The habitual, two-tiered way we talk about classical composers is ubiquitous. For instance, coverage of an early October livestream by the Louisville Orchestra praised the ensemble’s performance of a “Beethoven” symphony, and the debut of a composition memorializing Breonna Taylor by “Davóne Tines” and “Igee Dieudonné.” But ubiquity doesn’t make something right. It’s time we paid attention to the inequity inherent in how we talk about composers, and it’s time for the divided naming convention to change.
And just never anyone mind about the “inequities” inherent in the abilities of said composers, and the work they produced.
As we usher wider arrays of composers into our concerts and classrooms, this dual approach only exacerbates the exclusionary practices that suppressed nonwhite and nonmale composers in the first place. When we say, “Tonight, you’ll be hearing symphonies by Brahms and Edmond Dédé,” we’re linguistically treating the former as being on a different plane than the latter, a difference originally created by centuries of systematic prejudice, exclusion, sexism, and racism. (Dédé was a freeborn Creole composer whose music packed concert halls in Europe and America in the mid-19th century.)
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. When we say, “Tonight, you’ll be hearing symphonies by Johannes Brahms and Edmond Dédé,” we’re linguistically treating both composers as being equally worthy of attention.
Even if they’re, y’know, NOT.
Musicians, academics, and teachers have a lot of work ahead to confront the racist and sexist history of classical music.
Which, naturally, is a given. For certain types of overly-precious idiots, anyway.
Fullnaming composers, especially those who have been elevated to mononymic status by this complicated history, will challenge us to at the very least afford the same respect to all of the individuals whose music we talk and write about. When we do return to the concert halls, let’s return to concerts that play Ludwig Beethoven alongside Florence Price, and Edmond Dédé alongside Johannes Brahms.
Meh. Get back to me when one of your no-name also-rans produces something anywhere near as powerful and influentional as a Le Nozze de Figaro, a Die Zauberflote, or a Jupiter Symphony; an Emperor Concerto, a “Pastorale” or “Fate” Symphony; a Swan Lake or Nutcracker Suite; a Thieving Magpie, Barber of Seville, or William Tell Overture.
I won’t be holding my breath, nor should anybody else. The above are all deathless, iconic compositions whose richness, beauty, and depth have stood the test of time to become potent totems of Western culture itself. To even obliquely suggest that the atonal cacophony or masturbatory noodling typically puked up by ANY modern composer automagickally qualifies such flyweights to even sweep a Mozart or Beethoven’s workspace—because RACIST!™—is to drive home fully how preposterous and contrived any notion of “equality” among creative types is.
But then, by casually excreting that little “racist and sexist history of classical music” buttnugget of yours, you’ve given away what it is you’re really all about…and it is NOT music. So let’s all just get right down to the nitty-gritty here, shall we? Just like every other Leftist, it’s actually Western culture you have a problem with, and not some silly-assed “fullnaming” horseshit.