How to adjust to a woke agenda

How to adjust to a woke agenda


norman lebrecht

September 19, 2021

A subtle contribution to the cancelling debate is made by the composer Max Raimi, violist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra:

My wife and I recently spent a long weekend in Virginia, staying in Charlottesville and visiting the nearby homes of three early Presidents—Jefferson, Monroe, and Madison. We were enormously impressed with the staff at each of these sites, and loved listening to what they had to say.

It seems to me that the real challenge of presenting the story of the so-called “Founding Fathers” is not so much getting the story right, but recognizing that it is of no use to think of them in terms of “the story”. There are innumerable stories, which often collide with and seem to contradict each other, and I was astonished by the skill with which the scholars we met there were able to give all the narratives their due.

I was brought up on the heroic narrative about these men; they were freedom-loving visionaries who bravely stood in the face of tyranny and forged a nation with their ideas that is a model for the world. Increasingly a very different narrative has come to challenge it, that these men were misogynist racists who enslaved and raped their fellow human beings. Their paeans to liberty were rank hypocrisy in the face of their monstrous actions, their purported belief in equality mere lip service, a cover for their efforts to maintain the supremacy of White males.

To some extent, the recent battles over the “1619” and “1776” manifestos that are being played out across our political divide are an argument as to which of these stories is the true one. I would argue that this misses the point to some extent. Is it not possible that both narratives, notwithstanding the cognitive dissonance required to believe them both, are essentially true, that these men were both monsters and also brilliant idealists who accomplished something extraordinary?

The presentations we saw at the homes of these Presidents certainly did not sugarcoat their culpability, striving with great success to depict the enslaved people at these sites as three-dimensional characters. We were able to see them as fellow human beings who suffered inexcusably. All three of these Presidents treated those they enslaved appallingly.
But still. What they achieved was miraculous. They created the first government founded on Enlightenment principles, with a mechanism that allowed for increasing democratic participation, utterly free of religious dogma. And they essentially created it out of whole cloth, with no particularly relevant precedents to guide them.

I am not one to fetishize the Constitution, and I think the “Original Intent” people are basically creating an idolatry around these men as a means to consolidate and maintain economic and political privilege. I find it impossible to read the Constitution (which I make a point of doing each July 4) without being struck by its miscalculations, notwithstanding my great admiration for it. It was the result of a lot of hard-fought compromises, bringing to mind Ambrose Bierce’s definition of “compromise” in The Devil’s Dictionary: “Such an adjustment of conflicting interests as gives each adversary the satisfaction of thinking he has got what he ought not to have, and is deprived of nothing except what was justly his due.”

And yet, the fact remains that there has now been well over two centuries of more or less democratic elections and peaceful transfers of power in our nation, time after time. No other political system, as far as I know, has ever achieved this. Indeed, the attempt to break this string last January was to a great extent defeated by the safeguards envisioned by these long-dead White guys. I recognize that this story is all but impossible to reconcile with the appalling inhumanity with which they conducted so much of their lives, but that does not make it invalid.

Which brings us to the issues that precipitated Mr. Harper-Scott’s change of careers. There has been a long overdue movement to make classical music more diverse and inclusive in recent years. One unfortunate side effect of this, however, has been the growing chorus of voices he cites denigrating the composers in our canon, and the culture that spawned them. In a notorious manifesto covered on this site, the musicologist Philip Ewell wrote “Beethoven was an above average composer—let’s leave it at that.” He argued that our veneration for Beethoven comes out of a racist and misogynist need to elevate White men, and is completely out of proportion to the quality of his music.

After James Levine died, somebody posted on a friend’s Facebook page, “The so-called ‘greatness’ of musicians like Levine and Wagner is a direct result of the free passes they got on being rapists, or anti-Semites, and that ‘greatness’ came at the direct expense of the demographics they harmed. They were not born with such ‘greatness’ inside that they succeeded *despite* their abhorrent characters; they succeeded for the same reason that they got those free passes in the first place – namely, that they were white men with status quo appeal, in the right place, at the right time, and with the right connections. In other words, their despicable behaviours AND their successes are actually just two different symptoms of a much bigger, systemic sickness in the classical music world, that doles out resources, reputation and opportunity on the basis of a whole lot of things other than merit.”

The poster went on to argue that we can be certain that there were innumerable other composers just as good as those we now revere in Europe at the time. They have remained unknown to us, the poster argued, because a racist and misogynist power structure requires the concept of genius (which the poster derided as “idiocy”) to maintain its hegemony.
In a later discussion, this poster wrote that “greatness is a construct”, that the esteem in which we hold the canonical composers is essentially a structure erected to keep current women and people of color down in the world of classical music.

My friend on whose Facebook page these arguments unfolded made a characteristically wise observation: “I like Robert Pirsig’s idea about Quality in *Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance*. Quality is not in the music, it’s not in the listener; quality in the interaction between the two. Quality not a characteristic of a work; it is an experience.

As I see it, a quality experience happens partly because the music is created to foster high-quality interaction, and partly because listeners are able to co-create quality with that music. A listener’s ability to co-create quality comes partly through inborn ability to hear and respond, and partly through acculturation—learning to respond to the musical signals of a particular culture, and learning the culture’s priorities.”

As with Jefferson and his contemporaries, there are a number of conflicting stories simultaneously at play in classical music. Our core repertoire emerged out of a world that did not regard women as anything like equals, and didn’t often acknowledge the humanity of people of color. It came out of the Age of Empire, when the European powers assiduously went about the task of enslaving and plundering the rest of the world. There was a stultifying overlay of class and privilege that severely restricted who could take part as performers, composers, and even listeners.

But there is another story too, I would argue. Out of that rather problematic world emerged a body of work that ranks among the greatest beauty ever created by humankind. Believe me, I wish Beethoven’s music wasn’t so much better than mine. Lord knows I try. I struggle to touch the heart of my listeners in anything like the way that Schubert does, to conjure out of the orchestra vivid sound worlds as brilliantly executed as Berlioz, to come up with my own harmonic and structural schemes that are in remotely the same league as those of Bela Bartok. And so on.

The extraordinary music that came out of Europe over the course of a couple of centuries was a freak occurrence, comparable perhaps to what happened in art in Renaissance Italy, in the tragedies of Ancient Greece, and no doubt in a number of other places lost in the sands of time.

If you only accept the validity of the first story, that the classical music of the past is a story of racism, misogyny, and class privilege, then your interaction with it will no doubt lack the “quality” that my friend so perceptively referred to. The listener who only accepts that story cannot forge a “high quality interaction” with the old masterworks. Wagner still cannot seem to get any traction in Israel. Too many of the listeners see his story as wholly one of proto-Nazism, and are in no state to perceive what is going on in the music itself; that is a story they prefer not to be told. And I would argue that this is the case with so many who deride the great classical music of the past. The story they tell themselves makes them unable to truly hear it. They can’t accept that there are other stories as well, very much in conflict with the entirely valid story they accept, but nonetheless just as true.

Or, as Kurt Vonnegut put it:

Raimi with Haitink


  • PeterB says:

    Excellent piece. Western societies are clearly in a transition phase. The old equilibrium cannot hold, so we’re looking for a new paradigm. This is a messy process, and fanaticism is a regrettable and dangerous but apparently unavoidable part of it. That’s fanaticism on the woke side, with the hysterics of cancel culture as its most extreme and dangerous expression, and fanaticism on the side of the old guard, with its casual, uninformed, intellectually lazy and de facto racist dismissal of the very existence of structural racism and discrimination in our societies.

  • R. Brite says:

    Excellent, balanced, clear-sighted analysis – and I say that as a proud member of the feminist, anticolonialist, antiracist brigade who also loves the work of Beethoven, Wagner and any number of other dead white guys.

  • Patrick says:

    Beautifully written piece. Well thought-out and reasoned.

    Now, about that title which is not original to the article:

    The term “woke” is not a derogatory term. It is only used as a derogatory term by those hoping to appeal to racists.

  • Curvy Honk Glove says:

    So R. Strauss and Wagner need context and deserve understanding, but if you refuse the vax and disagree with the political orthodoxy of your colleagues, ya’ fired and deserve to be ostracized. If you musician types didn’t have double standards, you wouldn’t have any standards at all.

    • True North says:

      You don’t have to take the vaccine … although you are many times more likely to land in hospital without it. And you are probably well-advised to keep your hateful right-wing opinions to yourself while at work. That kind of thing is just not very pleasant to be around. Instead, perhaps spend some time exploring why you are so angry at the world.

      • BrianB says:

        “Hateful opinions” : any opinion that dares to disagree with mine.
        An attitude that is the very fons et origo of fascist suppression.

    • Just a Hunch says:

      Loving Beethoven ain’t the same as being an idiot about a deadly pandemic and believing a gigantic lie about an election or worshipping a con-man.

    • HugoPreuss says:

      It may have escaped your attention, but Strauss and Wagner are both dead. You can’t catch a potentially lethal virus from them or from their music. Let me suggest that this might make a difference. If this is a “double standard”, it is the difference in standard between being alive (and hoping to stay so) and being dead.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I had an aunt who got seriously ill after attenting Salome and she always maintained it was because of the scene with the severed head which had been used for too many performances.


    • Claire says:

      Refusing the vax is not at all the same as refusing to listen to any composer. I can’t stand Bruckner, but my refusal to listen to his music doesn’t affect my health or that of my fellow human.

      • BrianB says:

        Claire, if you’ve been vaccinated, like I have, you’re protected, right? What do you care if someone chooses not be vaxed or has some health issue which prevents it? But if the vaccines are , in fact, ineffective as you seem to imply why have them?

  • Maria says:

    Very well written. But I get sick of the woke brigade who never have a sense or understanding of history or of the culture of the day when digging into a past they didn’t belong to but seem to be experts on everyone’s motivations. Best we all, including the woke brigade, see how we can change today, and embrace today’s refugees in the here and now as well as issues of climate change, poverty, and providing equality for all, not blaming someone else or some era in the past. The past has gone.

    • HR says:

      It’s not about blaming somebody from the past. It’s about taking some responsibility for our actions and unconscious bias today. One way you can change today is to stop saying the “woke brigade never have a sense or understanding of history or culture,” as that statement is subjective and inaccurate.

    • Amused by LibTards says:

      So-called “woke” persons are too violent and antagonistic to be taken seriously.

      If they would simply DO what they believe is virtuous as opposed to forcing themselves on the public (the same way rapists do) they’d be more palatable. Otherwise they pleasantly ‘call the police’ whom they wish to defund when they get shot by people who won’t put up with their antics, robberies and armed assaults.

  • Ich bin Ereignis says:

    A brilliant analysis. Nevertheless, I feel the argument regarding “quality” and its attendant predisposition, so to speak, not to appreciate a work based on prior prejudice (coming, ironically, from a movement that claims to eradicate all prejudice) somehow misses the possibility that such quality would never be recognized — even if it were actually experienced — because the point never was intellectual honesty nor objectivity, but rather the blanket vilification of an entire cultural heritage, no matter what the cost might be. Recognizing that Beethoven might indeed be a major composer would simply undermine the very core of this so-called argument, which at bottom has nothing to do with music (in fact, it doesn’t even have the expertise to do so) but is entirely based on an ideological and political agenda. It’s intellectual dishonesty at its finest and makes musicology an absolute laughingstock for anyone skeptical enough not to jump on the bandwagon and naively buy such reductive arguments, which are merely designed to impress and intimidate. Part of this, too, comes from genuine musical incompetence. But mostly, it is a very effective campaign preying on the naivete of a gullible audience in search of validation and belonging. By allowing such disservice to be made to their own students and essentially selling them educational programs close to becoming worthless, institutions who employ and thus lend credibility to these self-proclaimed experts should be thoroughly ashamed.

    • Good says:

      Those who can’t analyze music harmony and structure can teach ideology of … some sort of… political mass psychology and linguistical hypnotism out of bs

  • Michael B. says:

    I am sorry, but it is a ridiculous comparison. No one has ever been infected by a potentially serious or fatal virus by listening to Wagner or Richard Strauss or being in close contact with someone who listens to Wagner or Richard Strauss. I speak as someone who, personally, does listen to those composers despite their political leanings (and Wagner is far more culpable on that count than Richard Strauss) and have recordings of virtually all of the works of both composers, despite being a Democrat who has gotten both Pfizer shots (and the booster soon, I hope), wears masks when in crowds, and supports vaccine and mask mandates.

    • Wagner expressed anti-Semitism but never joined in acts of oppression or violence. Richard Strauss was a coward who accepted Nazism without protest, a far greater crime, in order to survive the war and get his music played. Strauss was far more culpable than Wagner, who likely had a Jewish lover and associated with Jews (though with ulterior motives). It wasn’t Wagner’s fault that Hitler, born around the time Wagner died, loved his music. Why Strauss was never found culpable of accepting Nazism and other conductors and singers like Schwarzkopf were never boycotted is inexplicable.

      • Jerome Hoberman says:

        Strauss had a Jewish daughter-in-law and Jewish grandchildren, all of whom he loved. He also had Jewish friends and colleagues — such as Stefan Zweig — in relation to whom he sacrificed his honorary posts within Nazi Germany.

      • BAS says:

        You are unaware that Strauss’ daughter in law and grandchildren were Jewish and used as virtual hostages to ensure his cooperation? That in his position he refused to blacklist Jewish composers and remained publicly loyal to his Jewish friends and colleagues who were falling foul of the ‘Aryanizing’ Nazi authorities, particularly Stefan Zweig. Yes he certainly tried to curry favor at times for patently careerist reasons but he also wrote in private “I consider the Jew-baiting by Goebbels a disgrace to German honour.” Strauss’ legacy could be called one of cowardice and careerism perhaps, but to compare this to publishing Das Judenthum in der Musik as Wagner did or to eager volunteers for the Nazi party like Schwarzkopf and Karajan is bizarrely myopic. And in any case the man Strauss, is gone and the music belongs to the world now, not to him, and it merits being heard.

        • BrianB says:

          Excellent comment BAS and I would add that Stravinsky and Webern were far more culpable. Harvey Sachs’ “Music in Fascist Italy” prints Stravinsky’s fawning letters to Mussolini; Webern was an unashamed Nazi sympathizer.
          But, you see, they wrote the “correct” kind of music where Strauss’s crime was that he did not. Triumph of the double standard.

      • BrianB says:

        Strauss never “accepted” Nazism any more than Shostakovich ever “accepted” Stalinism.

    • Good says:

      Hilarious! Standing comedy at its best!

  • justin says:

    Trump and Trumpism.

    That’s what the brilliant Founding Fathers made possible.

    American democracy is no example for the world. Trumpism, a direct result of the Constitution, triumphs in the US.

    As one foreign minister memorably put it: “Biden is Trump without the tweets.”

    • Atwood says:

      Biden is Trump without balls.

      The Democrats in the states stupidly bought into voting for each of the tenants they assert as repulsive. They are now facing the consequences of being easily “played” beginning with the..ahem ‘college educated’ mired in extreme SLD who got shafted between both Biden and Pelosi who remain mostly unemployed who boomeranged back home.

      -Succinctly put
      They rioted violently over a white, wealthy male…Trump.

      They guilelessly and dryly voted for a white, wealthy male…Biden.

      • NY Mike says:

        Your comments indicate that you know little of Trump’s hometown New York where 90% of its voters didn’t vote for him, NY banks and realty firms won’t touch him with a ten-foot pole and Manhattan DA and NY State AG are all preparing lawsuits against him and his company. Your Biden/Trump comparison is both uninformed and outrageous.

        • Ian Wallace says:

          You’re not talking about any of Biden’s positive attributes and major accomplishments being too dominated by your Trump fixation.

          You ‘NY Mike’ along with most unprepared liberals are both woefully uninformed and too obsessed with President Donald J. Trump.

        • LMFAO says:

          Well, at least you still have militant Governor Andrew Cuomo as your legal compass between vaccinations and ‘believing women’ of the #metoo variety!!

          Oh, how is Hillary Clinton contributing to your New York perspective? Don’t tell me you too left her in the sewer with the rest of the libs discarding her as irrelevant..

          And Biden, what has he specifically done? Can’t remember anything??? Neither can he!!

          • NY Mike says:

            Cuomo’s resigned almost a month ago. Keep up, LMFAO. Biden’s done his best to get us vaxed despite the anti-vaxers, GOP governors and Congressional idiots who are catching COVID. Do you even live in the US??

      • Stanley Cohen says:

        All on point!
        Dems put themselves in a bad position then compounded it with violence.

        • NY Mike says:

          Dem violence?? You mean the 1/6 attack on the Capitol perpetrated by Trump/GOP supporters?? You either didn’t see the live 1/6 TV and its many replays since, or you refuse to believe what your eyes tell you.

  • James Weiss says:

    “So-called Founding Fathers.” There’s nothing “so-called” about it. That’s what they were. As to the 1619 project it is not only bad opinion but it’s demonstrably factually false. It argues that the American Revolution was fought to save slavery. This is nonsensical. One can’t give equal weight to such a ridiculous idea as one does to an accurate one.

    • Giustizia says:

      In the original Declaration one of the articles was the British saddling the New World with slavery; a charge deleted at the insistence of Southern colonies (the ancestors of future Democrats).
      “In his initial draft, Jefferson blamed Britain’s King George for his role in creating and perpetuating the transatlantic slave trade—which he describes, in so many words, as a crime against humanity.

      He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.”

  • Scott Fruehwald says:

    I wrote a paper showing how Ewell’s paper is inconsistent with cognitive psychology. Philip Ewell’s White Racial Framework in Music Theory and Cognitive Science at In particular, cognitive scientists have demonstrated that Schenker’s approach is consistent with how the brain processes music.

  • Scott Fruehwald says:

    Composer theorist John Halle has written a paper that also criticizes Ewell based on cognitive science.

    “While Ewell appears to be entirely unaware of them, the most elementary facts about perceptual psychology cited in 4 above supply “something else”. Namely, rather than being white, tonality, not only could be, but almost certainly is, a psychological universal. Hearing music according to a perceptual hierarchy of stability is a species property, deployed in organizing the pitched sounds we hear in much the same way as a “beat” is assigned by all members of our species to sufficiently periodic unpitched sounds. Our doing so is no more “a direct result of the power of colonialism and hegemony” than the attribution of three dimensional structure by our visual cortex, the semantic features of words, or predicate argument relationships and phrasal categories in all languages of the world.”

    • Ich bin Ereignis says:

      That’s a very important point. Tonality is indeed such a universal that even people who have had no prior musical training can instinctively recognize when something is out of tune and/or amiss, such as for instance playing a few “wrong notes” within an otherwise tonal piece. This was brilliantly demonstrated by a conference made by Jérôme Ducros at the Collège de France on atonality, which threatened some of the biggest names in France as it clearly showed (using actual musical examples) the innate understanding that anyone, regardless of prior training, has of tonal relationships — the point being that tonality is no more a construct based on power structures than claiming that 2+2=4 is (even though I’m confident there might be quite a few “scholars” out there ready to claim otherwise). Oddly, tonality has not been confined to classical music, but seems to have been universally adopted by every other musical genre, over a century after the advent of dodecaphonism, to the degree that using twelve-tone technique for rock music or hip-hop nowadays seems utterly absurd and, to my knowledge, never actually done, except perhaps in extremely rare instances, most likely in jazz and film music. Thus, these arguments claiming tonality to be indissociable from hegemonic structures are at best specious. They are, in my opinion, complete frauds, but most importantly they demonstrate an utter disconnect from music as it is commonly experienced and a contrived over-intellectualization of issues that may well impress participants at a professional conference, but which have zero validity in the real world and offer absolutely no contribution to intellectual knowledge. Underneath the thin veneer of academic respectability, they are nothing but the parroting of an underlying simplistic and hackneyed set of ideas that may well have become fashionable, but which have close to zero grounding in reality, except perhaps in the alternate and insular reality of musicological societies.

    • BrianB says:

      I believe Leonard Bernstein made similar arguments, proceeding from analogies of Chomskyan universal grammar hierarchy in his Harvard Norton lecture series. And, of course, the series was roundly condemned by serialist and dodecaphonic diehards.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Of course….!

  • Monsoon says:

    “But still. What they achieved was miraculous. They created the first government founded on Enlightenment principles, with a mechanism that allowed for increasing democratic participation, utterly free of religious dogma. And they essentially created it out of whole cloth, with no particularly relevant precedents to guide them.”

    Except that they didn’t.

    The nation that the founding fathers conceived intentionally had extremely limited democratic participation. Even among whites, voting rights were originally restricted to those who owned significant property (it wasn’t until nearly the Civil War that all white men could vote regardless of property ownership); the electoral college was conceived as a way to elect the president without a national popular vote or even state-level popular vote (it wasn’t until the 1820s that most states moved away from the state legislature appointing electors and switched to state-level popular vote); and until 1913, U.S. Senators were appointed by state legislatures.

    (Let’s also give credit here credit is due: Our government is built upon the long evolution of the Great Britain’s parliament.)

    The stability and longevity of our Democracy that you praise is truly owed to the people who came after the founding fathers, who had a more inclusive vision of what it means to be a representative democracy. Further, the anti-democratic principles of the founding fathers are threatening the health of our democracy today, notably the electoral college and the disproportionate representation in the U.S. Senate.

    What the founding fathers got right was having a written constitution, keeping it short, and making it difficult to amend (so that policy making is restricted to the federal code).

    Where does this leave us with the founding fathers and musicians? We have a fixation with making a singular person a hero. As I said before, we owe the stability and longevity of American democracy to many, many people, some of whose contributions are arguably greater than the founding fathers (e.g the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause). And with music, we put such an emphasis on the conductor that when there are people like Levine, we’ve entangled their personal life with the music making, and have completely overlooked the individual contributions of the musicians, for example. Levine may have been a great conductor, but he also hugely benefited from getting to work with the best musicians in the business from his start as an assistant with the Cleveland Orchestra. And at the Met, in addition to the musicians, there were also administrative staff who helped propel the opera house, notably Volpe.

    • Dale Evans says:

      Glad you don’t live in the great USA Monsoon.

      If only all leftists had the courage to name any better countries, renounce their citizenship and simply move to prove their facts. America would be safer, more financially secure and overall better for it leaving the best of each culture who appreciates freedom. They can’t ever manage to easily prove themselves right so they resort to division and violence. The Left’s incessant zeal for thriving off of negativity has done their own people much more harm than good though they refuse to see it as their lives erode and must move to other generally red states here as their own blue bastions have only unaffordable housing, high crime and no jobs.

      As to the felon Jimmy Levine, many young men and boys were ‘entangled’ in the Met’s decision to ultimately “cancel” him. Humanity won out over the arts. Ask the high-priced attorneys on both sides who brokered his criminal immunity deal of “no charges or court” settling on all sides financially to suppress victim statements getting most of them paid off. Jimmy did all of that to himself with the Met actively enabling him for decades asserting the long spoken truth about his affinities for boys and young men. His firing and legal entanglements prove these facts.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    The USA is in VERY significant decline and woke-ism is but one factor in that. The very minute you vote an eNfeebled President who doesn’t remember anybody’s name, let alone anything complex, you’re telling the world all about yourself.

  • Mecky Messer says:

    Anything that takes this artform out of the vicious cycle of re-recording Berthoven/Mozart/Tchaikovsky cycles (sic!) ought to be welcomed.

    One wonders, if it took NL 20 posts to share his favorite Beeth 9th and in the end he recommended about 20 different recordings, in 100 years is the objective to have 200 “best” recordings of the same stuff? Is that the ideal?

    Do painters show their prowess by re-painting the mona lisa over and over again? Its not art anymore, just the hobby of old farts who desperately stick to the lost memory of their “good old days” when classical music briefly had menial importance in society vs today, when it is 100% irrelevant.

    That being said, this piece is a great analysis of the situation.

    Maybe its time to embrace the 10 symphonies of Villa lobos, Ginastera, etc even just to pretend you’re as open and welcoming as you claim this music to be.

    In the end, large swaths of the young generation don’t know these composers any more than they know Beethoven.

    Go to the streets. Seriously. Move your legs and ask normal people, or even people within the well-to-do classes, the “new rich”, what do they listen to.

    Its Carte blanche.

    Might as well offer them something that goes with the times….

    • John Borstlap says:

      I sometimes go to the local knitting club with my recording of Pli selon pli and play it to the ladies. Over tea, they always like it. Asking why, the answer is always: it calms me, I feel better, my stomach ache has subsided. So, you simply have to try!


  • Mike Aldren says:

    “And yet, the fact remains that there has now been well over two centuries of more or less democratic elections and peaceful transfers of power in our nation, time after time. No other political system, as far as I know, has ever achieved this.”

    A remarkably insular statement, even by US standards, that seems to have forgotten the US civil war. We did have a short break for a civil war in the England too but, since then, we have had peaceful transitions of power for 370 years.

  • Stephen says:

    No you miss the point

    Classical music was created by and within European culture.

    This ignorant black person should be thanking Europeans for their beautiful creations and be grateful for their gift

    It derives from the illusion of seeing things as being truly existent rather than as being creations.

    Europeans may not be perfect but they created many many things which are today taken for granted.

  • John Borstlap says:

    A couple of corrections……

    Composers like Beethoven and Wagner did NOT become great because of the ‘co-creation’ of the listener. The artistic qualities of their works is IN the works, otherwise there would be nothing to hear in them by the listener. Also every composer who is now part of the central repertoire had a different life story, different human character, different circumstances. It is impossible to make any meaningful rule or generalization. Beethoven had the luck that he was born in freethinking Bonn which was strongly influenced by the Enlightenment movement and had an elite with good ears and cultural awareness. Wagner had to struggle like no other composer had, and at various stages almost succumbed to overwhelming mishap – he had to forge his connections all by himself with the greatest efforts. Chopin had to travel to Paris to be able to have a career at all. Brahms left Hamburg and persued his career in Vienna because there, classicism was still strong in musical tastes. Had he gone to Braunschweig or Luxembourg, we would never have heard of him. Mahler was a conductor who only composed in the holidays – what connections did he have that stimulated his composing career? Debussy came from a poor background and suffered poverty over long periods. Etc. etc….. where is the general rule of a society which pushed certain types into a career and others not?

    As for the founding of the USA: of course there were examples, like early Athens and the Roman Republic. The three founding fathers took Enlightenment ideas as a fundament for society, very good, but they simply did not go far enough. This does not mean that the slavery at the time turned these Enlightenment ideas worthless, their realization was flawed, that is all.

    And then: Enlightenment values and democracy are not the ‘perfect solution’ to the problems of a society. There is a serious problem with the Enlightenment, as was immediately spotted by philosopher Herder at the time (late 18C): it is much too abstract to cover the complete reality of existing societies, and it leaves people vulnerable to alienation and loneliness.

    Democracy is very problematic since the vote of a brilliant civilian is a much worth as the vote of a totally ignorant, uneducated one. Well, all of this has been described and probed numerous times.

    Also it is a crude generalization to claim that there was a stultifying overlay of class and privilege that severely restricted who could take part in performers, composers, and even listeners. The development of public concerts meant that music was accessible to everybody who could pay for a ticket, which were definitely not over-expensive (as the records of the early London public concerts show – many of them were free in the parks), and only the very poorest happened to have no access, simply because of poverty, not because poor people were forbidden to attend because of some social condemnation. In premodern times, poverty was not the result of a social design, but of the defects of a society which had not as yet developed enough. In opera houses there has been from early on the cheap balconies for the poor and the students, up till our own time. As for the blacks: we know that there were communities of Africans in 16C Europe which were treated as equals, it was class and standing which were much more decisive, not skin colour. There are numerous portraits of black people which demonstrate this, even from the 18th and 19th century when racism got steam because of the transatlantic trade.

    The ‘high quality interaction’ that Raimi advocates is not dependent upon stories; understanding the music of that so-called ‘imperialist’ past is dependent upon having good ears and having taken the trouble to take notice of the music. The argument that the proboem is about two conflicting stories confuses the level and context of these stories. They are not things on the same level, because the temporary circumstances of the works are not ‘in’ the music. It is like the blossoming of the flower being fed by the soil and the rain. Also it is like the difference between the wine and the bottel with its label.