The Devil's Music Master: The Controversial Life and Career of Wilhelm Furtwangler

The Devil's Music Master: The Controversial Life and Career of Wilhelm Furtwangler

The Devil's Music Master: The Controversial Life and Career of Wilhelm Furtwangler

The Devil's Music Master: The Controversial Life and Career of Wilhelm Furtwangler

Synopsis

From 1922 until his death in 1954, Wilhelm Furtw"angler was the foremost cultural music figure of the German-speaking world, conductor of both the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic orchestras. But a cloud still hangs over his reputation, despite his undeniable brilliance as a musician, because of a fatal and tragic decision. Wilhelm Furtw"angler remained in Germany when thousands of intellectuals and artists fled after the Nazis seized power in 1933. His decision to stay behind earned him lasting condemnation as a Nazi collaborator--"The Devil's Music Master." Decades after his death, Furtw"angler remains for many not only the greatest but also the most controversial musical personality of our time. In The Devil's Music Master, Sam H. Shirakawa forges the first full-length and comprehensive biography of Furtw"angler. He surveys Furtw"angler's formative years as a difficult but brilliant prodigy, his rise to pre-eminence as Germany's leading conductor, and his development as a musician, composer, and thinker. Shirakawa also reviews the rich recorded legacy Furtw"angler documented throughout his forty-year career--such as the legendary Tristan with Kirsten Flagstad and the famous performances of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in 1942 and 1951. Equally important, Shirakawa goes backstage and behind the lines to explore how the Nazis seized control of the arts and how Furtw"angler single-handedly tried to prevent evil characters as Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and Luftwaffe Chief Hermann G"oring from annihilating Germany's musical life. He shows how Furtw"angler, far from being a toady to the Nazis, stood up openly against Hitler and Himmler--at enormous personal risk--to salvage the musical traditions of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. Shirakawa also presents moving and overwhelming evidence of Furtw"angler's astonishing efforts to save the lives of Jews and other persecuted individuals trapped in Nazi Germany--only to be proscribed at the end of the war and nearly framed as a war criminal. But there was more to Furtw"angler than his politics, or even his music, and we come to know this extraordinary man as a reluctant composer, a prolific essayist and diary keeper, a loyal friend, a formidable enemy when crossed, and an incorrigible philanderer. Numerous musical luminaries share their memories of Furtw"angler to round out this vivid portrait. Based on dozens of interviews and research in numerous documents, letters, and diaries, many of them previously unpublished, The Devil's Music Master is an in-depth look at the life and times of a unique personality whose fatal flaw lay in his uncompromising belief that music and art must be kept apart from politics, a conviction that transformed him into a tragic figure.

Excerpt

He was perhaps the greatest conductor this century has produced. Almost forty years after his death, however, Wilhelm Furtwängler remains one of the most controversial figures in any field, his memory and reputation clouded by misinformation and lies. Several books and numerous articles have been written about this extraordinary and enigmatic figure, but no work has yet sought to view Furtwängler's life within the broad range of his career as a musician, work as a composer, and the complexities of his politics and personal life.

While better-publicized musicians may be more famous, Furtwängler is no mere cult figure. Any musician living or dead who has had his recordings available in every format on 40 different commercial labels for over thirty years throughout the world must be reaching more than a lunatic fringe of the record-buying public. Decades after his death he not only holds his audience but steadily acquires new listeners who were born too recently to have heard him "live." This, despite quantum leaps in the quality of sound recording and expensive publicity campaigns selling a variety of other over-recorded conductors. the vast corpus of his recording output is gaining yet another life on compact discs, and dedicated pirate recording efforts have scrupulously cleaned up the sound on an enormous number of his live performances and put them out again on one label after another. Unscrupulous entrepreneurs have also made a lucrative living over the years selling so-called Furtwängler recordings that he never made.

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