Roll over, Beethoven...
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils
Recently Vox magazine published an article claiming that Beethoven's most famous work is a symbol of "exclusion and elitism." The authors claim that "wealthy white men ... embraced Beethoven and turned his 5th symphony into a symbol of their superiority and importance." They claim, "For others — women, LGBTQ+ people, people of color — Beethoven's symphony is predominantly a reminder of classical music's history of exclusion and elitism." Apparently, Beethoven's symphony was transformed from a symbol of triumph and freedom into a symbol of "exclusion, elitism, and gatekeeping."
Beethoven has been under attack for decades. In 1995 professor Susan McClary of UCLA won a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" for her work criticizing the composer. She claimed, "the pelvic pounding in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony adds up to nonorgasmic rape." She heard, "the throttling, murderous rage of a rapist incapable of attaining release." The 1994 MacArthur winner, Adrienne Rich, had a somewhat different view, believing that Beethoven was thinking about impotence. She described him as a "man in terror of impotence/or infertility, not knowing the difference."
Classical music critic James Bennett II reveals the actual reason for opposition to Beethoven: "As you perpetuate the idea that the giants of the music all look the same, it conveys to the other that there's not a stake in that music for them." Beethoven is one of those dangerous Dead White Males. Anthony McGill, one of the few black musicians with the New York Philharmonic, claims, "We're not promoting any of the composers alive today that are trying to become the Beethovens of their day." Are the Beethovens of today being neglected? They are certainly not shunned by the political class. In an MTV interview, John Kerry claimed to be "fascinated by rap and hip-hop," stating "there's a lot of poetry in it. I think you'd better listen to it pretty carefully, 'cause it's important." Al Gore reviewed a Mos Def CD: "Certainly, the artistry of the CD you gave me can't be questioned." In Dennis Kucinich's "Open Letter to the Hip-Hop Community," he states that hip-hop listeners are "the leaders we have been waiting for." "I call upon the collective genius that gave the world the most innovative musical development in a quarter century to change the face of electoral politics." Michelle Obama invited rapper Common to the White House.
Music company executives and award committees have done their best to promote the genre. Promoters can be sensitive about their position. Years ago, William Bennett met with Time Warner executives. Bennett responded to their defense of rap by saying "baloney." Time Warner's chairman, Gerald M. Levin, was offended by Bennett's language and walked out of the meeting. Michael Fuchs, then chairman of Time Warner Music Group, claimed that offensive lyrics are "the price you pay for freedom of expression."
Who are these modern Beethovens? There are hundreds of them and thousands more aspiring modern Mozarts. Two examples should more than suffice. The HuffPost describes rapper Ice Cube: "An actor, screenwriter, director, producer, rapper, and music producer, Ice Cube has become a modern day Renaissance man positioning himself as an influential force within the entertainment industry and one of his generation's cultural icons." Kendrick Lamar became the first rapper to win a Pulitzer Prize. What have these geniuses wrought? Perhaps it's time to say, "Roll over, Shakespeare."
Ice Cube created this charming ditty, "No Vaseline": "I remember when you drove a B-210 Broke as a mothaf------ joke Let you on the scene to back up the First Team It ain't my fault, one nigga got smart And they ripping your a------ apart By taking your green Oh yeah, The Villlain does get f----- with no Vaseline."
Kendrick Lamar demonstrated similar talent in what the Pulitzer board described as a "virtuosic song collection." "Yeah, I need everybody's motherf----- hands up right now. Wake up in the mornin', thinkin' 'bout money, kick your feet up. Watch you a comedy, take a s---, then roll some weed up. Go hit you a lick, go f--- on a b----. Don't go to work today, cop you a fit."
A view of any orchestra reveals a significant number of females. There is no way to determine the number of homosexuals, but chances are that they are well represented. Perhaps Asians are not considered "people of color." Reportedly, 36 million Chinese children are studying the piano. Would it be possible to organize 10,000 Americans to sing Beethoven's Ode to Joy, as have the Japanese?
Beethoven's genius is resented by these hollow men, these headpieces filled with straw. According to Jonathan Tobin, "if audiences still prefer Beethoven, it's not because they're embracing a symbol of white supremacy." Tobin concluded, "The war on Western civilization will leave nothing sacred untouched." Duncan William in his book Trousered Apes explained, "[T]he arts in general are very real, formative, social forces, moulding the face of the age while at the same time portraying it." If our age is being molded by rap music, we are in trouble.
John Dietrich is a freelance writer and the author of The Morgenthau Plan: Soviet Influence on American Postwar Policy (Algora Publishing). He has a Master of Arts degree in international relations from St. Mary's University. He is retired from the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. He is featured on the BBC's program "Things We Forgot to Remember:" Morgenthau Plan and Post-War Germany.
Image credit: Needpix public domain.