Music and Nazism; Art under Tyranny, 1933-1945

By Hailey, Christopher | Notes, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Music and Nazism; Art under Tyranny, 1933-1945


Hailey, Christopher, Notes


HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL STUDIES Music and Nazism; Art under Tyranny, 1933-1945. Edited by Michael H. Kater and Albrecht Ricthmüller. Laaber: Laaber-Verlag, 2003. [328 p. ISBN 3-89007-516-9. DM 49.80.] Music examples, illustrations, index.

In 1963 Joseph Wulf published Musik im dritten Reich (Gütersloh: Sigbert Mohn Verlag, 1963), one of a series of documentary studies that examined the mechanisms and effects of twelve years of National Socialism in Germany (other volumes treated art, literature and poetry, theater and film, the press and radio). These books were an irritating thorn in the side of a postwar Germany little interested in revisiting its Nazi past. Too many collaborators were still alive, active, and in positions of authority to encourage a full accounting. BuI with the changing of the generational guard over the last quarter century, the subject of cultural life in Nazi Germany has at last taken its place as an established field of research. This development is part of a general process of revisionism that includes holocaust and exile studies, as well as the effort to broaden our understanding of twentieth-century modernism to include a range of movements and figures relegated to the margins. But whereas these latter areas of research are largely concerned with victims and disruption, exploration of German cultural life under National Socialism must also confront a once self-satisfied record of continuity, an aggressive illusion of normalcy that for twelve years spanned an ever-widening chasm of barbarity.

The essays of the present volume, collected from an international conference held at the Canadian Genire for German and European Studies at York University in Toronto in 1999, fall into three distinct, though overlapping categories dealing with ideology, individuals, and institutions. Every totalitarian system, whether political or religious, left leaning or right wing, attempts to use the arts for propagandistic ends, but it did not take the Nazis to seduce or coerce Germans into freighting music with ideological import. The German tradition of thinking about music-and instrumentalizing aesthetics-runs very deeply. After all, in "the land of poets and thinkers" (Das Land der Dichter und Denker) even the composer is called a Tondichter, or tone poet, suggesting to some Germans a degree of reflection that sets them apart from their Latin neighbors. In fact, Germans are no more or less musical than other cultural groups, but cultural practice, from the Protestant chorale to the romantic lied, from the tradition of Hausmusick to the introduction of the darkened theater and invisible orchestra at Bayreuth in 1876, has emphasized a certain subjective interiority. That says no more than that music seizes rather than creates cultural predispositions. It is not so much that German music is inherently more "ideological" than that of other cultures. Indeed, German music has proven quite capable of traveling abroad with very little doctrinal baggage-librettos and texts are another matter. The real issue is what happens to this music once it starts rattling about in the echo chamber of the German soul.

One German soul under investigation is that of Adolf Hitler. He is the logical starting point for this volume, both because of his intense passion for music and what he made of that passion. Hitler serves as the quintessential German music lover, the dreamy teenager in the gallery whose puerile fantasies are inflamed by swelling crescendos. His special identification with Richard Wagner has led many to regard Wagner as a central influence in shaping the contours of National Socialism. Hans Rudolf Vaget ("Hitler's Wagner: Musical Discourse as Cultural Space") questions this view and sees Hitler's selective appropriation of Wagnerian symbols and ideas (primarily from his writings) as a manipulation of a commonly held, though hotly contested cultural space (geistiger Raum), a space that included, after all, such staunch antifascists as Thomas Mann (one might add, that Hitler's interest in music was nowhere near as intense-or informed-as his preoccupation with architecture).

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