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10.10.04

Music in Nazi Germany

In an article (Les goûts et les dégoûts musicaux des nazis, October 10) for Le Monde, Catherine Bédarida describes a new exhibit, Le IIIe Reich et la musique, at the Cité de la Musique in Paris (until January 9, 2005). Here is a translated excerpt:

From the last fires of the avant-garde, in the 1920s, to the concentration camps and Paul Celan's Deathfugue, the exhibit "The Third Reich and Music" has opted for an explanative rather than shocking course. Paintings, engravings, stage decoration, scores, concert posters, films: a profusion of original works, rarely shown in France, lend notably by Germany, allow you to feel and understand the tight links between the Nazis and this art. At the entrance to the exhibit, Lothar Heinemann's poster proclaims "Germany, country of music": you see there the German state eagle merged with a pipe organ. For Joseph Goebbels, the German people "are the premier musical nation on the earth."

Le IIIe Reich et la musique


La musique sous la République de Weimar
Conscious of the importance of this art, the regime organized a large exhibit in Munich in 1938, dedicated to "German art." The Musée de la musique shows examples of the kind of painting approved by the Nazis: rural or military scenes, exaltation of the German blood and soil. Next to them, a Kandinsky (Composition IX) and lithographs by Oskar Kokoschka made on Bach cantatas belong to the proscribed works. At the same time they were destroying, as shown in a 1936 photo, the statue of Mendelssohn—he was Jewish—Hitler was bowing before his icons: Bach, Händel, Beethoven, Anton Bruckner were allowed posters, busts, massive and menacing statues. One room is dedicated to Richard Wagner, the grand figure with whom the Nazis identified themselves. The autograph score of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, lent for only the second time since 1902, is open to the page of the celebrated chorus [from "Ehrt eure deutschen Meister"]: "The Holy Roman Empire may fall, but the holy German art will always remain."
In the same issue of Le Monde, Marie-Aude Roux has also published an interview (La barbarie mélomane du IIIe Reich, October 10) with the exhibit's head curator, Pascal Huynh, who said that "in music more than anything else, there was almost no denazification." People familiar with the subject of music in Germany may know Huynh's previous book, La musique sous la République de Weimar (Fayard, 1998). (You can buy it from Amazon.fr.) The first point that he chose to make in the interview is that the goal of the exhibit was "not polemic but proceeds from a duty of remembering from a historical perspective." The interview is interesting enough that I will translate it later this week.

There are all sorts of great performances and conferences associated with the exhibit. Twenty-five concerts are scheduled, including Viktor Ullmann's opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis, performed at the Theresienstadt concentration camp, which will be performed on October 22 to 24. Other concerts are organized in four cycles: "Officials and the Defamed" (through October 17); "The Terezin Camp" (October 21 to 24); "Richard Strauss and the Vienna School" (Novmeber 13 to 24); and "The Cabaret" (November 24 to 28). Gérald Caillat's film Opéra et IIIe Reich and Herbert Wernicke's film version of Ernst Krenek's opera Jonny Spielt auf will be screened on October 16. Conferences will focus on the general subject of the Third Reich and Music (October 9) and on Music at Terezin (October 23).

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