Most German of the Arts: Musicology and Society from the Weimar Republic to the End of Hitler's Reich

By McClatchie, Stephen | Canadian University Music Review, January 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Most German of the Arts: Musicology and Society from the Weimar Republic to the End of Hitler's Reich


McClatchie, Stephen, Canadian University Music Review


Pamela M. Potter. Most German of the Arts: Musicology and Society from the Weimar Republic to the End of Hitler's Reich. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998. xx, 364 pp. ISBN 0-300-07228-7 (hardcover).

The cover of Karl Grunsky's racist and anti-Semitic Kampf um deutsche Musik! (Stuttgart: Erhard Walther, 1933) provides an apt illustration of the title of Pamela Potter's study of German musicology, Most German of the Arts: a lyre, symbolising Music, is being pulled from a pool of muck and slime by the German Imperial flag. The idea of music being inherently German is an important theme of Potter's work, one she traces from Athanasius Kircher in the seventeenth century through to the works and teachings of exiled German scholars in post-war America. The very act of making such long-term connections is indicative of her overall project: an attempt to reintegrate the role and development of German music(ology) between 1933 and 1945 into the larger historical narrative by uncovering and examining the unmistakable continuities between the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich. Most German of the Arts is in every way a pathbreaking book: an important corrective to silence and obfuscation, and a welcome reconsideration and refocusing of earlier historiographical theses.

The book is not arranged chronologically, but by topic, moving from the general to the specific, and allowing the reader to see the historical continuities most clearly. It begins with an examination of music and society during Weimar and the Third Reich that provides the context for the rest of the work. The next four chapters discuss, respectively: musicology and society during these same years; the discipline and its institutions; its role in the university; and opportunities for musicologists outside of the university during the Nazi era. Their focus is chiefly on institutional and biographical matters, examining the lives and careers of musicologists such as Heinrich Besseler, Friedrich Blume, Hans Joachim Moser, Joseph Müller-Blattau, Helmuth Osthoff, and Arnold Schering. They are followed by chapters on new methodologies, and on attempts to define "Germanness" in music. Finally, a concluding chapter widens the focus once more by examining the denazification process and German musicology after the war.

Too often musicological works written during the years 1933-45 have been treated ahistorically - bracketed off as "Nazi musicology," in an attempt to isolate and dismiss the era as an anomaly. The sanitized New Grove biographical articles on musicologists active during those years are only one obvious symptom of a wider historical trend. Potter does not do this. Her work is characterized by both admirable balance and scrupulous fairness. While certainly laying bare the facts surrounding such eminent personages as Blume or Schering, she is also careful to give credit where credit is due, to say what was, in fact, good about the era. She does not hesitate to point out that in many respects the lives of professional musicians and musicologists improved during the Third Reich. The Nazis alleviated many of the tensions that had splintered professional musical life during Weimar: increasing regionalization and a widening gulf between amateurs and professionals, to the detriment of the latter. They tried to bring music closer to the people by removing or discouraging intellectualisais and virtuosity, and encouraging mass participation - long-term goals of music educators before 1933. Likewise, they encouraged (and manipulated) the growth of the mass media, including the recording industry. Potter clearly demonstrates the erroneousness of earlier historical conceptions of a "totalitarian musical state," which arose both from panicked testimony at denazification trials and older historiographical trends (principally the writings of Michael Meyer). Contrary to received opinion, censorship was not all pervasive, and atonality and jazz continued to play a role. …

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