Composers of the Nazi Era: Eight Portraits
Michael H. Kater
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How does creativity thrive in the face of fascism? How can a highly artistic individual function professionally in so threatening a climate?
Composers of the Nazi Era is the final book in a critically acclaimed trilogy that includes Different Drummers (OUP 1992) and The Twisted Muse (OUP 1997), which won the Wallace K. Ferguson Prize of the Canadian Historical Association. Here, historian Michael H. Kater provides a detailed study of the often interrelated careers of eight prominent German composers who lived and worked amid the dictatorship of the Third Reich, or were driven into exile by it: Werner Egk, Paul Hindemith, Kurt Weill, Karl Amadeus Hartmann, Carl Orff, Hans Pfitzner, Arnold Schoenberg, and Richard Strauss. 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 may be discerned from their music. After chapters discussing the circumstances of each composer individually, Kater concludes with an analysis of the composers' different responses to the Nazi regime and an overview of the sociopolitical background against which they functioned. The final chapter also extends the discussion beyond the end of World War II to examine how the composers reacted to the new and fragile democracy in Germany.
was premiered in the Bavarian capital—all conducted by him. In May 1939, on his seventieth birthday, the Richard Wagner League of German Women under Minister-President Ludwig Siebert’s chairmanship held a celebration by reading from his works, but of course the Führer’s boycott for Munich was in place and no music was heard. Wrote an embittered Pﬁtzner to a colleague: “I am sitting there in Munich, isolated. I don’t think I will need Munich and shall retreat, instead, to Salzburg.”125 The master
his wife’s insistence. Pﬁtzner’s meeting with Hitler in 1923 had failed, claimed the attorney Leer, because the composer had “sharply” defended the Jews. Schoenberg’s genuine impulse to help out his colleague in distress by professing that he had always known Pﬁtzner as a German nationalist in the tradition of Wagner, “hence slightly tainted by anti-Semitism,” but otherwise as someone who would never have made concessions to the regime, rang hollow from a confessing Jew who, in the 1930s, had
whether Hindemith, in the ﬁrst two years of Nazi rule, was merely content with sitting still and waiting things out, as some letters of the period suggest, and which is the leading theme of traditional Hindemith biography.34 There was, after all, that surprising and ego-ﬂattering interest shown in him and his talents by prominent regime agencies, as well as the unequivocal backing he received from his Berlin conservatory colleagues, a number of whom were exposed Nazis and one of whom,
manifested arrogance. This attitude cost him performance chances. Thus, in December 1934, Felix Galimir, of the Viennese Galimir Quartet, had to inform him that in what 98 c o m p o s e rs o f t h e n a z i e r a later was to become Hartmann’s Carillon string quartet, there were a lot of harmonies “which one cannot play (actually getting them to sound),” assuring him at the same time that in the notation nothing had been changed from his original intentions. However, on the whole the piece
Carmina Burana and the propitious relationship with Vienna ran parallel to and sometimes interrelated with other compositional achievements. Orff’s penchant for fairy tales and legend that had already attracted him to A Midsummer Night’s Dream produced the fairy opera Der Mond, in Munich under Clemens Krauss in February 1939, and the parable Die Kluge, premiered four years later, once again in Frankfurt. There also was Catulli Carmina, from a workmanship perspective an inferior sequel to Carmina