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Vox: Beethoven's Fifth Symphony 'is a symbol of exclusion and elitism' to women, LGBTQ+ people, and people of color

Sorry, classical music fans, but Ludwig van Beethoven’s been canceled. Well, maybe not Beethoven himself, although he was a white European male, but his Fifth Symphony in particular, which according to Vox “put the classism in classical music.”

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OK, why? Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding start with the theory that the symphony is “a metaphor for Beethoven’s personal resilience in the face of his oncoming deafness” (a pretty common belief) and take it from there:

Or rather, that’s long been the popular read among wealthy white men who embraced Beethoven and turned his symphony into a symbol of their superiority and importance. For others — women, LGBTQ+ people, people of color — Beethoven’s symphony is predominantly a reminder of classical music’s history of exclusion and elitism. One New York City classical music fan wrote in the 1840s, for example, that he wished that “all women shall be gagged by officers duly licensed for the purpose before they’re allowed to enter a concert room.”

Today, some aspects of classical culture are still about policing who’s in and who’s out, and it all started with Beethoven’s Fifth. When you walk into a standard concert hall, there’s an established set of conventions and etiquette (“don’t cough!”; “don’t cheer!”; “dress appropriately!”) that’s more about demonstrating belonging than appreciating the music.

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Seriously? For all but wealthy white men, Beethoven’s Fifth “is predominantly a reminder of classical music’s history of exclusion and elitism”? This reminds us of the time a Deadspin writer, urging a change in the name of golf’s most famous tournament, said to be honest: “When you hear anyone say the Masters, you think of slave masters in the South.”

You apparently have to listen to a podcast to learn why this particular symphony is a symbol of exclusion because it’s not in the article.

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Apparently that’s been a theory for years now — cue Shaun King calling for any artwork of Beethoven as a white European to be taken down and destroyed.

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And what’s up with the illustration Vox commissioned to accompany this piece? Beethoven is telling people not to wear shorts and bring a megaphone to his symphonies? That makes his Fifth Symphony exclusionary to the LGBT community?


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