Roll Over, Beethoven — Time to Give Tchaikovsky the Boot | National Review

Roll Over, Beethoven — Time to Give Tchaikovsky the Boot | National Review

The Bolshoi’s David Hallberg and Maria Alash rehearse Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty in 2011. (Denis Sinyakov / Reuters)

In the old TV series The Waltons, one episode set during the beginning of World War II pits John-Boy against the townspeople. To highlight the growing European conflict, John-Boy wants to print excerpts from Mein Kampf in his newspaper, but the community objects strongly. John-Boy and his family become the target of vandals, and he is ready to give up the printing when everything comes to a head: The local preacher has gathered German books for a public burning. Appalled, John-Boy snatches a book from the pile and asks if anyone in the crowd can read German. A woman who has heretofore remained quiet about her heritage for fear of retribution bravely steps up. What was the book she read from? The Bible.

Today, a comparable cancellation effort is underway, with its sights set on Russia — its composers, to be specific. Cardiff Philharmonic is under fire after announcing that it would remove the music of Russian composer Tchaikovsky from an upcoming concert. While the orchestra’s director, Martin May, stated that the decision was due to the military nature of the two programmed Tchaikovsky pieces and the fact that a current orchestra member has family involved in the Ukraine conflict, the Western outrage was immediate.

Though May claims this is a one-time occurrence and that the music of other Russian composers scheduled for later in the season will remain untouched, his original decision presents the possibility of a slippery slope. This war will end, but Russia may well commit another atrocity — should Tchaikovsky remain canceled? What about Shostakovich, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Mussorgsky? Why not cancel them, too? One might argue that the 1812 Overture was written about a Russian victory, but that shouldn’t matter. One of the beauties of music is its ability to transcend time and space.

What the Ukrainian people are suffering is horrific, but canceling a long-dead Russian composer with no connection to Putin does not help those in need and serves only to deprive listeners of the much-needed splendor and majesty of Tchaikovsky’s works.

Sarah Schutte is the podcast manager for National Review and an associate editor for National Review magazine. Originally from Dayton, Ohio, she is a children’s literature aficionado and Mendelssohn 4 enthusiast.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.