Composers of the Nazi Era: Eight Portraits

Article excerpt

by Michael H. Kater. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. 399 pp. $35.00.

The social historian Michael Kater will be known to many readers of this journal. His scholarship is at once broad in its cross-cultural scope and deep in its rigorous methodology. From two of his earlier studies, one on the SS and "Kulturpolitik" in the Third Reich (1974), the other on "Studentenschaft und Rechtsradikalismus" in the Weimar Republic (1975), he moved on to examine the membership and leadership of the Nazi party (1983) and the situation of doctors under Hitler (1989). He then turned his attention to music.

The present volume concludes a trilogy on music and musicians in the Third Reich that is the clearest and most comprehensive treatment of its subject to date. In the preceding volumes, Different Drummers: Jazz in the Culture of Nazi Germany (1992), and The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich (1997), Kater afforded us an overview of the musical culture of that era. He now explores the lives and careers of eight composers -- Werner Egk, Paul Hindemith, Kurt Weill, Karl Amadeus Hartmann, Carl Orff, Hans Pfitzner, Arnold Schoenberg, and Richard Strauss -- elucidating the relationship of each to the Nazi regime.

Composers of the Nazi Era (hereafter CNE) is best read in tandem with its admirable predecessor, The Twisted Muse (hereafter TM), which supplies a systematically organized historical and structural context for many of the issues encountered here -- e.g., "intentionalism" vs. "functionalism" in the interpretation of National Socialism; continuities and discontinuities between the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich; the influence of Wagner on Hitler; the straggle to define "German" and "Jewish" music; and the competition between Rosenberg and Goebbels for control of Nazi cultural policies.

Regarding the individual composers in this book, TM supplies much useful contextual background as well, introducing us to such matters as Egk's favored status; the Hindemith affair of 1934-35; Orff's role in the "Midsummer Night's Dream" and "White Rose" affairs; Strauss's acceptance of the presidency of the Reich Music Chamber (RMK) under Goebbels and the reasons for his subsequent break with it; Strauss and the "Mann Protest"; and the Strauss-Zweig affair, among many others.

In the Introduction to TM, Kater summarizes his findings in that book as follows: "One and all -- musicians and singers, composers and conductors, all of whom had to make a living as artists in the Third Reich -- emerged in May 1945 severely tainted, with their professional ethos violated and their music often compromised: gray people against a landscape of gray" (TM, p. 6). That characterization applies to most of the portraits in this book as well, with certain exceptions.

Among those composers who remained in Germany (Egk, Hartmann, Orff, Pfitzner, and Strauss), only Hartmann emerged after World War II with his professional integrity uncompromised by National Socialism. Among those who emigrated (Hindemith, Weill, and Schoenberg), Weill and Schoenberg, both Jews, distinguished themselves by forging new careers in America. Whereas Weill was culpable in some of his personal relations, including marital ones, and Schoenberg was often contentious in his dealings with fellow émigrés, including Thomas Mann, they too preserved their professional integrity. The case of Hindemith is more complex, and one understands from the book why he returned to Europe -- though not to Germany itself -- in 1951. …