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Nationalism, Chauvinism and Racism as Reflected in European Musical Thought and in Compositions from the Interwar Period


Andrzej Tuchowski

This book concerns the ways in which many different types of nationalism, chauvinism and racism penetrated into musical thought in the interwar period, and how the leading artistic personalities of that period reacted to these ideologies. The concept of "nationalism" is understood broadly in this book and covers the entire spectrum of its positive and negative aspects. The topics listed in the book’s title have been discussed on the example of selected four countries, significant with respect to population and territory and representing different social-political systems: Germany (mostly after 1933), Italy, Poland (after 1926) and Great Britain. This selection is also representative of the main ethnic groups in Europe: Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, Latin-Romance and Slavic.

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III. Das Volk, die Volksgemeinschaft, der Volkskomponist: The Concept of the “Community of Blood” and the Debate Concerning National-Socialist Normative Musical Aesthetics

III. Das Volk, die Volksgemeinschaft, der Volkskomponist: The Concept of the “Community of Blood” and the Debate Concerning National-Socialist Normative Musical Aesthetics

Was the Third Reich a totalitarian state? The question may seem absurd. And yet – as Karen Painter demonstrates – there are many historians who argue that the German nation’s enormous support for Hitlerism (at least in the initial years of the Nazi rule) and the fact that the Nazis took over power in a legal way – make the answer not as obvious as it might seem.185 On the other hand, Hannah Arendt in her classic monograph The Origins of Totalitarianism, claims that of all the European dictatorships that emerged in the first half of the 20th century, only two can be described as fully totalitarian: the Third Reich and Stalin’s USSR186. This is because only these two empires, says Arendt, aspired to global hegemony. The compulsion to struggle for worldwide domination results from “the very nature of totalitarianism.” For this very reason, Mussolini’s fascist regime – which is believed to have coined the term ‘totalitarian state’ – does not fulfil Arendt’s criteria for a totalitarian state, despite the belligerent poses and cocky declarations for which the Duce was notorious.

More frequently, however, we meet with interpretations of totalitarianism which focus first and foremost on the forms of internal rule and authority in the given country187. From this point of view, totalitarian rule is undoubtedly one that strives to control every sphere of the citizens’ lives, depriving them of their individual private freedom inasmuch as the technical instruments of control and the available coercive measures make it possible. It is commonly known that ←83 | 84→omnipresent propaganda and ideological indoctrination, as well as the attitude of the authorities to those few who did not accept the ruling ideology – leave one with no illusions as to the character of the Nazi state, even though power was taken over quite legally and the majority of the citizens supported the regime.

What is paradoxical in this context is that in the case of the Third Reich, one may hardly speak of one official normative musical aesthetic since there were no regulations and guidelines that could establish such norms188. It is usually stressed that the Nazi state’s cultural policy was inconsistent and decentralised. It depended on personal conflicts between high ranking state and party officials who competed in this field (mainly between Rosenberg and Goebbels). It was also prone to frequent changes and upheavals resulting from incongruent decisions typical of Hitler’s bureaucracy and from the unclear competences of the various centres of authority. Even though negative models, mainly in the form of the so-called ‘degenerate art’ (Entartete Kunst) were commonly known, the regime did very little to clearly define the music of ‘the national socialist era’. Goebbels’s famous ‘ten commandments of German music’ (announced during the opening ceremony of Reichsmusiktage in 1938) consisted in fact of commonplaces and generalisations concerning links to ‘the people’ or ‘the nation’ (das Volk) and the primacy of melody and empathy over intellectual constructs189. Little was also done to censor190 music composition apart from the previously discussed assessment ←84 | 85→of the racial identity of the composers themselves. One must remember, however, that national enthusiasm and pro-state sentiments, even fanatical admiration for the ruling ideology – were very common in music circles, which made all censorship and bureaucratic limitations simply redundant, because the music environment censored itself, and music critics, musicologists as well as musicians competed in their efforts to discover and emphasise what was ‘truly German’ and ‘racially valuable’ in music. Research conducted by Karen Painter191 proves that critics belonging to the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Berliner Musikkritiker were the first to express their full support for the cultural policies of the new government – as early as the spring of 1933. Soon, leading representatives of all music-related professions expressed their enthusiasm for the Nazi ‘national revival’: from instrument builders to teachers to composers and performers of church music. Enthusiastic in their support of national socialism, especially in the early years of the Third Reich, was the young generation of composers who clearly believed in the same myth that lured Russian futurists about twenty years earlier – that the revolution was bound to support ‘new music’ (whatever this was supposed to mean); many artists secretly hoped that this would be their way to recognition and acclaim. They were fascinated with the idea of a state protecting artists and promoting their works. The young composers expected art (like the politics of the day) to encourage national unity and facilitate a new, general integration of society. The economic situation distinctly improved after 1935, which translated into a gradual decrease in the number of unemployed professional musicians. This fuelled the enthusiasm. Careerism and opportunism added to this trend. According to Michael Kater, during the 12 years of the Third Reich’s existence, more than 20,000 politically motivated music compositions were written. Most of them were dedicated to the ruling ideology and to the cult of Hitler himself192.

This situation explains why Goebbels could afford the ‘liberal’ view expressed at the opening of the Reichsmusikkamer (and discussed by Otto Graf) that “the national-socialist state must uphold the principle that art is independent, and lack of intuition may by no means be replaced by organisational structures. Art may develop and flourish only in conditions of maximum possible freedom…”193 ←85 | 86→It also becomes clear why – in the first years of the Nazi rule – Goebbels’s Reichsmusikkammer refused to censor piano recital programmes at Berlin’s concert halls so as not to permit performances of ‘atonal’ music, which was postulated by the influential Nazi critic Dr Fritz Stege194. The ministry’s reply was unequivocal – let the audience pass judgments on the value of the music. Though such a reply was – as often indicated – supported by the authority of the then head of the Reichsmusikkammer, Richard Strauss, it is still a telling fact that the minister backed Strauss against the demands of an influential party activist195.

Naturally, from our present historical perspective and point of view it is easy to accuse the German music circles of that day of conformism, opportunism, short-sightedness, and other (even worse) vices. We should remember, however, what the economic situation was like in Germany in 1933, how long and painful the Great Depression proved to be, and what level of unemployment German musicians had to face, though most of them still remembered the halcyon days and the universal flourishing of music life in the German empire. Germany was one of the world’s richest, most modern and dynamically developing countries, traditionally associated with high culture and its generous support by both the state and private patrons. In the face of the Great Depression in the late 1920s, however, this state was forced to gradually reduce its subsidies for music institutions, which – combined with the bankruptcy of many ←86 | 87→private businesses that had previously supported culture – led to the closure of orchestras, opera houses, music schools and other similar institutions, as well as to a drastic reduction of concert life. No wonder that music circles – like workers and the intelligentsia – had little to thank the Weimar Republic for. Despite the gradual improvement of the situation in the 1930s, in 1936 about 80 % of those lucky musicians who had regular employment earned c. 200 Deutschmarks per month – less than the average worker’s pay. Unemployment among musicians amounted to roughly 20 % - double the country’s average. It was therefore life itself that made musicians – especially those playing wind instruments – enthusiastically greet the formation of the great Wehrmacht, whose different troops in fact competed for who could boast the best brass band. The same was true about paramilitary and youth organisations, each of which wanted to have its own orchestra and its own music events. No wonder, then, that the music environment supported Goebbels, who as early as 1935 launched a programme of financial assistance for unemployed, sick and retired musicians, and imposed on the immensely popular foreign bands that played Schlager und Tanzmusik a tax on their profits in the German Reich (the bands themselves decided about its level) which went toward the maintenance of unemployed German musicians196.

In 1938 the situation was already diametrically different. The economy prospered, fuelled by armaments, while the first territorial conquests provoked such an explosion of musical activity that qualified instrumentalists and singers were in short supply, which persuaded Goebbels to pass a decree guaranteeing a minimum wage in this profession. Moreover, orchestras classified as ‘high culture’ were granted higher fees than dance-and-entertainment bands. It was then that orchestras were divided into five classes, and the musicians’ pay depended on the artistic competences of the given orchestra.

Let us now return to the beginnings of Nazi rule and the high expectations of young composers, and in fact nearly the entire music world in Germany. Those expectations were aroused by an official statement from Walther Funk, secretary of state at the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda (Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda), who represented the state authorities during the general assembly of the German Composers’ Union ←87 | 88→(Berufstand Deutscher Komponisten) held in Berlin on 16th-20th February 1934 and chaired – as the Polish press emphasised – by Richard Strauss himself197. The event was organised on a grand scale, with fine music performances (including a concert of the Berliner Philharmoniker under Wilhelm Furtwängler) and international publicity. Representatives of composers’ associations from several European states were invited to deliver speeches, and the sessions of the assembly were attended by numerous journalists, representatives of the diplomatic corps, and all major figures of German music life in that period, including Richard Strauss, Paul Hindemith, Hans Pfizner, and Otto Schumann. Sweden and other Scandinavian countries (warmly referred to by the German press as ‘the Nordic community’) were represented by the then leading Swedish composer of national orientation, Kurt Atterberg, who was also a music critic. Carol Bérard, vice-president of the French Composers’ Federation, spoke on behalf of his country; Italy was represented by Adriano Lualdi, Austria – by Wilhelm Kienzl, who – to the delight of the hosts – stressed the importance of the “German blood brotherhood”198. Most frequently commented upon by both the German and foreign presses were two speeches. One was given by Richard Strauss, Germany’s highest, widely accepted authority on musical matters and the unquestioned leader of the German composers’ milieu; the other - by Walther Funk, whose statement was greeted as the initial declaration of the new German authorities concerning the centralisation of German music life and the key points of the government’s cultural policy. It was also from Funk’s speech that composers could learn – in general terms – what the new authorities expectations from them were. I will discuss his line of argument here.

Every ‘true art’, claimed Funk, derives from the nation, the people (das Volk). The aim of the new government is to restore the right order of things, in which artistic activity is a concern of the entire nation. The times of ‘uncontrolled liberalism’ under the Weimar Republic led to a total alienation of artists; the nation began to shun contemporary music. At the same time, liberalism and its key tenet – ‘unbridled individualism’ – caused egoism on a massive scale and the disintegration of the national community. It was liberalism that laid the foundation for ultra-modernist tendencies in art, which proved fatal, as they created a gap ←88 | 89→between artists and the nation. The same ideology also contributed to the economic crisis, which placed the artists representing high culture in a catastrophic situation. In the modern world, Funk argued, there are no patrons of art, so the government must extend its protection over art and artists199.

Here, naturally, one must ask whether the work of every (‘racially impeccable’, of course200) German composer will be the subject of such state patronage? In this case, the German press reports interpret Funk’s speech in rather different ways. Fritz Stege, already mentioned above as the leader of Berlin’s music critics, summarised the gist of Funk’s speech briefly as follows: “The main point is not the direction, but the essence of art. The nation (das Volk) will again live in and with art, and artists will be welcomed again by the nation! This is the first task of national-socialist cultural policy with regard to artistic work.”201 Robert Oboussier presented Funk’s views in more detail: “The task of [German] art is to express the essence of German-ness (die deutsche Wesenart). The nation may live in art and with art only when this art grows out of national roots. If these conditions are fulfilled, the state is ready to accept responsibility for artistic patronage.”202

Of crucial importance here seems to be the meaning of the term das Volk and its semantic evolution in the Nazi period. As correctly observed by Petra Garberding203, to the German-speaking observers of the Berlin assembly of composers, this term was associated with ‘the nation’ or ‘the folk’, which fitted in with the (more or less modernised) trend of ‘return to the roots’ strongly present in many European countries at that time, for instance in the works of ←89 | 90→Bartók, Szymanowski, Respighi, Vaughan Williams, and others. By examining the semantic contexts of the Swedish translation in Atterberg’s press reports for the Stockholm press in that period, the Swedish scholar demonstrated that he understood this term in a highly ‘conservative’ way. For the Nazis, however, das Volk was not merely a group of people united by one language and culture. It was now, first and foremost, a racial-biological community, a “community of blood”.

The world learned more about this “community” in the context of the Nazis’ musical-aesthetic demands in 1938 from the previously mentioned article by Fritz Stege204 in the Brussels-based international magazine La Revue Internationale de Musique. Stege wrote that three ideas: those of the nation, the state, and art – must become one. This is necessary because the state is unimaginable without its nation, and the nation – without its own art. Art, on the other hand, cannot exist ‘for its own sake’ without the honour of expressing the nation’s ideas. Should the Germans continue in that direction which developed after the Great War, the German audience would lose all contact with contemporary music and concert halls would be quite empty. Composers would have no other audience but themselves. The author proudly affirms that now, German composers no longer act on behalf of any “narrow group of snobs” but attempt to express the spiritual aspirations of the entire Volksgemeinschaft. The same Volksseele, he claims, was expressed in the past by such masters as Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Brahms. Each of them represented the spirit of the community and deserved to be called a Volkskomponist (here this mythic term again) regardless of whether their works were actually based on German folklore. As we can glean from this statement, a Volkskomponist can express the spirit of the national community and inspire it to follow him, and can create works both original and comprehensible for that community. This is the creative stance that Germany expects from its composers. Naturally, in order to deepen the national community’s perception, the state ought to conduct large-scale and comprehensive activity in the field of the society’s music education. The level of that education must be more or less equal so that the ‘musical Volksgemeinschaft’ becomes a fact. Additionally, classes previously deprived of access to German ‘high music’ will in this process come to accept it as their own, because it has grown from the very centre of the nation’s soul. The immensity and scale of this project is evident in the list of educational-popularising actions carried out in this area: symphonic concerts in factories and small towns far away from large cultural centres, etc.

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The social dimension of music in the German Volksgemeinschaft was described in a somewhat broader historical perspective (most likely expressing the views of NSDAP’s left wing, which is evident in the strongly anti-bourgeois rhetoric) in an extensive study written for the Polish audience by Otto Graf, who wrote in 1935:

“For Germans, the Great War marks the boundary between 19th-century culture and the cultural needs of modern Germany. Before the war the bourgeoisie, made barren by prosperity, opposed the working class which fought for its right to survive. Today our nation is united in the experience of shared calamity. The traditional foundations of culture are questioned and collapse, while the material wealth of the nation and its ideological foundations – individualism and class consciousness – disappear. We must become aware of two indispensable foundations of culture – race and blood – and the fact that even the greatest genius is nothing if he does not form a close bond with the blood of the nation.”205

Graf stressed that striving for the optimal development of the creative individual is no longer the most vital aspect of culture, and the artist should not aim exclusively at expressing his or her ‘inner self’. The artist may not act in isolation from the needs of the nation and ought to consider the nation as “principal and patron, inspiring him to create.” Graf postulates “looking for points of convergence in those instances when pure culture grew exclusively out of the life of the people.” He claims that this was the situation from the 16th to the 18th centuries, when “music was folk music in the most proper sense of the world.” This is why, Graf claims, we now “sense the close bond between the art of that time and the yearnings and desires that still motivate us today.” Apparently afraid that he might be misunderstood (because the Polish audience will read him in translation without access to the original), Graf explains that he certainly does not call for halting progress in music; it is only necessary to prevent extreme and unbridled trends. He also expresses his support for ambitious functional (utilitarian) musical forms and highly praises the earlier achievements of Paul Hindemith in this area, claiming that his works will be “the lodestar for the music of the future” because they were a reaction against “the stifling and hypocritical music from previous decades…”206 The most important imperative, however, for an artist in contemporary Germany must always be “the sense of responsibility for educating the nation.” Mass and modern music education therefore becomes a priority.

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The immense importance of occasional and functional music in the social life of Germany and the generous state support for such music were also the subject of a report from an anonymous correspondent of “Muzyka Polska”, who informed Polish readers in 1936 about the methodical and premeditated “incorporation of music into the life of the nation, and turning music into a living form of applied art, a necessary component of Germany’s collective national life.”207 The correspondent stressed that such music must be adjusted to the community, to the wide social masses in Germany – and must appeal to those masses:

“Hence the slogan: folk song and folk music, that is, the one that originated in the folk now or in the past, and that is comprehensible for this folk. […] The state frequently entrusts the writing of such music to individual composers. They still get lots of experimentation and have not created a uniform style yet, because the movement is too young for that. But its value lies in its very existence…”208

It isn’t difficult to see the similarity between the emphasis on universal communicative qualities and the related official state-inspired postulate of simplifying musical style – and the principles formulated about a dozen years later by socialist realism. The national-socialist propaganda of ‘universal accessibility’ anticipated to a very large extent the rhetoric of socialist realism from its most coarse period. In both cases one must distinguish the postulate of ‘return to simplicity’ by itself from the forms of administrative-political pressure that forced artists to implement this postulate.

One should remember that in the 1930s the music environment in many countries of Europe was evidently tired of the avant-garde sometimes referred to as ‘ultra-modernism’ and associated in popular thinking with dodecaphony, which – in the view of many critics and composers – ‘undermined’ the foundations of European musical culture. An alternative was seen in Emmanuel and Ravel’s neo-modality (praised in 1937 by the Paris-based Dutch critic Fred Goldbeck209), while others saw a chance for rescue and revival in vitalism, neo-Classicism or in the influence of jazz. It must be clearly stated that the very tendency to simplify technical principles is by no means ‘backward’ or reprehensible and has appeared many times in the history of art, for instance in the form of the classicist reaction to the exuberance of the Baroque. Moreover, the ←92 | 93→simplification of technique – even when it evidently took place under pressure – did not prevent great individuals from producing outstanding works of art. Such compositions as Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra, Orff’s Carmina Burana, numerous pieces by Myaskovsky, Shostakovich and Prokofiev prove that on a certain level of artistic mastery, simplification – even that more or less imposed on artists – did not affect the originality of their works. The relevance of the rhetoric that demands ‘creative freedom’ may also be questioned by demonstrating that it does not have a strong historical basis. What kind of ‘creative freedom’ was enjoyed by such artists as Bach, Haydn, and Mozart, not to mention a whole galaxy of earlier masters who left behind epoch-making masterpieces? On the other hand one should remember that the historical transformations of the 19th century extended the autonomy of art to previously unknown dimensions, making this creative freedom – like other civil rights – part of the civilizational canon of modernity, protected by the powerful world of the media, the most influential of which in the early 20th century was the press.

And it was the press – primarily the British press – that immediately pointed out to Fritz Stege that what he described as priorities of the state’s cultural policy became in fact a form of pressure that clearly infringed upon creative freedom. Furthermore, English commentators were aware of just how greatly the attitudes of the Nazi state contrasted in this respect with the openly liberal approach of the fascist authorities in Italy, which made a point of opening up to all creative trends. Considering Hitler’s great esteem for Mussolini as the pioneer figure of the ‘new order’ in Europe and the substantial propagandist benefits from such cultural policies as those adopted by Mussolini – why did the Third Reich opt for a different approach? Even if this new approach was not regulated by any official orders and remained mostly in the sphere of ‘recommendations’? Paradoxically, however it was understood and implemented, the limitations of pluralism in artistic life could only turn against the propagandist interests of the very state that imposed such limitations. It seems obvious that in the best interest of every state, it should aim to achieve global renown for as many artists working under its patronage as possible, which translates into positive reception of the country in the media – regardless of what aesthetic forms the authorities themselves may prefer. Mussolini was certainly aware of this propagandist advantage (I will elaborate on this subject further on). Many years later this mechanism was also understood by the authorities of communist Poland under First Party Secretary Władysław Gomulka, which viewed the avant-garde with a kind eye even though one can hardly suspect them of authentic admiration e.g. for Penderecki’s sonorism. But – as those old enough may still recall – the international success of any Polish citizen was automatically advertised as a success of ←93 | 94→the socialist state (while a Polish citizen’s failure was naturally his or her own private affair…) Why, then, was this mechanism not comprehended by the German minister of propaganda?

It seems that opinions expressed in the Western press made little impression on the German authorities of the time. One should also remember that Germany – as the country that produced the most modern cars, locomotives and aeroplanes – had no complex of ‘civilizational backwardness’ that would need to be compensated by some kind of ‘modernity’ in art. The aforementioned condemnation of the musical avant-garde as a conspiracy of the ‘anti-race’ aiming to destroy the order and harmony of the Aryan culture – definitely excluded any other stance but that presented by Funk, Stege and Graf. In 1933–1936 the obvious political priority was national integration – possibly as thorough as possible – and the Nazis subordinated all their actions to this aim. The task of winning over the hearts and minds210 of as many Germans as possible – especially from among the working class – was much more important that the opinions of the international press. Artistic taste is an indicator of social status, claimed the French sociologist and philosopher Pierre Bourdieux many years later. Making the world of elitist music available to the average German211 (who had previously not been able to afford it, in financial terms) and the authority’s declaration that – regardless of social position – the average German, as part of the mythic Volksgemeinschaft, is the subject and the main addressee of new music212; excellent orchestras performing in front of working-class or small town audiences, which may not have fully understood the masterpieces it heard, but did certainly ←94 | 95→appreciate the gesture itself – all this was a masterstroke of social engineering and propaganda213. These gestures were meant to emphasise the ‘socialist’ programme of the new authorities, which aimed to give everyone equal opportunities and to create conditions for the social-cultural advancement of the very same classes that had traditionally been defended by the left wing. In this way the Nazis deprived the left – gradually pushed to the margin, and soon silenced by arrests – of its chief weapon, winning over the simple folk mostly because all the above-listed gestures were made to look genuine by the improved economic situation and the quickly falling levels of unemployment.

The cultural policy and all levels of social activity were no doubt dominated by paramount purpose of the nation’s total integration around Nazi ideology and around Hitler himself, whose rapidly developing cult inevitably led to the acceptance of the Führer’s tastes and preferences as a model of ‘political-aesthetic correctness’ for the entire state. As we know, apart from Wagner, Hitler was particularly fascinated by Bruckner and Beethoven, but historians stress that Hitler himself did not interfere with current developments in music composition, nor was he really interested in them in fact,214 since he focused on architecture (which resulted in his famous collaboration with Albert Speer)215. On top of this, the Germans were, as I already mentioned, universally aware of the greatness of their own music tradition, and so the regime was interested in the appropriating and propagandist use of that tradition rather than in focusing on new music216. The ←95 | 96→traditional cult of the so-called absolute music in Germany and the fact that the leading Nazi musicologists rejected illustrative and programmatic music as alien to the German spirit (Blessinger) made it inevitably difficult to precisely define those musical categories that were supposed to embody the spirit of national socialism. Stege, for whom (apart from obvious racial criteria and the equally obvious distancing himself from all ‘racially suspect’ experiments) the quality of the music was of paramount importance, saw the continuation of the tradition of great German masters as the criterion of musical quality. He saw this tradition in a rather non-historical perspective as an expression of ‘the soul of the nation’. In 1936 this leading Nazi critic made it clear in his article for “Voelkische Musikerziehung”217 that the composer’s party membership or declared wish to create a composition in the national-socialist spirit do not prove by themselves that the resulting music fulfils this aim. On the other hand, an apolitical composer may write music that reflects the spirit of the new time. A symphony – which as ‘absolute music’ seems to have no obvious relation to National Socialism – may in some circumstances prove more National-Socialist than another work which represents a superficial attempt to represent this ideology. The necessary condition is for the composer’s state of mind, emotions and experiences (which inspire the act of creation to agree with Nazi principles).

This requirement is vague and imprecise at best, which makes the author’s intentions quite clear. The impossibility to verify the circumstances of the creative act leaves only one way of proving the ‘Nazi spirit’ of the composition – the reception of the work by the wide national community, and especially – by its leaders, the Nazi officials. The complex ritual of state and party ceremonies on various levels called for suitable up-to-date, serious and monumental music that could command the respect of the audience and integrate the wide German audience. The safest way to achieve such qualities was to imitate – as closely as possible – the traditional models set forth by Beethoven218, Brahms, Bruckner and Wagner. Thus the dominant (albeit officially not specifically announced) interest of musical aesthetics in the Third Reich was a kind of academism which favoured an eclectic turn toward the national masters of the past as brilliant exponents of ←96 | 97→the mythic supra-historical German Volksseele. This turn focused on the monumental symphonic and large-scale vocal-instrumental forms worthy of the Reich’s splendour and once cultivated by the German masters219. Extremely characteristic in this respect was using the model of Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem with new secular texts glorifying heroes who perished fighting for the Reich, while the traditional references to the Protestant chorales, Bach and Schütz were preserved. Brahms’s masterpiece had already been reinterpreted in a nationalistic vein soon after the reunification of Germany, while early in the 20th century this type of interpretation was attempted by, among others, Max Reger and Hans Pfitzner. Examples of this quasi-religious tendency in the academic-conservative trend of officially approved music in the Third Reich can be found in two compositions of the same title: the Deutsches Heldenrequiem by Gottfried Müller and by Hermann Erdlen, as well as the Totenfeier by Cesar Bresgen220. For obvious reasons, the heroic-national themes returned with double force when Germany began to pay with blood for their aggressive policies.

A different type of inspiration which could potentially lead to the creation of a new National-Socialist style – came from the previously mentioned consideration of ‘was ist Deutsch’ and ‘was ist Nordisch’ in music. This longing for a ‘pure Nordic’ racial ideal in music was clearly reflected in the early years of the Third Reich in the music critics’ largely favourable attitude toward pan-Nordic ideas and the work of Jon Leifs – an Icelandic composer residing in Germany. Leifs claimed that Iceland, thanks to its complete isolation, was the only country that preserved the original uncontaminated Nordic qualities. In the context of ideologically motivated research into ‘racial qualities’, this sounded like a genuine revelation. On the wave of official favour and promoting his thesis about the ‘racial supremacy’ of Icelanders, Leifs successfully published in Germany his ←97 | 98→own settings of Icelandic folksongs and other compositions based on Icelandic folklore221.

Stege personally shared Leifs’s enthusiasm about the search for the ‘Nordic roots’ of German culture (which he actually demonstrated in his compositions of that time, whose titles advertised them as ‘Nordisch’, ‘Volks-’, ‘Deutsch’, etc.). He therefore followed the work of the Icelandic citizen with much hope222.This affair, however, came to an end with a major scandal – disastrous for the idea and for Leifs’s career in the Third Reich, but very fortunate for his later postwar life. In March 1941 at the Berlin Singakademie Leifs presented his Concerto for organ and orchestra, which, though motivically rooted in ‘racially pure’ Icelandic music, was so saturated with brutally dissonant and highly ‘modernist’ harmonies, utterly at odds with the Nazi model of racial correctness – that the fanatical critic had no choice but to condemn Leifs, which marked the definitive end of his German career223.

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But austerity, simplicity, even brutality was no obstacle in gaining the favour of high authorities as long as the music met with an enthusiastic reception of the wide masses. Moreover, despite the undoubtedly influential position of Fritz Stege and Alfred Rosenberg (who supported the critic)224, they did not make key decisions concerning the state’s cultural policies and did not have the last word on the shape of national-socialist music. The real power and decisive voice in this area belonged to Goebbels, who had a part of the state’s apparatus at his disposal, as well as a strong position in the Nazi party. It was Goebbels who decided to back the highly promising Carl Orff as the future pillar of Nazi musical culture, motivated by the enormous success of that Bavarian composer’s magnum opus – the stage cantata Carmina Burana.

All the same, the composer’s road to the winning the favours of the Nazi propaganda minister was rather sinuous225 and led through stormy debates on a topic apparently rather far removed from the ideas of German music in those times – namely, the music of Stravinsky. In a postwar interview, when asked what music was expected from German composers by the authorities in the Third Reich, Gottfried von Einem answered: “as different from Schönberg as possible.”226 In the interwar period, Stravinsky’s works were frequently considered as the precise opposite of Schönberg, which also coincided with the considerable success of his music in Germany. This did not change when the Nazis came to power. A large proportion of music circles as well as a wide audience held the Russian master in high esteem, while among officials and party leaders opinions were divided227. The premiere of Carmina Burana in Frankfurt am Main (1937) met with a mixed reception. Some critics felt outraged at the frivolous sections of the cantata which did not fit in with Nazi moral stance; other were not happy about the ←99 | 100→use of Latin rather than German228. On the other hand, references to Bavarian folklore were noticed as a definite asset of the work, and the scandalising praise of the ‘seven cardinal sins’ might well correspond with the rise of neo-paganism, which emerged triumphant in the years when the Third Reich was at the height of its power. The cantata also anticipated the mood of ‘enjoying life while it lasts’, the hectic pursuit of pleasure by soldiers aware of how precarious their life was on the front. But the most significant attack came from Fritz Stege’s protégé, the Nazi reviewer of the influential Volkischer Beobachter - Herbert Gerigt, and from Heinz Fuhrmann of Niedersächsische Tageszeitung, in their reviews from 15th and 16th June 1937, both critics accused Orff of an ill-fated turn to primitivism, fatalism, and pointed out the distinct influence of Stravinsky’s rhythmic concepts229.

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This was hardly a recommendation. While Orff’s evident indebtedness to Stravinsky was not problematic for the audience and the performers, it was viewed as an ideological dissonance by state officials and by the critics belonging to the NSDAP. When a year later the much discussed exhibition of ‘degenerate music’ opened in Düsseldorf, Stravinsky was one of the targets of ideological attack. His portrait was exhibited with the following note: “Judge for yourselves whether Stravinsky is not a Jew.”230 But the level of this exhibition was so low that even German music circles, known for their loyalty and support for the state authorities, could hardly conceal their disgust231. Peter Raabe, Strauss’s successor as head of the Rechsmusikkamer, protested strongly, and Strauss himself quite clearly criticised the exhibition – albeit in a very diplomatic form. Eminent musicians simply boycotted this event.

Seeing that he had taken things too far, Goebbels soon closed the exhibition. The successive performances of Orff’s cantata in 1938 brought him such enormous success that one could hardly pretend to ignore it. Eventually Goebbels passed a highly positive judgment on Orff’s composition, praising its “splendid beauty” and the composer’s “highly promising talent.”232 Such words, coming as they did from an omnipotent Nazi minister, put an end to all discussions, and from 1939 onward Orff experienced his ‘golden days’: commissions, performances, high earnings, and most of all – the minister’s favours, which was reflected in the (obviously centrally controlled) positive opinions of the German press.

It is hard to say to what extent political pragmatism proved more important here than ideological correctness. On the other hand, from the purely ideological point of view Carmina Burana was not as problematic as the fundamentalists from Rosenberg’s circles might see it. Austerity and simplicity bordering on primitivism, as well as brute force of sound were, after all, aesthetic qualities ←101 | 102→that fitted in very well with the Nazi cult of power, contempt for all decadence and refinement, as well as the declared return to the pagan roots233. Stravinsky’s music may not have been a well-received model of composition technique, but one could hardly fail to notice that it was Stravinsky who opposed Schönberg and, though considered a modernist, was never proven to be a Jew. He was a kind of ‘lesser evil’, and the spontaneous reaction of the German audience was a key argument for the ideologists, especially in the light of the doctrine of the German Volksgemeinschaft’s infallible ‘racial instinct’.

Research carried out by Michael Kater234 has revealed documents which prove that Goebbels intended to use the trend represented by Orff as a model for the future of national-socialist music. Discouraged by the eclecticism, derivative and conservative character of German music in that period, Goebbels clearly meant to use his influence to create a kind of Nazi ‘modernism’. However, these ambitious plans were put off until later and eventually thwarted by the fall of the Third Reich. One could argue that the omnipotent Nazi official and the all-powerful Nazi state experienced the truth of the opening and closing motto of that very same musical work which they greeted as the correct response to its official stylistic norms: “Fortune is fickle.”

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185 Painter, Musical Aesthetics, p. 121. Notably, doubts concerning the totalitarian character of the Third Reich were also formulated by the German historian Martin Broszat, for whom the social-political system of the Nazi state was determined more by a rivalry between party and state bureaucrats than by Hitler’s authority as a dictator.

186 Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, pp. 380–392.

187 Cf. Carl Friedrich, Zbigniew Brzeziński, Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy, (New York: Harvard University Press, 1961), pp. 52–54; Norman Davies, Europa. Rozprawa historyka z historią [Europe. A Historian’s Dispute with History], (Kraków: Znak,1999), pp. 1017–1027.

188 Painter, Musical Aesthetics, pp. 121–122.

189 Joseph Goebbels, “Zehn Grundsätze deutschen Musikschaffens”, in: Amtliche Mitteilungen der Reichsmusikkammer 5, No. 11 (1938), quoted after: Albrecht Dümling, Peter Girth, (eds.). Entartete Musik: eine kommentierte Rekonstruktion, (Düsseldorf: Servicedruck Kleinherne, 1988), p. 123;. See also: David B. Dennis, Inhumanities: Nazi Interpretations of Western Culture (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 176–177. Some scholars believe that Goebbels’ “Ten Principles” simply reflected the Propaganda Minister’s own personal tastes and were symptomatic of his ignornce in serious music. See: Robert Warren Bailey, Performing for the Nazis: Foreign Musicians in Germany, 1933–1939, MA diss. University of Calgary, Alberta, 2015, pp. 9–10,

190 Muzyka Polska (No. 2, p. 106) informed early in 1939 that the Reichsmusikkammer established a music censorship office in order to “prevent the performance of undesirable or harmful works.” From the report we learn, however, that the harmfulness was usually associated with racial origin. Cf. also: A. E. Steinweis, Art., Ideology, and Economics In Nazi Germany: The Reich Chambers of Music, Theater, and the Visual Arts, (Chapel Hill (NC): University of North Carolina Press, 1993), pp. 138–142 and Ursula Geisler, “Political Music Censorship: Some Remarks on Nazi Music Regulations 1933–1945”, Danish Musicology Online Special Edition, 2015, pp. 77– 89,

191 Painter, “Musical Aesthetics”, p. 122.

192 It should be noted that the Führer, seeing how art was becoming a convenient springboard for mediocre artists’ careers, forbid the dedication of new music works to him (1935). Cf. Michael H. Kater, The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 13.

193 Cf.: Otto Graf, “Organizacja życia muzycznego w Niemczech” [Organisation of Music Life in Germany], Muzyka Polska, VI, 1935, p. 114. Similarly ‘liberal’ views were expressed by Goebbels also much later. Stephen McClatchie quotes Goebbels’ letter of 19th November 1943 to Hans Lammers, where he wrote that every act of official censorship is a threat to “the development of German culture.” Cf.: Stephen McClatchie, “Wagner Research as ‘Service to the People’: The Richard –Wagner Forschungsstätte, 1938–1945”, in: Music and Nazism: Art under Tyranny, 1933–1945, Michael H. Kater and Albrecht Riethmuller (eds), (Laaber: Laaber-Verlag, 2003), p. 160.

194 German musicians recalled that Stege was notorious for his fanaticism and for ruthlessly eliminating his aesthetic opponents. For instance, in 1934 he denounced Hans Stuckenschmidt to the authorities for his involvement in the defence of artistic freedom, new musical ideas and musicians of Jewish origin. As a result Stuckenschmidt was banned from publishing (Schreibverbot), which led him to choose emigration later. Cf.: Frank Hilberg: “Vom Protagonisten zum Anachronisten – Zu einer Textsammlung von Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt”, in: Musik Texte Nr. 134 (2012), p. 91.

195 As we know, the Nazis did not collaborate with the famous composer for too long. In 1935 the Gestapo intercepted a letter from Strauss to Stephen Zweig, in which Strauss distanced himself from racial policies and admitted that he used the post of head of the Rechsmusikkammer to play a game with the regime and prevent an even worse situation in musical life. Disgusted and indignant, Goebbels suggested dismissing Strauss, officially because of his old age and deteriorating health.

196 Detailed statistical data concerning the improvement of the situation of German musicians, a higher level of employment, and growing number of orchestras and music theatres in Germany in 1931–1936 were published in “Muzyka Polska” in January 1936: anon. “Kronika: Niemcy - Nowe hasła” [The Chronicle – Germany – The New Slogans], Muzyka Polska, Jan. 1936, pp. 83–84. See also: Kater, The Twisted Muse, pp. 7–11.

197 Cf. Anon. “Kronika”, Muzyka, No. 3 (113) 1934, p. 136.

198 Cf.: Petra Garberding, “‘We Take Care of the Artist’: The German Composers’ Meeting in Berlin, 1934” Music & Politics 3, No. 2 (Summer 2009),;view=fulltext, accessed: 20.06.2014.

199 Based on the report of Kurt Atterberg, quoted after: Garberding, “We Take Care of the Artist”, pp. 6–7.

200 Giselher Schubert, “The Aesthetic Premises of a Nazi Conception of Music,” trans. Steven Lindberg and Joan Evans, in Music and Nazism: Art Under Tyranny, 1933–1945, eds. Michael H. Kater and Albrecht Riethmüller (Laaber: Laaber-Verlag, 2003). According to Schubert’s correct observation the substance of the National Socialist aesthetics of music was mainly racist and political. pp. 64–65.

201 Fritz Stege, “Der Deutsche Komponistentag”, Der Berliner Westen, 19 Febr. 1934: “Es geht nicht um die Richtung der Kunst, sondernd um die Art der Kunst. Das Volk soll wieder in der Kunst und der Kunstler im Volke leben! Das is die erste Aufgabe drer nationalsozialistischen Kunstpolitik”. Quote after: Garberding, “We Take Care of the Artist”, p. 8.

202 Robert Oboussier, “Der schaffende Musiker in neuen Deutschland. Erster deutscher Komponistentag”, Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, 19 Febr. 1934, quote after Garberding, “We take Care of the Artist”. p. 7.

203 Garberding, “We Take Care of the Artist”, pp. 7–8.

204 Fritz Stege, “Die gegenwartige Lage der deutschen Musik”, La Revue Internationale de Musique, 1/1, March-Apr. 1938, pp. 77–84.

205 Graf, “Organizacja życia muzycznego”, p. 121.

206 Graf, “Organizacja życia muzycznego”, p. 125.

207 Anon. “Kronika: Niemcy – Nowe hasła” [The Chronicle – Germany – The New Slogans], Muzyka Polska, I 1936, p. 80.

208 Anon. “Kronika”, pp. 80–81.

209 Fred Goldbeck, “La musique dans l’exposition internationale de 1937”, Numero special de la Revue Musicale, 1937, pp. 85–91.

210 This was clearly stressed by Goebbels in his speeches. For instance, at the 1934 Parteitag in Nuremberg he said that for what is important for maintaining authority is not brute force but “winning over the heart of the nation, and not letting it go” (das Herz eines Volkes zu gewinnen und es auch zu behalten). Quoted after: Bernd Sponheuer, “Nationalsozialismus”, in: Musik In Geschichte und Gegenwart, 2003, Sachteil, Vol. VII, p. 26.

211 As early as 1934, Goebbels stated emphatically that from that moment on every German, regardless of social class, will have access to the opera and to other forms of high musical culture, previously reserved for the financially privileged strata. This gesture was praised by some British commentators. Cf.: Eric Levi, “Appeasing Hitler? Anglo-German Music Relations, 1933–1939”, in: Music and Propaganda In the Short 20th Century, Massimiliano Sala (ed.), (Turnhout: Brepols, 2014), p. 27.

212 In a speech delivered at Berlin Opera on 26th November 1937, Goebbels stressed that people look to the theatre and the concert hall for what they are missing in their everyday lives: namely - beauty, nobility, wonder and illusion. Quoted after Sponheuer, “Nationalsozialismus”, p. 27.

213 We may note a certain analogy to the new type of ‘egalitarian’ relation between officers and low-ranking soldiers, as described by the US correspondent in Berlin William L. Shirer. From the moment the Wehrmacht was formed, the old divisions of class and caste were abolished in favour of a protective attitude on the part of the officers, so that soldiers would feel they are the subjects, not objects, in the military structures. Cf.: William L. Shirer, Dziennik berliński [The Berlin Diary, originally published: New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1941], transl. J. Kudliński, (Warsaw: Bellona, 2007), pp. 328–329.

214 More on the musical interests of the dictator of the Third Reich in reports of eyewitnesses in: Christa Schroeder, Byłam sekretarką Hitlera [I Was Hitler’s Secretary], transl. M. Podwysocka, Warsaw: Bellona, 1999, pp. 170–171, English edition: He Was My Chief: The Memoirs of Adolf Hitler’s Secretary, Engl. transl. Geoffrey Brooks, (Barnsley, Yorkshire: Frontline Beeks, 2012).

215 Cf. Painter, Musical Aesthetics, p. 123

216 More on political manipulation by means of national-musical myths in: Iwona Massaka, Muzyka jako instrument wpływu politycznego [Music as an Instrument of Political Influence], (Łódź: Ibidem, 2009), pp. 204–207. See also: Bernd Sponheuer, “The National Socialist Discussion on the ‘German Quality’ in Music,” in Music and Nazism: Art Under Tyranny, 1933–1945, eds. Michael H. Kater and Albrecht Riethmüller (Laaber: Laaber-Verlag, 2003), pp. 32–42.

217 Fritz Stege, a statement in: Volkische Musikerziehung. III, 1936, p. 91, quoted after: Josef Wulf, Musik im Dritten Reich: Eine Dokumentation, (Frankfurt am Main: Ullstein Verlag, 1983), p. 247, see also: Painter, “Musical Aesthetics”, p. 127.

218 Cf. David B. Dennis, Beethoven in German Politics, 1870–1989 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996).

219 See Karen Painter, Symphonic Aspirations: German Music and Politics, 1900–1945 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), pp. 212–18. Painter focuses on politically and ideologically biased way of reception of the great heritage of German symphonic music and the role of professional music criticism in the dissemination of specific ideologies among German audiences.

220 Cf.: Katherine FitzGibbon, Deutsches Heldenrequiem: Secular Requiem In the Third Reich as an Extension of German Tradition, a paper delivered at the international conference State Music and Dictatorship, Paris, EHESS, 14th–16th May 2009; cf. also: eadem, “Gottfiried Mullers Deutsches Heldenrequiem (1934): Nazi Ideology Cloaked in Historic Style”, in: Composing for the State. Music in Twentieth-Century Dictatorships, E. Buch, I. C. Zubillaga, M. D. Silva (eds), Abington 2016, pp. 70–82.

221 According to a report by Nancy Fleetwood ofromAugust 1935, a ‘Nordische Abend’ was held in Berlin in the summer of that year. The Berliner Philharmoniker under Hermann Stange played, among others, Jon Leifs’s Iceland Overture and Sibelius’s Symphony No. 5. Cf.: Nancy Fleetwood, “Musical Notes from Abroad:Germany” The Musical Times Vol. 76, No 110, Aug. 1935, p. 749.

222 Already in 1933, in the context of debates concerning the staging of Leoš Janáček’s Jenůfa in German opera houses, Stege argued that German operas ought to promote Nordic composers rather than Slavs or Hungarians. Cf.: Fritz Stege, “Die Reinigung des deutschen Opernspielplans”, Zeitschrift fur Musik, Jahrgang 100 (1933). pp. 487–488.

223 Stege was in this case supported by the audience, which ostentatiously left the concert hall during the performance of the piece. Leifs wrote his Organ Concerto for about 13 years (between 1917 and 1930). It represents his mature style based mainly on a synthesis of Icelandic folk motifs with elements of medieval technique (parallel forths and fifths) and parallel chords that sometimes led to bold, massive accumulations of dissonances. Extremely characteristic is the opening of the Concerto – aggressive organ ‘clusters’ set against powerful timpani strokes and chordal shifts in the orchestral part. It is hard to understand Leifs’s decision to perform this piece at that particular place and time. Having lived for many years in Germany, he must have known what the authorities and the audience expected him to produce, and his position in the Third Reich was rather precarious since his wife was a German Jew. He used his personal connections to guarantee himself and his family a safe departure from Germany in 1943. Cf.: Hallgrimur Helgason, Jon Leifs, MGG, 2003, Vol. 10, pp. 1523–1524; see also: Hallgrimur Helgason, “Der islandische Komponist Jon Leifs und seine Idee der Nationalen Schule”, in: Broschure der Freiherr vom Stein-Stiftung, Hamburg 1980, pp. 17–32.

224 As the 1930s were wearing on Stege – evidently aware of who held the real authority over culture in the Third Reich – distanced himself more and more from Rosenberg, until he finally he became Goebbels’s loyal henchman.

225 Cf. Kater, “Carl Orff in Dritten Reich”, Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, 43, 1 (January 1995), pp. 1–35,

226 Kater, The Twisted Muse, p. 177. Paradoxically, Schönberg’s statements from the 1930s prove his extreme nationalistic views. He stressed that his music derived from the German tradition and was free of any alien influences. He also claimed that his music could effectively thwart the hegemonic expansion of Romance and Slavic cultures. Cf.: A. Schönberg Nationale Musik, (1931): English reprint as.: National Music, in: idem: Style and Idea, L. Stein (ed.), Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984 pp. 169–174.

227 Joan Evans, “Stravinsky’s Music in Hitler’s Germany,” “Journal of the American Musicological Society” No. 56, 2003, pp. 525–594.

228 Already after the war, Orff used this argument himself to authenticate the thesis concerning his supposedly critical attitude toward the regime. Cf. Michael H. Kater, Composers of the Nazi Era – Eight Portraits, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 112. In the chapter entitled Carl Orff: Man of Legend (pp. 111 – 143) Kater summarises the postwar debate about Orff’s past, quoting, among others, various highly regarded German musicologists (including Carl Dahlhaus), who resolutely rejected any attempts to accuse the composer of conformism. On the other hand, Kater underlines the very telling fact that Orff accepted the commission for music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream which – owing to the Nazi policy of Aryanising concert programmes – was to replace Mendelssohn’s masterpiece on German concert stages. Other composers such as R. Strauss and Pfitzner distanced themselves from these kind of commissions.Though it would be hard to demonstrate that Orff shared the Nazi ideology, the data collected by Kater undermine the theses of apologists who defended the Bavarian composer. See also: Richard Taruskin,“Can We Give Poor Orff a Pass at Last?”, in: Taruskin, The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays, (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2009), pp. 161–167.

229 Herbert Gerigk, “Problematisches Opernwerk auf dem Tonkünstlerfest:,,Carmina Burana” von Carl Orff,” in Völkische Beobachter (Berliner Ausgabe), Nr. 167, 16 June 1937, p. 5, Heinz Fuhrmann, “Zum Tonkünstlerfest 1937 des Allgemeinen Deutschen Musikvereins in Frankfurt a.M. und Darmstadt,” Niedersächsische Tageszeitung (Hannover), Nr. 136, 15 June 1937. Quoted after: Andrew S. Kohler “ ‘Grey C’, Acceptable”: Carl Orff’s Professional and Artistic Responses to the Third Reich, PhD diss., University of Michigan 2015, pp. 157–158, Accessed: 30 .08.2018, see also: David B. Dennis, War on Modern Music and Music in Modern War: Voelkischer Beobachter Reception of 20th Century Composers (Chicago: Loyola University, 2010), p. 7. accessed: 10.11.2018.

230 Cf. Ludwik Erhardt, Igor Strawiński, (Warszawa: PIW, 1978), p. 268. According to Joan Evans this question was retained in Stravinsky’s memory as a “more straightforward version of the racial slur” in the original caption under the portrait which asked “Who invented the story that Stravinsky comes from the Russian nobility?” (Evans, “Stravinsky’s music” p. 570). Evans reconstructs the story of Stravinsky’s formal complaint which he submitted to German authorities (Evans, “Stravinsky’s Music”, pp. 569–577).

231 Chracteristic is the ironic comment in the annoucement of this infamous exhibition in“Muzyka Polska” suggesting that it is the “German press” – not musicians – who decide about which works are “degenerate”, Cf. “Kronika – Niemcy” [Chronicle– Germany], Muzyka Polska No 5, 1938, p. 249.

232 Kater, Composers…, p. 132.

233 On the other hand, as Andrew S. Kohler aptly observes, there are many dark moments in Carmina Burana: “In the context of totalitarianism, it is not surprising that Orff’s works contain many sardonic, ironic, and grotesque elements, similar to what Dmitri Shostakovich was writing in the context of Soviet Russia at the same time”, Kohler “‘Grey C’, Acceptable”, p. 133.

234 Kater, Twisted Muse., pp. 45–46.