The Symphonic Juncture

A [Symphonist]: "The one who is not afraid to raise the primal force."

- Boris Asafiev (1917)

Response: "Master Pieces," Alex Ross (The New Yorker)

This is a response to Alex Ross's article entitled, "Master Pieces," featured in the September 21st Issue of The New Yorker. The link is here for online reading.


“If I were a racist, I would insist that children learn western music notation,is a sentiment shared by many of the Democratic proclivity who have deemed Western music culture and its theoretical language as inherently flawed and an unfortunate product of centuries of prejudicial treatment towards those judged inferior by the superior party of their respective, extinct epoch. Books, articles, blog-posts, poems, and videos all point to the supposed racist underpinnings of classical music, using figures such as Beethoven, Wagner, Bach, and Handel as case examples as to why exactly Western music should be scrapped and purged of all its odious contents and contributors. However, while disgraceful characteristics are indeed attributable to many, if not all, of the classical great’s of the 17th to 19th century, what I find erroneous is the assumption that their entire public image must be subsequently reviled and devalued, and those in favor of such individuals seen as promoting systems of ‘oppression’ solely based on their love for a composer’s music, regardless of who the listener may be or what they believe. Views such as, “With Beethoven’s nine symphonies at the core of the orchestral repertoire, what about a bold commissioning project,” and, “Beethoven’s [5th] symphony is predominantly a reminder of classical music’s history of exclusion and elitism” only legitimize revisionist, Futurist notions that even now, in 2020, classical music is profiting off racism and the only rational way forward is to simply emancipate the entire genre from its past, thereby allowing modern day composers to flourish. This suggests that, by extension, concert halls, musicians, opera houses, and patrons who perform, put on, or attend performances of ‘bourgeois’ composers are outright advancing, embracing, and approving of both canon and already well-known composer’s ostensible musical eliteness, and in the process depreciating modern-day Beethoven's and Mozart's right to the same musical space/concert hall. One does not suggest the other, as one can find Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony a symbol of man’s final moment of light before the final dawn and simultaneously love Florence Price’s Symphony No.1. The growing necessity to rationalize one’s adoration for certain composers lest be deemed societally heretical, admit ‘sin’ for not loving or recognizing other lesser-known composers for fear of professionally persecution, and public admittance of fictitious, implicit biases based on natural skin-colour to avoid being labelled ‘racist’ is not only stifling, but it leaves little room for authentic interest in historically ignored composers to blossom.

As a classical music listener, I feel less inclined to turn on the music of George Bridgetower, Florence Price, and Joseph Bologne if I am being browbeaten by others on why listening to Handel, Bach, or Beethoven is somehow furthering a conspiratorial agenda to keep Mozart’s minority-equivalent in the shadow’s of their European counterpart. Alternatives to classical music’s standard compositional canon can be situated abreast to established names, and one does not need to sacrifice Beethoven for Chevalier de Meude-Monpas, rather one would be wise to enrich themselves to the breadth of talent in epoch’s seemingly already understood. Unfortunately, radicals within every tier of societal life are being given platforms on which to spout their ‘I am more unprejudicial than you’ blather and ergo, the rise of opinion pieces like ‘Master Pieces’ by Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, since 1996 mind you, are being generated which revise history just enough as to make generalizations palatable, while bolstering their bias statements with quotations from activist scholars and making questionable historical readings along the way. Twitchy Team got it quite right when they quoted an ABC News headline as a satirical example of classical music gatekeeping, “The outdoors is [are] systemically racist: ABC News reports national parks ‘face existential crisis over race,’ are stubbornly white.”

This article, in full seriousness, equates park attendance with racism stating, “77% of national park visitors are white” and apparently this is a sign of racism, that too many non-white people are not attending parks and recreational environments as opposed to their white counterparts. One Twitter uses got it quite right, When someone's basic complaint is "Everything here is Racist” what they really observe is "Everything feels WHITE."