Linda Shaver-Gleason deposited The Morality of Musical Men: From Victorian Propriety to the Era of #MeToo in the group Music and Sound on Humanities Commons 1 year, 5 months ago
During an interview, Andris Nelsons, music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, stated unequivocally that sexual harassment was not a problem in the world of classical music because, “If [people] could realize how important [music and art] are…I believe they would become better human beings.” The interview was in response to the recent spread of the hashtag #MeToo, in which people described personal experiences of sexual harassment and/or abuse, some within the classical music community. Nelsons’s comment was tone-deaf and ill-timed: In less than two weeks, The New York Times would break the story of conductor James Levine’s sexual abuse of teenagers. Why did classical music fans continue to defend Levine’s behavior in terms of his musical genius? This talk examines the remarkable spread of the idea that listening to good music develops an individual’s inner moral compass. Nineteenth-century books on music aimed at the general listener argued that certain types of music encapsulated particular values of the Victorian era, including congeniality and control over emotion. The association of particular musical styles with certain values—especially “high art” music with moral rectitude—encouraged music historians to gravitate toward “Great Masters” of music. Tracing the expected convergence of moral development and musical sensitivity demonstrates the ways in which sanitization of composer biographies continued well into the twentieth century, influencing generations of classical music enthusiasts. Audiences often conflate musical works with the lives of their composers, grafting aesthetic “power” onto individual people. Twenty-first century social media is poised to overthrow the status quo for this style of music by undermining the power of revered musical men.