Miley Cyrus Vs. Classical Music: Controversy in Classical Music - Richard Wagner the Classical Lady Gaga?

We might think that Madonna or Lady Gaga or Miley Cyrus take the cake when it comes to
music controversy. You might be hard pressed to find classical composers twerking, but many were controversial in their day. 

Miley Cyrus twerking on the Video Music Awards show might seem more burlesque than Beethoven, but many classical composers were controversial in their day. Do you think we would be talking about Lady Gaga as much if she didn't wear a meat dress or what if Madonna hadn't come up with her scandalous book and controversial music videos? 

As they say in showbiz, "All publicity is good publicity."

Now let's jump back to classical music. As a humanities professor for over a decade I find the irony is that much of the classical music that we listen to today actually was the "popular" or "mainstream" music of their era. Before movie theaters and television and Youtube there were concerts, operas, and private recitals. Were there any shocking composers? A few come to mind immediately.

Move aside Justin Bieber, Franz Liszt amazed and wooed the females in his lifetime with his handsome looks and flirtatious ways, so much so that they often threw underwear at him during concerts according to Colorado Public Radio. And drug-soaked rock and roll of the sixties had nothing over composer Hector Berlioz. Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, while an amazing musical work, may have well been the first known opium induced symphony in classical music. Richard Wagner, an operatic genius, also was extremely controversial because of his antisemitic views. The possible affair between composers Clara Schumann and Brahms (when composer Richard Schumann was finally committed to an asylum) has kept the three composers in the musical limelight even a century later with stories of a bizarre mysterious love triangle between pupil and student.

The controversy continued on in the 20th century, with composers like John Cage changing the definition of music by declaring the importance of silence, Schoenberg abandoning tonal music entirely, Fluxus composer Nam June Paik writing works for naked cellist during the Civil Rights era, and composer Laurie Anderson mocking the materialism and government of the 1980s wearing a MIDI drum suit in "Oh Superman". The reality is that today, like centuries ago, musicians have been embroiled in controversy. 

The big difference, of course, 
is that Liszt couldn't go viral with a selfie.

"Franz Liszt turns 200"


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