The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich

The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich

The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich

The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich

Synopsis

Is music removed from politics? To what ends, beneficent or malevolent, can music and musicians be put? In short, when human rights are grossly abused and politics turned to fascist demagoguery, can art and artists be innocent? These questions and their implications are explored in Michael Kater's broad survey of musicians and the music they composed and performed during the Third Reich. Great and small--from Valentin Grimm, a struggling clarinetist, to Richard Strauss, renowned composer--are examined by Kater, sometimes in intimate detail, and the lives and decisions of Nazi Germany's professional musicians are laid out before the reader. Kater tackles the issue of whether the Nazi regime, because it held music in crassly utilitarian regard, acted on musicians in such a way as to consolidate or atomize the profession. Kater's examination of the value of music for the regime and the degree to which the regime attained a positive propaganda and palliative effect through the manner in which it manipulated its musicians, and by extension, German music, is of importance for understanding culture in totalitarian systems. This work, with its emphasis on the social and political nature of music and the political attitude of musicians during the Nazi regime, will be the first of its kind. It will be of interest to scholars and general readers eager to understand Nazi Germany, to music lovers, and to anyone interested in the interchange of music and politics, culture and ideology.

Excerpt

The themes of this study have only rarely been reflected in the existing literature. This book was written against the backdrop of four earlier ones that purported to tell the history of music in the Third Reich. The first of these, Musik im Dritten Reich: Eine Dokumentation (1963/1966), was an annotated collection of documents by Joseph Wulf which presented key materials from a few archives (then generally closed to many scholars) and music publications of the Nazi period. Valuable as these materials were, they were often published as mangled excerpts or otherwise distorted, and Wulf's running commentary was less than reliable. In 1982 the German musicologist Fred K. Prieberg published Musik im NS- Staat, which at the time looked like a monumental and all-encompassing history of music under the Nazi regime, and to this day has remained surprisingly current. But Prieberg had made even scarcer use of the archives than Wulf; he tended to draw his portraits in tones of black and white; his language was often shrill and accusatory; and he, too, made many mistakes, factual as well as interpretive. Compared to this work, The Politics of Music in the Third Reich, Michael Meyer's extended dissertation, published in 1991, took virtually no heed of almost twenty intervening years of research, paraphrased heavily from Prieberg's book without the benefit of any archival sources of substance, and contributed nothing that was new at the time. The latest of the four to arrive on the scene was Music in the Third Reich, a study by the British pianist Eric Levi. Though well intentioned, it too is but thinly documented with pri-

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