As the rays set on a politically turbulent and surely unrepeatable 2016, we cast an eye back, light-heartedly, to some of the stranger moments in the year that was. One has to be the rantings of Donald Trump on, of all things, classical music. It may be surprising to learn that the property tycoon turned president-elect has even heard of Mozart, Beethoven or Wagner. But yes, it seems he has. In a series of tweets he bombastically condemned the lot of them.
Take this for example: “Phoney Mozart couldn’t even finish his own requiem and made a student complete it for him. Lazy!” And this: “Why did Beethoven only put the choir in at the end of Symphony No. 9? Could’ve been a contender. Bad attitude!” Or, how about this for one megalomaniac levelling another: ‘I could tell the story of the Ring in about two hours. Not a whole day like Wagner. Indulgent fool!”
More Trump tweets on classical composers are collected here if you feel so inclined read them. The alarming thing, though, is how many ‘likes’ they have received: it’s in the tens of thousands, totally shading the efforts of any music critic out there.
Meanwhile, Barack Obama is well known as an avid jazz enthusiast, with artists such as Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and Nina Simone amongst his list of favourites. When handed the microphone he even has “minor musical chops” himself as a crooner.
North of the border, Justin Trudeau has without much doubt the most eclectic, non-mainstream musical leanings of any present world leader. He is into indie folk band Reuben and the Dark, singer-songwriter Adam Cohen (son of the late Leonard Cohen), rapper K’naan and chansonnier Pierre Lapointe. There are YouTube links to several of his hand-picked tracks here. Trudeau recently congratulated music magazine La Scena Musicale on its 20th anniversary – which politicians in Australia would take the trouble to do that?
On the other side of the Atlantic, we find that Theresa May is “the least hip prime minister since John Major” and professes to liking Abba and Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons. Nothing more current than the 1970s: it’s indeed a worry as she takes Britain into a new era.
No prizes for guessing what Angela Merkel likes: Wagner. The German leader regularly attends classical concerts with friends and tries to go to the Bayreuth Festival each year.
But what of politicians in this country? What do their musical tastes say about them? Since Paul Keating and his much touted fondness for Mahler symphonies there’s little to report, except perhaps surprisingly, on Malcolm Turnbull. While the current PM stood idly by while Brandis swung his wrecking ball against the Australia Council in 2015, he recently took the unusual step of conducting a school band at Orbost Secondary College in East Gippsland, Victoria. Reportedly he did “a fine job”, one of the teachers remarked. “The kids were able to follow his direction without problems.”
Turnbull also encouraged schools in his Wentworth electorate to participate in Music Australia’s Music: Count Us In program in November, so we think he earns a couple of plaudits. His own musical preferences, by the way, include the Divinyls, Daddy Cool, Blondie and Buena Vista Social Club.
Federal Arts Minister Mitch Fifield was an Ambassador for the not-for-profit school music organisation The Song Room, and has distinctly eighties musical tastes, from the Pet Shop Boys to Cold Chisel to the Whitlams.
As for the others, Tony Abbott liked Elvis Presley, The Beach Boys and The Righteous Brothers (of course), Kevin Rudd admired Frank Sinatra, and Julia Gillard was keen on Bruce Springsteen, Midnight Oil and Kylie Minogue (classical music is right out for her). What Bill Shorten likes remains pretty well unknown, except that he drops his kids off to music lessons each Sunday.
It all seems to fit, doesn’t it? The music preferences are an interesting facet, and a direct reflection, of who our pollies really are.