Columns

The war against intelligence

25 September 2021

9:00 AM

25 September 2021

9:00 AM

Two weeks have passed and somehow James Conway is still in a job. He is the director of the English Touring Opera, despite having fired 14 of its musicians because they were born with the wrong colour of skin. These middle- to late-career musicians were presented with a letter from James informing them that henceforth the ETO was no place for goddam honkys. Well, OK, it didn’t quite say that — it thanked them for their excellent work and told them they were out on their ears because Conway wanted to make the orchestra more ethnically diverse.

The ETO claimed they had carried out this cracker pogrom at the behest of the Arts Council — which wouldn’t have surprised me terribly. But the Arts Council reacted with commendably apoplectic fury and said it had made no such demands and announced it would be investigating the issue. Since then there has been radio silence from Conway and the ETO. What he did was the very quintessence of racism, of course, but then across the country there are managers — especially in the public sector — desperately trying to outwoke each other with ever more obnoxious policy statements. What we need to do, as a country, is sack them all and send them to that Scottish island I mentioned last week to commune with the cormorants and great northern divers.

The culture war is sweeping through classical music at the moment, as each institution engages in escalating bouts of virtue-signalling. So, the Royal Academy of Music is debating whether it should set fire to its priceless collection of pianos and violins because they are tainted by the colonial trade in ebony and ivory.


Meanwhile, a black American academic, Philip Ewell, is leading another vanguard in pursuit of the destruction of western classical music which, the chippy idiot avers, is rooted in racism. Phil has his sights set on Ludwig van Beethoven, who he thinks was kinda useless. Our reverence for classical music is an expression of white supremacy and its most gilded exponents were really nothing to write home about. Beethoven, for example, has had his reputation ‘propped up by whiteness and maleness for 200 years’. Poor old Beethoven.

It is not so long ago that black academics were insisting that Beethoven was himself black. Their evidence for this is based on a comment made by an acquaintance of the composer who described his appearance as being ‘brown/black’: the likelihood being that he had chanced upon him in an ill-lit room. Beethoven had Flemish origins and there is not the slightest evidence to suggest that his mum had been adulterously rogered by a ‘Moorish’ servant, as some of the maniacs promulgating this absurd theory suggest. Even more ludicrously, some academics claimed that Beethoven’s music proved that he was black because the cadences reflected African rhythms.

Really? I think there is a largeish distance between the Moonlight Sonata and Wimoweh, cadence wise, but hell what do I know? The suggestion, though, is that the black Beethoven somehow had a genetic memory of African music. The deranged left will happily crawl into wholly spurious genetic arguments when it suits them, no matter how stupid the proposition, but deny real science when it insists men are born men and women born women. Another useful idiot in this war is the German academic Kira Thurman who has said that attempts to claim Beethoven was black result from white people ‘denying black people any association with genius’. Anyway, the race warriors have now given up on the Beethoven is black rubbish, shifted 180 degrees and now want him cancelled because, er, he was not black.

The most important battle of this latest war is over musical notation. As you might have guessed, the de-colonisers loathe musical notation because it requires intelligence and acquired knowledge to understand it, and they hate both those things, much as they hate mathematics and physics for similarly underpinning ‘white supremacy’. (Musical notation is of course a beautiful marriage of physics and maths.) Oxford University professors recently called for the teaching of musical notation to be rethought on account of its complicity in white supremacy. But there is no such complicity. We have had musical notation in the West for more than 1,000 years; the modern form of notation can itself be traced back to the Italian musicologist Guido d’Arezzo in the 10th century. The Chinese, Japanese and Russians all had some form of notation before then and the Indians — through the Samaveda texts — had a primitive form of notation dating back to 1200 BC.

The one place which has no history whatsoever of musical notation is of course Africa, where music is largely improvised or remembered. I remember from my own time at university the system of musical notation being attacked not on race grounds, but on Marxian class grounds. The argument then was that the likes of Lizst, Bartok and Dvorak purloined gypsy music and, in writing it down, removed it bodily from the people who had the proper claim on it. Even then, when I was quite a long way to the left, this struck me as a silly assertion: the music was written down so that people could remember it and hence play it correctly.

This is a war, then, against intelligence, complexity and the acquisition of knowledge. The insistence that maths and physics, for example, underpin ‘white supremacy’ — very au courant, especially in the United States — is based simply on the fact that too few black students get the requisite grades in those subjects to study them at university. And so the demand is: make them easier, make them more intuitive. It is the same with musical notation. This culture war is a battle between the enlightened and the barbarians. Right now, the barbarians are winning.

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