrete historic evidence, what was the part of slavery contributing to the wealth of Holland in those times. They took the period when slavery was at its peak: the late 18th century. So, a century later and with slavery on a much higher level than ever in the 17th century. It appearad that slavery was only contributing to the national gross wealth of some 10 à 20%, and that the total of economic growth, directly or indirectly, thanks to slavery was, around 1770, ca. 40%. Without underestimating these ciphers, this was the greatest peak of exploitation, leaving the greatest part of wealth due to other trading activities. So, one can conclude that the 17th century wealth was certainly NOT entirely based upon slavery.

    Of course this outcome was not given wide publicity, and any sensible correction of the social justice mood is seen as rightwing racism. And now, poor old Beethoven is taken along in this maelstrom of emotional confusion.

  • marcus says:

    That’s nothing. Apparently Anne Boleyn was black too.

    • 18mebrumaire says:

      And with Sapphic leanings, to boot (as it were). Bingo! two for the price of one.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        But what of the disability? That could be three for the price of one. C/f Dudley Moore and Peter Cook “The One-Legged Tarzan”.

        There’s lots more fun to be had with this intersectionalism yet!!

    • John Borstlap says:

      Before the wave of European colonization, people did not see someone’s skin colour as a sign of ‘inferiority’, but were much keener on social status. Hence we see beautiful portraits of ‘Africans’ and ‘Moors’ in the 15th, 16th and early 17th century, obviously noblemen with a high social status, living and working in Europe. In England there was in the 16th and 17th century, a large community of ‘Africans’, who worked in all the strata of society, from low to high.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        There’s a fly in the ointment; “Othello”.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Neither in Shakespeare nor in Verdi, is Othello treated with racism. He is a tragic figure, but a prince, a hero, and the general of the Venetian army at Cyprus. The scoundrel of the play is Iago, who happens to be white.

      • Saxon says:

        Bore-slap writes: “In England there was in the 16th and 17th century, a large community of ‘Africans’, who worked in all the strata of society, from low to high.

        Er…not really true. There were some “Africans” but the number was small (a few thousand only) and concentrated overwhelmingly in London and one-or-two other large towns. Some may have mingled in “polite society” but none were themselves aristocrats.

  • Gary Freer says:

    Straight Outta Bonn!

  • Alviano says:

    Like “Nobody Special” said, read the description. It isn’t long. This is no big deal. People, including NL, are always pushing women conductors, this is no different.
    Save the outrage for when the barbarians really do attack.

  • Marfisa says:

    What a literal-minded lot SD commenters are!
    I prescribe a careful, thoughtful and unprejudiced reading of Blake’s poem The Little Black Boy (
    Change the second line to “and I am white, but O my soul is black”, and you will see what “Beethoven is Black” might mean.

    • Reprobate says:

      Dear Marfisa,

      Try instead Blake’s : A Poison Tree, & The Human Abstract. (From Songs of Experience) – or in general:

      “In every cry of every Man,
      In every Infants cry of fear,
      In every voice: in every ban,
      The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.”

      It’s the feeling that Society is a secondary phenomena, and so are it’s oppressions. That the world is made of individuals, & it is their own “all-too-human repression of their own freedom”, that blight the world, and always have. In this serious sense, identity Politics is a distortion of human nature. It trivialises it by focusing on the least essential. It takes away from the truth.

      That the crisis is rather more personal than collective is rightly offensive, it implies that something might be wrong or seriously lacking with many people. But if the focus can be laid back on the human, and on the individual, then classical music, and really about 10 composers in all, has almost everything to give, & it is there for anyone who will.


      I’m Nobody! Who are you?
      Are you – Nobody – too?
      Then there’s a pair of us!
      Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

      How dreary – to be – Somebody!
      How public – like a Frog –
      To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
      To an admiring Bog!

    • Ashu says:

      [Change the second line to “and I am white, but O my soul is black”]

      This inversion was used as a chapter title in a book, published in the nineties, about the early white rock musicians’ imitation and adoption of an essentially black genre.

  • Nightowl says:

    2pac is white

  • sam says:

    1) Can’t we just dig up Beethoven and get a sample of his DNA?

    2) Methinks the entire readership of Slipped Disc (and half of the classical music audience) would cancel Beethoven the moment he proved to be Black.

    3) Beethoven, founder of Jazz. I like that.

    • E Rand says:

      I cannot think of anything that could matter less to me than finding out of Beethoven had African DNS. The music would still be sublime. Most people, thank God, just don’t care about race nearly as much as academia or politicians may wish.

  • PeterB says:

    This is a discussion about “how musicians of color relate to classical music in its historical context”. Either NL was too lazy to check what it’s about, or even talking about how musicians of color relate to classical music is now Verboten by his increasingly fanatic and absurd crusade against all things woke.

    This is not helping. Yes, cancel culture exists and it’s a plague. But there’s fanaticism on both sides of this debate, and the only thing the fanatics achieve is to exclude themselves from the conversation.

    Maybe this blog doesn’t care anymore about being influential. Maybe it’s happy to cater to an increasingly small coterie of true believers.

    So be it then.

    • John Borstlap says:

      But how does one enter in a conversation with people who deplore old dead white composers to be white Europeans? For ANY conservation, be it even about mundane matters over tea, there must be some context within which language has some meaning. Is there racism in the West? Yes, enough evidence, but it has very different forms and meanings in many very different places, and it is only one form of discrimination among a wide variety of bad human behavior. A crusade against the imagined massive threat of white suprematist bastards won’t help.

      • Marfisa says:

        “how does one enter in a conversation with people who deplore old dead white composers to be white Europeans?” You start by listening to what they are actually saying, not what attention-grabbing headlines say they say.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Fanaticism from both sides? The far right has zero institutional power, unlike the far Left.

      • Kuniko 2 says:

        Oh, pity the feeble far right! So powerless! If only they could storm something, with Sue in the vanguard!

  • Herbie G says:

    I have changed my mind about Chi Chi OBE. I used to think she was bonkers. I am now certain of it.

    There should be a conference to report on the exclusivity of Rap and Reggae; I suspect that the huge majority of performers and audiences for these genres are black. Surely they need to admit and encourage white people into their activities. Maybe they could increase the audiences at these events by making them more attractive to white people – for a start, they should include in their gigs string quartets, piano sonatas and the occasional operatic excerpts.

    There should be a full investigation too on the fact that Bob Marley was white – I read it on the internet.

    Finally, there should be an investigation of the Chineke! orchestra – it seems to me that they are predominently non-white; do white applicants have equal opportunity to join?

  • E Rand says:

    Why is it, I wonder, that the predominantly black and brown rap-music industry faces no shortage of white or asian consumers?

  • Marc says:

    I recall a “Peanuts” cartoon years ago, in which Schroeder, seated at his toy piano, learns that historians believe Beethoven may have had a dark complexion. “You mean Beethoven was a soul brother?”, Schroeder exclaims.

  • PianistW says:

    How stupid. Racism at its best.

  • li Battuf says:

    Few people know that L V Beethoven real name was Lutfi Vali
    Battuf son of a Somalian father and a Bulgarian mother……a devoted Muslim…..did the Haj twice in his life

  • M McAlpine says:

    Interesting, if you put on a ‘Beethoven is white’ conference it wold be racist.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    An “Is Beethoven Black” conference might be a bit less absurd.

  • Michael Endres says:

    This newly found enlightenment and its messianic purge reminds me a bit of Communist East Germany, where everything in history had to be re-evaluated under the working class aspect ( the famous “Arbeiterklasse”).
    The infallible analysis of history, called “Scientific socialism” provided the justification.
    Alternatively history can also be removed:
    the liberal Guardian suggested recently to get rid of all historical statues, as “Statues of historical figures are lazy, ugly and distort history. From Cecil Rhodes to Rosa Parks, let’s get rid of them all.”

    Wasn’t it the Taliban who blew up….
    no…I am getting carried away here.

    • Herbie G says:

      Well said Michael! By the way, are you the same Michael Endres who recorded the complete Schubert dances for piano, on Capriccio? If so, then at last I can thank you for the enormous pleasure I have had from this set, which I bought years ago as it filled a gap in my CD collection. I guess that recording such a collection of short works has its challenges – the perponderance of 2/4 and 3/4 throughout such a vast number of short works might eventually turn the most sensitive pianist into a human pianola, desperate to reach the finishing post as soon as possible – and the listener might soon tire of this seeming monotony – but in this recording every single piece is played with such affection that it becomes a sparkling diamond.

      I immediately bought the complete piano sonatas too, despite having several other sets – wondering whether the same pair of hands would invest in them the same interpretational felicities and, of course, they did.

      I would recommend these recordings wholeheartedly to anyone out there who loves Schubert’s music – I guess that’s a fair number of SD contributors and readers. They are out there on Amazon!

      By the way – if this is you, do you have any connection with the Endres Quartet, which recorded the Schubert quartets for Vox many years ago?

      • Michael Endres says:

        Hi Herbie,
        so it was you who bought that set of dances, Capriccio always wondered …lol
        but thank you for your very kind comments.
        Having grown up at the border to Austria, listening to endless Bavarian Landlers and folk music (my father ravaged the Zither) set me up, but ultimately it was Peter Feuchtwanger in London who taught me how to sharpen my perception and achieve some freedom with these gems.

        I am not related to the Endres Quartett, though studied at the same Hochschule (Munich) where they taught in the 1980ies.

        PS Always a pleasure to come here and read about the latest news…some developments are pure comedy gold.

        Greetings from New Zealand!

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    Barack Obama is _also_ white.

  • Walter says:

    It all becomes a complete mess when you then head for cultural appropriation. This morning I note Lise de la Salle has recorded Art Tatum’s version of ‘Tea for Two’ which, of course, was written by Vincent Youmans. I’m sure someone, somewhere is already raging about this!

  • Ontogeny says:

    I am glad to see that this thoughtful question has been posed, even if it has been put rhetorically. I suggest that the same question is now posed about Margaret Thatcher, Robert Kennedy and Bill Shankly.

  • hanshopf says:

    Damn, I cannot attend the conference, already speaking at „Martin Luther is Martin Luther King“

    • John Borstlap says:

      Martin Luther was black and hence the protests from the white catholic church which was led by old white patriarchal racist mysoginist men.

  • Nick says:

    The world is ruled by idiots!

  • Marfisa says:

    Late in the day, but

    a) Neither Europe nor REMA is organizing the ‘Beethoven is Black’ conference. Museum Geelvinck is organizing the conference; REMA simply posted a news item about it on its website.

    b) People interested in what the conference is actually about can find out here: They might also want to read some of the articles on the Theme Info page, such as this one:

    c) If anybody wonders, as I did, what Museum Geelvinck is or does, here is their website:

    SD commenters (too many of them) seem to revel in exposing themselves as ignorant and stupid, with their repulsive rants about race. It is shameful.

    • E Rand says:

      As far as repulsive rants about rants, have you seen the news lately? I think that SD commenters, like myself, are using the headline as a launchpad to discuss and comment upon the insanities of the modern world amidst the lowest-iq revolution in world history. Anything else you’d like to control?

    • Martin says:

      go wag your finger somewhere else

  • Ricardo Jimenez says:

    Am I a racist? The BBC version of Les Misérables with a black Javert tried to otherwise convey a realistic Paris of the period. A generally traditional production of the Henry IV plays cast a half black, half Jewish actress as Margaret of Anjou. Both choices interfered with my enjoyment. Is there any hope for me? On the other hand, I find black Wotans or Don Ramiros only slightly annoying, especially if they sing well.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Blackness or whiteness of actors or singers in stage productions has nothing to do with racism but everything with visual presentation in relation to the work. A black Wotan is wrong, because of the nature of the plot which is about premodern Germanic myth. A white Othello is wrong because his ‘Moorness’ is part of the plot, so a white singer has to blackface to make the part believable. When the work is abstract, like classical ballet, skin colour is not relevant at all. And when a special visual effect is wished, an all-black cast in a classical ballet can be very beautiful.

      Etc. etc….

  • FP says:

    Did most posters read the article? They are not saying Beethoven is ‘black’. Just raising awareness for artists of color and using the obvious artist choice that will get rumps in seats.