Is this even real?
Beethoven's 5th Symphony—you know how it goes, "dun-dun-dun-duuuuun," one of the best musical compositions of all time—this work of absolute beauty represents "elitism and exclusion"? How is that even possible? It's instrumental music. How much more apolitical can you get, honestly?
I HAD to find out if this was somehow true. So I spent my Tuesday night listening to Vox's "Switched on Pop" podcast, which honestly was pretty good as far as music appreciation goes. Then they came with the politics on episode 3 and I just couldn't do it.
So how exactly does Beethoven's 5th represent elitism and exclusion? Glad you asked.
"You can hear that this symphony is becoming more than just a story of Beethoven overcoming. It's a story of anyone who listens to this, of society, coming together to move forward ...This piece, and Beethoven, become the soundtrack for the new bourgeois class."
Oh, okay, got it. We're going down that road again. Makes perfect sense, Vox.
And just what does that exclusive bourgeois class of hard workers in the 1800s want to do with Beethoven's music, and classical music as a whole?
They want to enjoy it. Yes, that's it. All they want is for all the hippies to stop dancing around, cheering and causing a ruckus—as they apparently were known to do at Mozart shows—so everyone can just enjoy the show in peace.
"One New York City classical music fan wrote in the 1840s, for example, that he wished that ‘all women shall be gagged [so they can't talk] by officers duly licensed for the purpose before they're allowed to enter a concert room.'"
I'm sorry, but that's hilarious, right? I mean I don't agree completely, but ... I see the guy's point. [Insert apology to wife]
It reminds me of this amazing Babylon Bee article:
Just keep it down a little, will ya?
Continuing on with Vox:
Before Beethoven's time, classical music culture looked and sounded quite different. When Mozart premiered his Symphony 31 in the late 1700s, it was standard for audiences to clap, cheer, and yell "da capo!" (Italian for "from the beginning!") in the middle of a performance. After Beethoven's Fifth Symphony debuted in the early 1800s, these norms changed — both because the rising industrial merchant class took ownership of concert halls and because of shifts in the music itself.
In Mozart's day, each movement in a symphony was self-contained, like a collection of short stories. Beethoven's Fifth acted more like a novel, asking audiences to follow a single story that unfolded over an entire four-movement symphony. New norms of concert behavior developed in turn. Sitzfleisch, or "sitting still," became the ultimate desideratum for showing one's understanding of the new language of classical music. Over time, these norms crystallized into a set of etiquette rules (e.g., "don't clap mid-piece") to enhance the new listening experience.
In the third episode of The 5th, we explore how Beethoven's symphony was used to generate the strict culture of classical music — and the politics that undergird those norms of behavior.
Though concert etiquette that evolved in response to the Fifth may have had the goal of venerating the music, it can also act as a source of gatekeeping. "Polite society" first emerged as a set of cultural standards developed during the mid-18th century as bourgeois class signifiers. In Beethoven's time, new social etiquette extended into the concert hall.
So these evil elitists just want everybody to keep it down during the show. Doesn't seem like too much to ask. It's kind of like when you go to the movies: you're supposed to stay quiet and let the art move on in whichever direction it chooses to go, without interrupting someone else's experience. I thought that was just called common courtesy.
But this is somehow supposed to be exclusionary and elitist. How? Seriously. Classical music is amazing. Watching the orchestra work their magic is something that can make a person literally cry—I admit it, whatever. It's THAT good.
So next time you're at a concert and there's someone in front of you recording the show on their phone, just remember: it's not about you enjoying the show, it's about everyone getting a fair chance to see the show and then post a crummy video on the internet.