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More on Music in Nazi Germany

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Le IIIe Reich et la musique, Cité de la MusiqueIn a recent post (Music in Nazi Germany, October 11), I translated part of an article on a new exhibit in Paris, Le IIIe Reich et la musique, at the Cité de la Musique in Paris (until January 9, 2005). In the same issue of Le Monde, Marie-Aude Roux has also published an interview (La barbarie mélomane du IIIe Reich [The music-loving barbarism of the Third Reich], October 10) with the exhibit's head curator, Pascal Huynh. Here is a translated excerpt:

Is a historian totally capable of dealing with the particular difficulties of this period?

We know that an artist who made the choice to stay in Germany, whether or not he was a member of the Nazi Party, but who was affiliated with the Reich's musical organization, could be induced to give concerts for the Waffen-SS. What is more difficult to understand are all the attempts at cleaning the slate after the war: the soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, who pretends that at the time everyone stopped reading Mein Kampf at page 10, or the conductor Karl Böhm, noted ambassador of Nazi politics, whose memoirs, I Remember Exactly, are for the most amnesiac.

When we consult the archives, sometimes you have to force yourself to keep from throwing up. In music more than anything else, denazification was almost inexistent. The case of the conductor Furtwängler is a special case, the only one where investigations went deeper, while at the same time we know that Furtwängler was very critical and distant concerning the regime—Goebbels himself recognized that he was never a National Socialist. But official composers like Werner Egk or Carl Orff continued to function at the highest levels in postwar Germany. [...]

Has your work encountered resistance?

I contacted thirty-some German institutions without the least opposition, even at Bayreuth. To the contrary, the Germans have encouraged us a lot. For them, this work of remembering began in the 1960s. In 1988, in Berlin, there was major progress with the reconstruction of the famous exhibit in 1938 of "degenerate music." Resistance came instead from the French side. Many thought that we should not stir any of this up, to revisit old crimes. For some artists, there was a hesitation to play music that had been marked with the sign of infamy. We also had some public opposition, but we hope that it can get over its doubt. The reclaiming of art as something complicit with barbarism is something truly difficult to accept.
From Edouard Launet, Le IIIe Reich et l'épuration rythmique [The Third Reich and rhythmic cleansing] (Libération, October 9):
In opposition to the avant-garde movement of the 20s, the Reich wanted a return to the heaviest academic style. Or, rather, it imposed it. It is this confrontation between the Third Reich's canons of beauty and the so-called degenerate music that the exhibit portrays. The best example: you will see side by side two set designs for Beethoven's Fidelio, one by Ewald Dülberg from 1927, rather modern and Bauhaus in look, the other by Edward Suhr (assistant to the official designer of the Reich), from 1938, troubling in its platitude.
From Bertrand Dermoncourt, La musique sous la botte nazie [Music beneath the Nazi boot] (L'Express, October 11):
A photograph, selected for the exhibit Le IIIe Reich et la musique, shows to what degree Wagner's home and the Bayreuth Festspielhaus had become the temple of National Socialism. For Hitler's birthday, in 1939, giant banners bearing his image had been put up. According to Nazi ideology, the German people were "the premier musical people of the earth" and Wagner was its hero. To such a degree that the Rienzi overture, the composer's youthful attempt, became according to Hitler's wishes the official anthem of the party's ceremonies, and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg the cult opera of National Socialism. For several years, Bayreuth was presented as a media event as well as a messianic one.
I'll be following the concerts and other events associated with this remarkable exhibit, as much as I can through the French press. Stay tuned.

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