By Richard A. Etlin


Copyright © 2002 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-22087-1

Chapter One


The "Degenerate Music" Exhibition in D��sseldorf, 1938 Albrecht D��mling

German Music and History

At the start of World War One, the musicologist Hans Joachim Moser, an unsalaried young lecturer at the University of Halle-Wittenberg, planned an ambitious multivolume work entitled Geschichte der deutschen Musik (The History of German Music). A few years later, as he finished the first volume, the political situation had changed fundamentally. Through the inauspicious Treaty of Versailles, the German Reich had lost not only its colonies but also 13 percent of its home territory. Huge demands for reparation shook the economy, and the blame put on Germans in general, the occupation of the Rhineland, and the conversion of the major rivers into international waterways were felt to be further humiliations. Even the musicologist Moser, aware of his German identity, was crestfallen. In the preface to his work he wrote in January 1920 that

I planned this book while Germany was radiant at the height of its military glory, and I dreamed of laying it reverently on the day of final victory as the modest offering of a grateful son on the altar of the fatherland.... In the meantime things have sadly collapsed, and considerable circles of our people (truly for quite opposite reasons) are nowadays ashamed of being German. It is precisely this that has urged me to continue in my endeavor.

Moser was convinced that in this critical situation his German history of music-the very first work dealing comprehensively with this theme!-could have a huge political significance: "The dazzling history of our music calls out to us 'Quand m��me-and even so!' which must again and again be hammered with unconquerable patience into our young people, so as to lift Germany out of the fleeting darkness of shame to new levels of opportunity."

The German bourgeoisie, caught up in the postwar political and economic catastrophe, looked for continuity, for great and everlasting values. And they hoped to find them most easily in the field of music, where their national heritage would offer them consolation. In fact, the works of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms had lost none of their value through the war, and the surviving opera houses and concert halls kept their doors open in spite of the economic crisis. But though things were outwardly the same, a change had in fact taken place. The crisis of the bourgeoisie led to a crisis in concertgoing. The situation was worsened by the disillusionment of many composers and musicians, who had lost their faith in the Romantic ethos. Rather than idealistic symphonies and huge symphonic creations, they now preferred smaller forms typical of chamber music. Operas shrank to single-act works; in place of intoxicating harmonies there was plain linearity; and a matter-of-fact and often even grotesque style elbowed aside the earlier Romanticism.

This led to a split in German musical life that often accompanied a generational conflict. The conservative followers of the Romantics, the Wagnerians, were nostalgic for the empire, the Kaiserreich. They were opposed by a decidedly anti-Romantic and antinationalistic younger generation. Of course, the younger composers were precisely the ones who sided with the new public consisting of the petty bourgeoisie, workers, and white-collar workers. Fresh ideas came from the youth music movement, which took over and developed forms from the medieval and the Baroque periods. Paul Hindemith, who in his postwar compositions-as in his Suite 1922 for piano-had vigorously withdrawn from bourgeois traditions, here found a new group to appeal to. The new kinds of listeners were also drawn to various forms of Gebrauchsmusik (applied music) for theater, film, radio, choirs, and schools. At the music festivals of Donaueschingen and Baden-Baden, "serious" music stepped down from its pedestal into the everyday world. It was not meant to be everlasting but up-to-date, and it led to Zeitopern (operas of modern times), in which sport and technology mingled with dance music and jazz. The new sections of the public were thrilled at this development, as shown by the success of Jonny spielt auf (Johnny Strikes Up the Band) by Ernst Krenek (1927) and the Dreigroschenoper (Threepenny Opera) by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill (1928). To these developments, the conservatives offered up vigorously objections.

The changes in the musical life of the Weimar Republic were prepared by World War One. The new order into which they were organized owed much to a single person: Leo Kestenberg. This former student of Ferruccio Busoni was already before 1918 one of the leading cultural policymakers of the Social Democratic Party. After the kaiser's abdication, Kestenberg was able, as the musical adviser in the Prussian Ministry of Science, Culture, and Education until 1930, to put many of his reformist plans into practice. For instance, he called upon Franz Schreker, a respected modern composer, to be the principal of the formerly conservative Berlin Hochschule f��r Musik (Academy of Music). He supported the nomination of such world-famous artists as Artur Schnabel and Carl Flesch as professors and also had Otto Klemperer, Paul Hindemith, and Arnold Sch��nberg come to the German capital, which particularly in the field of music was thus able to regain its international status.

Although conservative musicians, too, such as Wilhelm Furtw��ngler and Bruno Walter were successful in Berlin, they felt at a disadvantage. This sentiment applied even more to the elder generation of composers: Hans Pfitzner, Richard Strauss, Max von Schillings, and Paul Graener, who felt they were being neglected. But they were especially indignant at the intrusion of irony and mockery and of atonality and jazz into the field of serious music and blamed not the world war and its consequences but the waywardness of the alleged dominant alliance of Social Democracy and Jewish culture in Berlin. This alliance was thought to be at the root of a "cultural Bolshevism" that was deliberately undermining the German musical tradition.

The fact that musical life was increasingly international in its organization -in 1923 the Internationale Gesellschaft f��r Neue Musik (International Society for New Music) was founded in Salzburg-was twisted into a cloak-and-dagger story: a foreign conspiracy was eroding the last and most redoubtable stronghold of German identity, the great national musical tradition. Since the conservatives thought music played an important part in education and, indeed, in national politics, the discussion about music immediately took on a political dimension. Accordingly, in the preface to the third edition of his Die neue ��sthetik der musikalischen Impotenz. Ein Verwesungssymptom? (The New Aesthetic of Musical Impotence. A Symptom of Decay? 1926) Hans Pfitzner wrote, "It is not, I believe, possible to consider the essence of an art without also considering the issue of nationality." In terms of Pfitzner's analysis, the European states were endangered in two ways: first by "atonal chaos" as "an artistic parallel to Bolshevism" and second by "the jazz-fox-trot flood" as "the musical expression of Americanism." He lashed out against this:

It is clear beyond a doubt that the role played by subversive internationalism ..., which is intent on dissolving not only governments but also the innermost life of the people whose hearts it poisons, must be dealt with. That-and how far-Jews are involved in the international-Bolshevist subversion can be illuminated by men, politicians, and historians more qualified than I. This fact, however, is not to be denied.

From writers about music, like Walter Abendroth, Karl Blessinger, Fritz Stege, and others, this interpretation was taken up and passed on. With the Jews-and not just in the opinion of Pfitzner-something impure penetrated German music, something foreign. These views, already formed by Richard Wagner, Julius Langbehn, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, and Wilhelm II, returned again after 1933 in the many reassessments of musical life of the Weimar Republic, as found in a report by Herbert Gerigk. Gerigk, who from 1935 held the position of plenipotentiary of the f��hrer for the supervision of the entire intellectual and ideological enlightenment of the Nazi Party, directed the head department of music within the office of the plenipotentiary of the f��hrer for the supervision of the entire intellectual and ideological enlightenment of the Nazi Party under Alfred Rosenberg. Gerigk was also editor in chief of the magazine Die Musik and later coeditor of the infamous Lexicon of Jews in Music (fig. 2). In an overview "Ten Years of National Socialist Musical Life" (1943), Gerigk described the pre-1933 situation in this way:

The German was almost at the point of becoming homeless in his own fatherland. Key positions were occupied mostly by Jews. Besides that, Freemasons and exponents of other political entities outside the state were also influential in music. It is very instructive to reflect upon the conditions of that time.

As examples of the liberal cultural policies of the era Gerigk cited Leo Kestenberg, the Union Music Association, and the concert agency Wolff & Sachs, which he characterized in the following way: "The guilty deeds of the Jew did not in any case stop at the destruction of the means of existence for individuals; more important for him-because it influenced the future -was the undermining of basic concepts, the alienation of the German from the innate natural laws of art, the uprooting of the German people as well as all peoples of Europe." With that example, Gerigk denounced elements of liberal policy as un-German. Instead of posing this question as a political issue, he regarded it as part of a general racial issue when he charged the Jews with the calculated destruction of racial instincts not only in Germany but in all of Europe. That the national disillusionment after 1918 could have been a result of the lost war was ignored as a possibility.

Back to Germanic Racial Roots

The music dramas of Richard Wagner especially had refocused the attention of the broader public on Germania. One result of this was the founding of many more or less overtly political associations. In 1905 in Berlin, several professors (including the composer Max von Schillings) and other noted persons founded the Richard Wagner Gesellschaft f��r germanische Kunst und Kultur (Richard Wagner Society for Germanic Art and Culture), which, in 1913 was renamed the Deutsch-Nordische Richard Wagner Gesellschaft f��r germanische Kunst und Kultur (German-Nordic Richard Wagner Society for Germanic Art and Culture). Its objective, according to the statutes, was "to assist Germanic art and culture to victory in its struggle against inartistic and culturally adverse endeavors in the larger circles of the German people and also in the other Germanic countries."

On the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Richard Wagner in February 1933, this society published an appeal which read, "Just as Richard Wagner created Der Ring des Nibelungen out of faith in the German spirit, it is the mission of the German people, in Richard Wagner's memorial year, to reflect upon themselves and to complete the organization of the German people, through which, in addition, all the ideal aspirations of the German-Nordic Richard Wagner Society will maintain a real political impact on the state, the nation, and the world around us in the national Germanic spirit of Richard Wagner." Adolf Hitler was named executor of the will of Wagner, the consummator of German nationalism. Already in 1933, Roger Sessions in his well-informed essay "Music and Nationalism" described the situation with these words: "The Nazi movement is, from a musical standpoint, the victory of a distorted Wagnerism; its spiritual 'enemies' include whatever fresh impulses have been alive in the world since Wagner's time."

The reception of Wagner's music fell into an undeniable crisis in the 1920s. Nevertheless, the older generation from the former ruling class of the German empire remained true to the master of Bayreuth. It is illuminating to read the list of those who supported the tribute address. Assembled here around Richard Wagner were the leading representatives of the German steel and chemical industries as well as the military. Very aptly and ominously, the society concluded its appeal with a verse by Felix Dahn:

If no more German song should resound, No more German customs exist, Then let us proudly and gloriously fall, Not idly fade away in disgrace.

And the last verse reads:

If Etzel's house was consumed by blazing fire, When he provoked the Nibelungen, Then should Europe stand in flames At the downfall of the Germans.

Already Hans Joachim Moser in his Geschichte der deutschen Musik had opposed the view that music was an international art. In his search for real German music he had tried to deduce German art from the character of the German people. Inspired by Josef Nadler's Geschichte der deutschen Literatur nach St��mmen und Landschaften (History of German Literature according to Races and Regions), a project begun in 1912, Moser traced German musicality back to its Indo-Germanic roots. This research in Germanic culture continued hectically after 1933, promoted especially by the Ahnenerbe organization of the SS. When Josef M��ller-Blattau had his book The Germanic Heritage in German Music published by the SS-owned Widukind publishing company, when he appeared at the Nordic Thing (a term referring to ancient tribal meetings) in Bremen in 1934, and even when others also lectured on the lur, a lip-vibrated instrument dating from the later Nordic Bronze Age, or on Dinarian and Ostic folk songs, this was more an ideological rather than a musically productive effort. For the instinctual nurturing of the German racial soul, these meager results were enough. Of great importance was especially the recognition that Germanic peoples derived an intrinsic joy in battle, in struggle, Kampf. The new movement spoke of the battle, the struggle, again and again. Hitler named his central book Mein Kampf, and Alfred Rosenberg in 1928 founded a Kampfbund f��r deutsche Kultur (Combat League for German Culture), whose members carried out the first purges against the Jews in 1933.

The "race researcher" Richard Eichenauer also found a corresponding Germanic trait in the chorales of Luther's time: "The chorale melodies from the great era of the German chorales, that is, from the time of the religious struggles, contain, from a musical perspective, nothing specifically 'Christian,' rather, something universal and eternally 'German,' which is that ever-present joy of the battle, which is one of the basic characteristics of Nordic peoples." This passion for battle, which, along with the love for music, was claimed to have been integral component of the Germanic peoples, was inoculated into the Germans again starting in 1933. This heroism was apparently regarded as a racially determined characteristic, independent of specific aims, goals, or enemies. Musical race researchers also soon claimed that the musical triad was the purest expression of the Germanic essence.

The new works and Kampflieder (battle songs) that emerged were predominantly diatonic in character. It was not Johann Sebastian Bach who served as a model but rather Heinrich Sch��tz and the songs of the Peasants' War of 1524-25. A significant part in the Sch��tz renaissance of the 1920s was played by the Youth Movement, which later would smoothly become the Hitler Youth. This connection is exemplified by Heinrich Spitta, who began his career as a Sch��tz researcher and then became a composer of Nazi songs before ending up a professor of music education. The mistrust of chromaticism, the use of tones and harmonies outside the prevailing diatonic scale, extended even to the reception of Richard Wagner's music, whose progressive qualities had been emphasized by Thomas Mann and Arnold Sch��nberg. Nazi propaganda did not place works such as Tristan und Isolde or Die Walk��re in the foreground but rather favored Wagner's most strongly diatonic works, the C-major jubilation of Die Meistersinger von N��rnberg and the triad world of Parsifal. In his widely circulated book Musik und Rasse, Richard Eichenauer wrote:

In Wagner's harmony, two characteristics of the Dinaric soul are perfectly united: simplicity and colorful illustration. His harmonies are not difficult to understand; rather, in the majority of cases, they are of a totally uncomplicated intelligibility.

Wagner thus was not seen as a pioneer of the avant-garde (as Thomas Mann proclaimed) but rather as a sustainer of archaic simplicity.


Excerpted from ART, CULTURE, AND MEDIA UNDER THE THIRD REICHby Richard A. Etlin Copyright © 2002 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
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