Writing for Slate, Chris White, an assistant professor of music theory at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, took issue with how some composers, like Beethoven or Mozart, are often referred to just by their last names, while others are not. In fact, continuing to use such mononyms today could be seen as “outdated and harmful,” he argued.
When we say, ‘Tonight, you’ll be hearing symphonies by Brahms and Edmond Dede,’ 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.
To change the situation, the author urged people to use the composers’ full names so “we can focus more on their music rather than on the past cultural practices that elevated straight white men at the expense of everyone else.”
The piece was immediately ridiculed online, with many feeling its take was far-fetched and too much even for a liberal magazine. “I want to sit in on one of your pitch meetings. The stories that don’t make the cut, have to be better than what you publish,” one reader tweeted. “Stop making fun of Slate,” another jokingly remarked.
Some even vowed to only use Mozart’s “complete” baptismal name from now on, which consists of four different names.
only using mozart's complete name from now on, because I hate racism that much pic.twitter.com/ivow29Zepd
— jollyspruce (@jollyspruce) October 25, 2020
People tried to school the author on why mononyms stick to particular composers in the first place. “If there were a well-known Bob Beethoven or Jimmy Wagner, we would make the distinction. We include Edmond Dede’s first name because he is not as well known,” a person wrote.
“What silliness at Slate!” one tweet read. “Dede isn’t the musical equal of Beethoven. Fame not racism allows us to identify the composer by surname alone. That goes for Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, too. And artists and scientists like Picasso and Einstein, also.”
Another Twitter user added that it is the “same with people who are so famous they can go by their first name, which include a lot of women and people of color: Oprah, Beyonce, Ellen, Kanye, Chappelle, Kobe, Hillary, LeBron.”
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