Roll over Beethoven

Dr Oliver Hartwich
Insights Newsletter
6 November, 2020

There is something special about Adele, Madonna and Sia. Because these pop divas are only ever referred to by their first names.

If we addressed them properly, they would be Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, Madonna Louise Ciccone and Sia Kate Isobelle Furler.

For most male singers, it is not that simple.

We could not just talk about Paul McCartney, John Denver and Mick Jagger as Paul, John and Mick. It could easily lead to confusions with Paul Simon, John Mayer or Mick Hucknall.

Except no-one would mistake the Rolling Stones for Simply Red.

The explanation of this surname conundrum is simple. Though there is only one Adele, there are so many Pauls, Johns and Micks we always need a bit more detail to identify the artist.

Should you be wondering why such a banality bears explaining these days, you have not followed the latest twist in the religion of wokeness. The activists have just discovered another bastion of male, “white” privilege: the surnames of classical music composers.

Classical music is under general suspicion anyway. It dates to a time when slavery still existed. The paper used for sheet music was not yet sustainably sourced. And the carbon emissions relating to Georg Friederich Händel’s Royal Fireworks Music were not offset, either.

It gets worse. Animal rights activists would not like the bird-catcher Papageno in The Magic FluteThe Abduction from the Seraglio is full of racist references to Arab culture. Meanwhile, Così fan tutte is outrageously sexist. And these are only some of Mozart’s most famous operas.

Woke activists have now detected an even worse crime: only referring to leading classical composers by their surname.

Talk about Bach, Beethoven or Mozart (without the Johann Sebastian, Ludwig van or Wolfgang Amadeus), and you are engaging in thought crime. At least according to Slate’s Chris White (yes, that is his real name!). He recently wrote how this “exacerbates the exclusionary practices that suppressed nonwhite and nonmale composers in the first place.”

The solution: “fullnaming.”

White continues: “Going forward, we need to “fullname” all composers when we write, talk, and teach about music. If mononyms linguistically place composers in a canonical pantheon, fullnaming never places them there to begin with.”

By adding Ludwig van, Beethoven shall appear a little less genial than he was. He is just another composer. At least he is dead.

“Ta ta ta taaaa,” yeah right. Roll over Beethoven, as Chuck said. Berry, that is.

Someone better tell Adele, Madonna and Sia. In the campaign for woke equality, they must be next.

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