Composers of the Nazi Era: Eight Portraits

Composers of the Nazi Era: Eight Portraits

Composers of the Nazi Era: Eight Portraits

Composers of the Nazi Era: Eight Portraits

Synopsis

How does creativity thrive in the face of fascism? How can a highly artistic individual function professionally in so threatening a climate? The final book in a critically acclaimed trilogy that includes Different Drummers (OUP 1992) and The Twisted Muse (OUP 1997), this is a detailed study of the often interrelated careers of eight outstanding German composers who lived and worked amid the dictatorship of the Third Reich: Werner Egk, Paul Hindemith, Kurt Weill, Karl Amadeus Hartmann, Carl Orff, Hans Pfitzner, Arnold Schoenberg, and Richard Strauss. Noted historian Michael H. Kater weighs issues of accommodation and resistance to ask whether these artists corrupted themselves in the service of a criminal regime--and if so, whether this is evident in their music. He also considers the degrees to which the Nazis politically, socially, economically, and aesthetically succeeded in their treatment of these individuals, whose lives and compositions represent diverse responses to totalitarianism.

Excerpt

This book is the last in a trilogy on music and musicians in the Third Reich. The first one was on jazz, the second on the general, mostly serious-music scene, and this one is about eight composers: Werner Egk, Paul Hindemith, Kurt Weill, Karl Amadeus Hartmann, Carl Orff, Hans Pfitzner, Arnold Schoenberg, and Richard Strauss. As in the first two volumes, I am trying to explore these musicians' relationship with the Nazi regime and examine the role their music played in it, if any. Of these composers, one or two are well-known, such as Strauss and Schoenberg (and much has been written on them already) whereas others are hardly known outside Germany, especially Hartmann and Egk. Why were they chosen? Each man's history was backed by a wealth of private papers to which I was fortunate enough to have access, and even in terms of raw and unsorted documents each history turned out to be sufficiently unique to tell me something new about the fate of music in the Third Reich in general and how the composers fitted into it in particular. Although the order of the composers treated in this book is random, certain cues during the writing of the biographies appeared to direct me from one name to the next. I sensed these cues intuitively and therefore cannot explain them. But I started with Werner Egk because I felt that in sketching his career in my previous book, The Twisted Muse (1997), I had left important questions unanswered. And I finished with Strauss because throughout the entire writing process he appeared as the greatest challenge, better attempted at the end. Strauss was of course the senior composer and to be largely recognized as such by his peers. But the order of . . .

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