Today, we are living through a time when, even in a democracy, conformity of the artist or composer’s role in society to a “social justice” agenda is becoming the paramount qualification for acceptance. The corollary, shared with all dictatorial societies of both Communist and Fascist persuasions, is to subordinate the artist’s individuality to the collectivity. In today’s increasingly anti-democratic, anti-individualistic environment, artistic autonomy and freedom are being undermined by tendentious ideology. When art serves it, the result is often bombastic kitsch combined with misappropriation of the great artistic achievements of the past. Here is a lesson from history.

In my 1999 Cambridge Handbook on Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, I cited Goebbels’ claim that, “The artist undeniably has the right to call himself non-political in a period when politics consists of nothing but shouting matches between parliamentary parties. But at this moment when politics is writing a national drama, when a world is being overthrown—in such a moment the artist cannot say: ‘That doesn’t concern me.’ It concerns him a great deal.”

With this quote, I introduced a discussion of how the Nazis instrumentalized masterpieces of classical music—in this case (the Slavic) Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique—to promote its ideology when its “own music” proved unequal to the task. In his diary entry for April 11, 1933, Goebbels noted the important role music would play for the new regime: “the agitation of the Jewish press still has an impact today. People think we are good politicians but bad art lovers. The future will show how deeply wrong they were.” In the October–November 1934 issue of Musik und Volk, reprinted excerpts from Hitler’s November 5 “cultural speech” at the Nuremberg Rally announcing that the artistic production of “God-gifted” geniuses would be stimulated by commissions from the state, enabling them to express their gratitude by singing praises to the “greatness of the epoch.” 

Otto zur Nedden’s program accompanying Hans Severus Ziegler’s June 1938 exhibition of “Degenerate Music” attempted to unpack the implications of Hitler’s statement. Under the headline, “A Nazi Campaign Against ‘Musical Microbes.’ More ‘Degenerates’ in the Pillory,” the Manchester Guardian reported on the planning of this exhibition published in Goebbels’ newspaper Der Angriff:

An “exhibition of degenerate music” is to be opened…. It will be recalled that an exhibition of degenerate art was opened at the same time as the German House of Art revealed the treasures of orthodoxy in Munich last year. Since then this exhibition in various forms has been on tour in Germany…. The purpose of the degenerate music exhibition is, as the “Angriff” declares tonight, to put into the pillory musical composers who are alien in spirit to the people, to reveal their supporters, and to divest many of them of the preposterously assumed title of master. The exhibition is also directed against slogans and catchwords of musical degeneracy, such as atonality and jazz, against the crowding of opera repertories with the works of foreign composers and against the irresponsible praise or condemnation by silence of musical criticism.

On June 8, shortly after the exhibition opened, The Guardian described in detail how Ziegler and zur Nedden’s “sound examples” were projected to create a cacophony of sound, corresponding to the visual chaos of the cluttered and haphazard hanging of paintings and presentation of sculptures in the companion exhibition in the visual arts. Their aim was to contrast Sibelius’ racially sound, “healthy” strains in Finlandia with Stravinsky’s degenerate cacophony in the “sick” music of Sacre:

War is being waged against atonal music as a phase of “Jewish cultural Bolshevism” with great vigour at the exhibition of “degenerate music” at Düsseldorf. The object of the exhibition is to teach the German public to appreciate the beauty of what is accepted by National Socialism as orthodox music. The public is given an opportunity of hearing both “orthodox” and “unorthodox” music, much as it was given the opportunity at Munich last year of seeing “orthodox” art and the “degeneracy” of expressionism, Cubism, and Dadaism…. Visitors to the exhibition enter the doorless cubicles and press white buttons in each of them, whereupon a gramophone plays atonal selections from Stravinsky, Arnold Schönberg, Hindemith, Ernst Krenek, and other composers whose works are either frowned upon or fully prohibited here. The result is a tremendous clash of muddled atonal sound when several cubicles are in use at once. 

Richard Strauss participated in the “Reich Music Days” by conducting his opera Arabella (1930–1932) just three days after the opening of the “Degenerate Music” exhibition. The message was clear: Arabella was exactly the kind of “healthy” music that the Third Reich would promote as opposed to that of the “degenerate” Modernists. Strauss then graciously provided the musical backdrop for Goebbels’ speech at the same event by conducting a version of his Festliches Präludium with expanded orchestration, after which the Reichsminister hectored his audience of German performers and composers that no longer would the regime tolerate “the bare constructivism of Jewish experiment displacing clear lines and melody from the heart.” A year later, at the next Reich Music Days (in 1939), Goebbels summarized state policy to “cancel” all non-conformist music, insisting that “it is a particular responsibility of the state, her various bodies, and of the trade organizations of musicians in Germany, to remove the encroachments by alien elements which endanger our musical creativity. Here the nation and her responsible bodies act as the gardener who must pull out the weeds in order to let the real fruit grow, ripen, and flourish.” 

But what happens when you “cancel”—persecute and exile—the majority of the individualistic geniuses active in Germany and Central Europe—for example Schönberg, Berg, Hindemith, Stravinsky, Bartók, Křenek, and a whole host of Jewish composers—who do not fit your conformist mold? Who will replace them?

The answer is to lionize the two remaining internationally recognized “German-friendly”—Nazi-supportive—composers, Richard Strauss and the Finn Jean Sibelius, and underwrite a whole cadre of ideologically compliant mediocrities like Gottfried Müller (1914–1993). Today, Müller is virtually unknown—not even meriting an entry in either the Revised New Grove or the new MGG—but during the Third Reich he was regarded as a poster-boy genius. In 1934, at the tender age of 19, he attained prominence for his Deutsches Heldenrequiem (German Heroes Requiem), op. 4, dedicated to Hitler. In December 1934, a German newspaper boasted that “already a generation of composers arises in Germany that creates entirely in the spirit of National Socialist Germany. There is the young Gottfried Müller who, among various things, has created the German Heroes Requiem, a work of vivid greatness and meaningful beauty.” Goebbels had high hopes for Müller; in his diary entry for November 17, 1936, he remarked, “Evening in Berlin. Rehearsals for the yearly meeting of the Chamber of Culture. A number of modern works, …especially Variationen über Morgenrot by Gottfried Müller—a memorable evening. The Berlin Philharmonic plays wonderfully. I give them good praise.” On December 2, 1936, Goebbels noted happily in his diary concerning Müller that he was “a great national hope,” who, in order to compose, had been exempted from his second year of military service by the Führer. In April 1937, Goebbels and Hitler attended a rehearsal of the Requiem sung by the Bruno Kittel Choir; Goebbels noted: “he [Müller] wrote it when he was 19. [He is] one that is still immature, but volcanic, skillful, bold, modern, but musical. Maybe a really great talent for the future. The Führer is very impressed by it. Furtwängler, who is there, is also very positive. Müller is still young, he still seems completely unconscious and not at all experienced. But that is also his strength.” In November 1941, the conductor Elmendorff wrote to Gerda Troost, widow of the architect of the House of German Art in Munich, who belonged to Hitler’s private circle. Proposing to play Müller’s setting of “Five Führer Words” for the dictator, he described the piece as “the greatest musical glorification of the Führer’s genius for this century. Tietjen is planning the premiere of the work under my direction in Bayreuth after the war in the presence of the Führer. Müller and I would like to know the Führer’s point of view. Should we wait or should we present this brilliant piece based on five sayings of the Führer to the German people as soon as possible?”

While Strauss, Sibelius, and Furtwängler, as the regime’s musical superstars, were awarded huge sums for their cooperation, the lesser lights were not forgotten. Even during the increasingly desperate war years, state largesse continued unabated. In the 1942 financial year, for example, the amount of 100,000 RM from the state budget was devoted to subsidizing composers of “serious” music. Two committees awarded 6,000 RM each to Paul Graener, Hans Pfitzner, and Strauss; 4,000 RM each to Theodor Berger, Johann Nepomuk David, Werner Egk, Ottmar Gerster, Kurt Hessenberg, Karl Höffer, Karl Höller, Joseph Marx, Ernst Pepping, Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek, Max Trapp, Julius Weismann, and Hermann Zilcher; 2,000 RM each to Cesar Bresgen, Hugo Distler, Wolfgang Fortner, Harald Genzmer, Hermann Grabner, Armin Knab, Gottfried Müller, Carl Orff, Kurt Rasch, Friedrich Reidinger, Georg Schumann, Heinz Tiessen and Richard Trunk; and 1,000 RM each to Edmund von Borck, Hans Chemin-Petit, Gerhard Frommel and Egon Kornauth. This extravagance is compounded by the fact that 6,000 RM was the average upper-middle-class yearly salary during the Nazi period.

But what do you do if your favored composers are only able to deliver third-rate ideologically-conformist music bordering on kitsch? To fill in the lacuna, your only remaining option is to recontextualize and repurpose the great music of the past to glorify your ideology. I shall show that is exactly what was done with, for example, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony, and Liszt’s Les Preludes.  

During the Third Reich, Sibelius was lionized as the quintessential “Nordic” composer. Lucien Price (1883–1964), an American Harvard graduate who interviewed Sibelius in the late summer of 1935, sheds significant light on the ideological parallelism between the “Nordic Concept” promulgated by the Nazis and their allies, including in America, and Sibelius’ own thinking at that time. It is noteworthy that Price’s account, “Portrait of Sibelius at Järvenpää,” with its clear white-racist overtones, was published in the Winter 1935 edition of The Yale Review and reprinted at the end of his book We Northmen, published in 1936. 

What do you do if your favored composers are only able to deliver third-rate ideologically-conformist music bordering on kitsch?

Price’s book, as its title suggests, espouses a hypothesis strikingly similar to that of Alfred Rosenberg, namely that all real culture traveled from north to south. According to this view, the upsurge of Judeo-Christianity from the ancient Mediterranean world that accompanied the decline of the Roman Empire had a negative effect on “true” pagan Nordic culture, and, hence, on civilization itself. For Price, this problem was compounded for WASPs transplanted from Europe to America: “What had we North Americans lost of our ancient cultural heritage, more recently by transplantation overseas, more remotely through the stifling of our indigenous thought by Oriental religions [i.e. Judaism and Christianity]? …[T]he music of Sibelius seemed to me to say the same: ‘This is what we Northmen would have been if allowed to develop in our own way. This is what at heart we remain. Listen, and know thyself.’” Here, Price evokes Wagner’s notorious essay of February 1881, in which he urges Germans to “know themselves” and thereby understand the nature of what is German so they can better resist Bismarck’s emancipation of the Jews in 1871—an essay that enjoyed wide currency in Nazi circles. 

By suggesting “that the true religious expression of us Northern Europeans, as distinct from our borrowed Hebraic cults, is and always has been in the form of artistic creation,” Price implies that Christianity is not deeply rooted in Europe and America, and remains essentially foreign to “Nordic” peoples. Like Rosenberg, Price seeks to peel away a veneer of a thousand years or more of Christian history in Northern Europe and “return” to a new paganism. The term “Hebraic cult” in this context is obviously pejorative: Jews are to blame for a bad Christian superstition imposed upon a previously healthy Nordic stock. Then, perhaps most significant for any investigation of Sibelius’ own ideology at the time, Price reports: “I was startled to find this territory of thought by no means unfamiliar to Sibelius. It was discussed repeatedly and with more frankness than I feel justified in reporting fully [my emphasis]; not only by him but by Madame Sibelius, a most remarkable woman, and so in harmony with him intellectually that one finds himself involuntarily speaking to and thinking of them as one.” Price remains somewhat coy regarding his “repeated” and “frank” discussions of race, religion, and culture at Ainola (Sibelius’ house) probably because he fears that, in reporting them, he might offend Anglo-American sensibilities. 

There can be little doubt that the neo-heathenistic white-Nordic rhetoric emanating from Ainola at the end of 1935 is closely related to that being promulgated by Rosenberg and his myriad followers in Nazi circles, and also in American ivies at the time. It is unsurprising, then, that these same ideas are embodied in the speech Rosenberg delivered preceding the performance of Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony under Furtwängler at the “Nordic Festival” held in Lübeck on June 8, 1935 (Plates 1–2). Published photos show a large contingent of troops forming a square-within-the-square of the marketplace, lending the entire proceedings a martial character (Plates 3–4).

Plate 1: Alfred Rosenberg delivering his speech preceding the performance of Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony, June 8, 1935, in Lübeck.
Plate 2: Furtwängler rehearsing Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony at the Nordic Festival, June 8, 1935.
Plate 3: The Nordic Festival in Lübeck at which Furtwängler conducted Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony, June 8, 1935.
Plate 4: SS Men playing lurs to initiate Rosenberg’s speech.

Another photo shows SS men playing lurs (Bronze Age horns) to initiate the ceremony and Rosenberg’s speech precisely at noon, with Hitler Youth, who perform trumpet fanfares thereafter, standing behind them. It is noteworthy that lurs were used by Otto zur Nedden—the same man who three years later would organize the “Degenerate Music” exhibition—to illustrate his lecture entitled “Tonal and Atonal Music in their Historical and Racial Fundamentals,” to prove the natural connection of the (ancient) Germans to the triad and the Jews to atonality.

Rosenberg began his speech referring to the “elemental force” of Germany’s internal embrace of Nazism, which he hopes the Nordic nations will come to understand. A “healing metaphor” is evoked with reference to “recovery from a serious illness,” a rejuvenation dependent not only upon the rejection of its fundamental cause, i.e. the Weimar Republic, but the affirmation of “a continually radiating power emanating from the peoples of the North.” Thus, for Rosenberg, like Price, the driving force of civilization migrated not from the Middle East to Europe as the religion and culture of the Jews, transformed by Christianity, moved northwest, but the inverse, as waves of Nordics colonized the ancient civilizations of India, Iran, Greece, and Rome (a false and ahistorical claim). The same “Nordic energy” that led to the flowering of these Mediterranean civilizations would now regenerate Germany and the other Nordic countries, leading to the triumphant “rebirth of all of the form-creative peoples of Europe.”

The music critic for the Lübecker Volksbote, one Dr. Paul Bülow, described the concert conducted by Furtwängler as linked with the Rosenberg speech:

The external picture at the beginning of the Festival Concert already pointed to the special significance of this evening. …When Furtwängler appeared, the public rose from its seat—only brief applause, stilled by the raised hand of the conductor as he began. The order of the programmed performances in the opening concert of a Nordic Music Festival was clear and unequivocal, and avoided any experimentation… the Finnish Sibelius, bound to Nature in a Nordic manner; Beethoven as the warlike-heroic type of Nordic man. What the three preceding sessions of the Reich Festival offered in terms of the content of their lectures regarding the Nordic type, found here in the tones of the Master their artistic glorification [my emphasis].

Surely, it cannot be coincidental that the second half of the program presented two symphonies, Beethoven’s Fifth and Sibelius’ Seventh, with the same key-scheme, C minor resolving to C major, both following the per aspera ad astra narrative. The “triumph of light over darkness” paradigm in both symphonies in the same key was now revalued to represent the triumphant epiphany of the National Socialist revolution and the “Nordic” within the overall “healing metaphor” of the body politic, exactly as articulated in Rosenberg’s speech. In the realm of music, then, the turgid openings of both symphonies would parallel the heroic struggle of the nascent movement to the “seizure of power.” The C minor openings were the grim determination of the “old fighters,” the C major conclusions the final victory of the “New Germany” and “Nordic man.” If there was any equivocation in the ending of Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony, this would be completely dispelled by the triumphant Finale of Beethoven’s Fifth. Writing also in the Zeitschrift für Musik, Bülow again foregrounds the parallelism between Rosenberg’s narrative of “Nordic Rebirth” and the sequence of the Sibelius symphony culminating in the Beethoven to represent the rebirth of “the warlike-heroic type of the Nordic man”: 

Alfred Rosenberg gave this important festive cycle its cultural-political direction in his speech on the Lübeck marketplace. The Reich Leader called attention to the manifestation of art drawing the peoples together in this Festival, “that should become a symbol of these Nordic fundamental powers that everywhere had once found their victorious echoes in the peoples of this Nordic sphere.” He also wished that in the realm of music, “the Nordic rebirth would not be [just] a slogan but a great experience with formative power.” …Over the individual days of performances, this rousing indication and proclamation of the significance of this music festival achieved a striking cultural and political fulfillment totally in the spirit of the binding words of the Führer: “the cultural monuments of humanity were always the altars of consciousness of their better purpose and higher worth.”

To summarize, this revaluation is created by these performances within the context of a ritualized event, whereby the choice and sequence of the Sibelius and Beethoven symphonies plays out, musically, the Nazis’ “Nordic rebirth” concept.

Let us now turn to our second example of the repurposing of classical music, namely Goebbels’ use of the opening fanfare from Liszt’s tone poem Les Preludes for propagandistic purposes. Liszt prefaced the score with a quotation from Lamartine’s Méditations Poetiques:

What is our life but a series of preludes to that unknown Hymn, the first and solemn note of which is intoned by Death?—Love is the glowing dawn of all existence; but what is the fate where the first delights of happiness are not interrupted by some storm, the mortal blast of which dissipates its fine illusions, the fatal lightning of which consumes its altar; and where is the cruelly wounded soul which, on issuing from one of these tempests, does not endeavor to rest his recollection in the calm serenity of life in the fields? Nevertheless man hardly gives himself up for long to the enjoyment of the beneficent stillness which at first he has shared in Nature’s bosom, and when ‘the trumpet sounds the alarm,’ hastens, to the dangerous post, whatever the war may be, which calls him to its ranks, in order at last to recover in the combat full consciousness of himself and the entire possession of his energy [my emphasis].

For Lamartine and Liszt, these martial references have a figurative significance representing the necessity for the jilted lover to rouse his “cruelly wounded soul” from its melancholy lethargy to rejoin life’s battle. For Goebbels, however, Liszt’s musical alarm is reinterpreted to become a literal call to arms against the Soviet Union. It is noteworthy that on April 20, 1941, roughly two months prior to the attack on Russia, Hans Knappersbusch conducted a special performance of Les Preludes to introduce the premiere of Goebbels’ anti-British propaganda film Ohm Krueger. Perhaps, this performance inspired Goebbels to leverage the opening of the Liszt as a musical metaphor to “sell” Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia; in any event, Goebbels lit upon the initial fanfare of Liszt’s Les Preludes as his “Russia Fanfare.” He decided that when the invasion of the Soviet Union was launched, all news bulletins related to it would be preceded by the Lisztian “fanfare.”

For once, the Nazi penchant for hyperbole seemed justified. On June 22, 1941, about four million Axis soldiers invaded the Soviet Union along a 2,900-kilometer (1,800 mile) front—the largest invasion force in the history of warfare. In addition to troops, the Germans employed some 600,000 motor vehicles and between 600–700,000 horses. However, Goebbels was unsatisfied with simply repurposing the Liszt fanfare; rather he would “update” it by splicing it to a newly composed “hit” song to provide a soundtrack for the attack. Therefore, he commissioned three librettists—Heinrich Anacker, Hans Wilhelm Kulenkampff, and Hans Tieszler—to produce a suitable text, entitled Von Finnland bis zum Schwarzen Meer (“From Finland to the Black Sea”), which he himself revised, and then two composers, Herms Niel (1888–1954) and Norbert Schultze (1911–2002), set it. Niel, well-known for his marches and martial songs, including Sieg heil Viktoria (1941) composed for the Waffen SS, was a true “Piefke” in Viennese slang, named after Johann Gottfried Piefke (1817–1884), a rigid Prussian band leader and composer of military music.

Schultze was a more versatile composer, who had already achieved fame for his “pop” song Lili Marleen (1938), which became popular in both Axis and Allied camps. More notoriously, however, his 1939 song Bomben auf Engeland was deployed in 1940 to glorify the “Blitz”—a composition which, post-war, would, poetically, land him a sojourn in an English prison.

The final text for the new song reads as follows:

We stood for Germany at our posts
and kept the long watch.
Now the sun rises in the east
And calls millions to the battle.

From Finland to the Black Sea:
Forward, forward!
Forward to the east, you storming army!
Freedom the goal, victory the banner!
Führer, command! We follow you!

What started with the March of Horst Wessel
In the brown uniforms of the SA
Is fulfilled in the gray columns:
The big moment is here!

Now surge eastward, armies,
Into the Russian homeland.
Comrades, now to the guns!
The victory will be ours!

In his diary entry for June 30, 1941, Goebbels noted, “The new Russia song is here. Norbert’s setting is better than Niel’s. So we take the former…. It airs for the first time… and arouses great enthusiasm throughout the country.… Our new song is liked everywhere. It will be a big hit.”

It is important to note that the invasion had begun already on June 22, but Goebbels decreed no official announcement until the song, which he dubbed the Schicksalslied des deutschen Volkes (“Song of Destiny of the German People”), was ready for broadcast on June 30. By calling it a Schicksalslied, Goebbels again reached back to nineteenth-century music, this time to Brahms’ setting of Friedrich Hölderlin’s poem. But, whereas, for Hölderlin and Brahms, the Schicksalslied concerns the fate of all humanity, Goebbels twists it to signify that it is “the destiny” of the German people to attack Communist Russia, its “natural” enemy. That Goebbels delayed announcing the largest invasion in history a full eight days until he had succeeded in producing what he considered its optimal anthem testifies to the importance of music for his propaganda campaign.

Whereas, for Hölderlin and Brahms, the Schicksalslied concerns the fate of all humanity, Goebbels twists it to signify that it is “the destiny” of the German people to attack Communist Russia, its “natural” enemy.

Nor was an important composer like Richard Strauss above contributing to Goebbels’ soundtrack. But one looks in vain under the entry for Strauss’s piece Feierlicher Einzug der Ritter des Johanniter-Ordens, op. 103 (“Ceremonial Entry of the Knights of the Order of St. John”) in Franz Trenner’s Richard Strauss Werkverzeichnis (“Richard Strauss’s Worklist”)—published in 1985—for any mention of its 1937 reworking. This version is as a piece for men’s chorus and large orchestra, renamed Feierlich Anruf (“Solemn Appell”) with a text by Rudolf G. Binding (1867–1938) and dedicated to Hitler: Grossen Volkes heiligen Rach—tief im Schlafe dumpf in Fron (“The Holy Revenge of a Great People, in Deep Sleep, Lumbering in Drudgery”). This arrangement, which, for copyright reasons, could never have been made without Strauss’s express permission, was premiered on April 18, 1934, in Berlin at an SS concert with Hitler and Goebbels in attendance. The poem includes this sycophantic stanza: 

To one was the word granted
To one only was the call and the seeding.
Through strength he bestows peace.
And he gives more than that:
To unify his people, that was his most beautiful deed.

Surely, the existence of this version should not be concealed—but Trenner obviously felt it just too embarrassing to include in the list of works. Strauss went on to contribute pieces such as his Japanische Festmusik (1940), Festmusik der Stadt Wien (1943), settings of regime poet Josef Weinheber (1942), and Der Donau (a large-scale tone poem left unfinished with the fall of the regime) to provide music for official Nazi celebrations. 1942 was the highpoint of public honors for Weinheber. His fiftieth birthday was the occasion for important festivities; he was awarded the honorary ring of the City of Vienna, and two song settings by Strauss were premiered. He received a wallet containing 5,000 RM from Goebbels and an honorary award of 3,000 RM from the Reich Post Minister Wilhelm Ohnesorge, who, incidentally, was also connected with German efforts to build a nuclear bomb. In 1942, when Koichi Ehara, the Japanese power behind the throne at the Manchurian Embassy in Berlin, wanted yet another ceremonial piece from Strauss to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the “Manchurian Empire,” Strauss demurred, observing that he had already produced his Japanische Festmusik. Nevertheless, he helpfully proposed that their mutual friend, Eakte Ahn (Korean-born Japanese collaborator and composer of South Korea’s national anthem), compose something new. Then he, Strauss, as Ahn’s mentor, would be happy to look through anything Ahn might write and make suggestions (Plate 5). Thus was born Ahn’s Symphonische Fantasie “Manchukuo.” 

Plate 5: In 1942, Strauss gives his friend Korean Japanese collaborator Eakte Ahn some friendly advice concerning his Symphonische Fantasie “Manchukuo.”

After the war, Ahn destroyed the score of the Manchukuo Fantasie and deleted it from his works’ list; while he boasted about his relationship with Strauss, he never breathed a single word concerning his collaboration with Ehara under Strauss’s tutelage, and even falsified his account of the Berlin concert at which he conducted Manchukuo, their joint project, pretending that he had performed Beethoven’s Ninth instead! Fortunately for researchers interested in historical truth, the program of the performance of Manchukuo in Vienna on February 11, 1943 (Plate 6), has survived, as has film of the Berlin concert on August 18, the triumphant conclusion of which is preserved in Goebbels’ weekly newsreel.

Plate 6: Program for the performance of Eakte Ahn’s Symphonic Phantasy Manchukuo,” Vienna, February 11, 1943. Ahn is falsely identified as the “Japanese composer” Ekitai Ahn; in fact, he was Korean collaborator.

Indeed, on November 8, 2009, after eight years of intensive historical investigation, the Korean Institute for Research into Collaborationist Activities published an Encyclopedia of Korean Collaborators with Japan (친일인명사전), which included Ahn on its list of “cultural traitors.” At a press conference held on April 29, 2008, at the Seoul Press Center, the committee discussed Ahn’s activities in Europe between 1937 and 1944, stating that, “Although Ahn did not collaborate with Japan within Korean territory, abroad he continually and repeatedly praised Japanese imperialism, and it is clear that he collaborated with Nazi power. Therefore, there was no hesitation in including him on the list.”

Strauss enjoyed excellent relations with SS-Brigadeführer Hanns Blaschke (1896–1971) who, immediately after the Anschluss of Austria in 1938, was appointed the assistant mayor of Vienna, the head of its Cultural Office, and the editor of the culture journal Die Pause. On June 10, 1943, Strauss conducted the premiere of his Festmusik der Stadt Wien after a speech by the Mayor of Vienna Philipp Jung (1885–1965) celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Anschluss. That day, the Viennese press, acclaiming the event, crowed that

The fifth return of that memorable historic hour—in which Adolf Hitler in 1938, buffeted by the cheers of the people of Vienna when entering the Vienna City Hall, accepted the pledge of loyalty from the city, and proclaimed in the great festival hall “the Day of the Greater German Reich”—was celebrated by the city of Vienna with an uplifting ceremony, at the heart of which was a speech by Mayor Jung. The memorial celebration received a special consecration from an artistic event of the highest order: the world premiere of the most recent work by the composer Dr. Richard Strauss, through a Festive Music for the City of Vienna under the personal direction of the Master [my emphasis]…. Mayor Jung spoke and called to mind once more the historic utterances…..of the Führer Adolf Hitler, and continued, “With this deed the dream of all good Germans was fulfilled, namely of one Reich under one strong leadership.”… The special greeting of Mayor [Jung] was then extended to Dr. Richard Strauss, “who wished to ornament this memorial day through a new work of his high art [my emphasis].” The speech closed with the words:… “We wish to recall that day as the most important milestone in German history, to give fresh impetus to the great event, and to renew our vow to follow the banner of the Führer in good and bad times, and to be loyal unto death.”

After conducting the premiere, Strauss symbolically handed the manuscript of the new Nazi ceremonial piece to Blaschke, a moment captured by the photographer (Plate 7). There are several performances posted on YouTube which discretely fail to mention the work’s Nazi historical context and semantics. Neither is there a word about it in the program booklet for the 2021 Chandos recording.

Plate 7: Strauss gives the autograph score of the Festmusik der Stadt Wien to Hans Blaschke, June 10, 1943. Philipp Jung, Mayor of Vienna, stands behind Blaschke. The conductor of the Trumpeterchor der Stadt Wien, Hans Heinz Scholtys (to whom the work was officially dedicated) is standing behind Strauss, with his face partly covered.
Plate 8: A photograph taken on June 10, 1943, on the steps of the Vienna City Hall after Jung’s speech and Strauss’s premiere shows (from right to left) composer Richard Strauss, Mayor Jung, Assistant Mayor Prof. Dr. Blaschke, and Higher SS and Police Leader Rudolf Querner, who was fully initiated into the methods of the mass gassing of Jews as early as 1941 (i.e. two years before this photo was taken). German historian Christian Gerlach has discovered documents disclosing that, in 1941, Querner ordered large quantities of Zyklon-B gas from Hamburg to murder Jews in Mogilyov. According to his SS file in Berlin, Blaschke’s career in the SS was warmly supported by fellow Austrian Ernst Kaltenbrunner, later hung at Nürnberg for crimes against humanity; Blaschke’s application to be promoted from SS-Oberführer to SS-Brigadeführer in January of 1944 was recommended by Querner.

In Plate 8, Strauss’s son Franz appears with raised hand behind his father, while Rudolf Querner’s right hand partially obscures a bust of Hitler. Blaschke, responsible for artistic affairs, is proudly holding in his left hand the autograph score of Strauss’s new work, the Festmusik der Stadt Wien, just premiered under the composer’s baton; indeed, Blaschke liaised with Strauss regarding the organization of the composer’s contribution. Both Blaschke and Querner appear in the uniforms of senior SS officers. Of course, many contemporaries, who should know better, will always capitulate to the ruling orthodoxy that Strauss did such things for a host of different reasons including fear, cowardice, desire for advancement and power, greed, opportunism, fame, etc. Still, a brave and stubborn few will invariably resist. The great music theorist Heinrich Schenker (1868–1935) and his friend, composer Reinhard Oppel (1878–1941), expressed their disdain for musical conformity to Nazi ideology. At the end of 1933, Oppel, who taught at the once world-famous Mendelssohn Conservatory in Leipzig (founded in April 1843 by Mendelssohn himself when Germany was still something of a meritocracy), wrote to Schenker in Vienna that “Hitler is enthusiastic about Richard Trunk (one of the state-supported mediocrities mentioned earlier), the conductor of the Cologne Men’s Choir, who now… of course produces mass choirs.” On February 19, 1934, he further reported that

many things that I see and experience do not please me at all. In music much hasn’t changed; the Gewandhaus [Orchestra, also made famous by Mendelssohn] just produced, under [Günther] Ramin [as conductor], [Johann Georg] Reutter’s The Great Calendar, a terrible piece, unmusical; it is criminal that so much money, time, and energy must be sacrificed for such unproductive stuff. Fashionable folly and progressive blather!

Approximately four months later, on June 17, he wrote to Schenker:

…[C]oincidentally, during the days I spent on the Rhine, the Cologne men’s choir sang in Kreuznach under Trunk, who is persona grata with Hitler. It was terrible what the man did as a choir director and as a composer, and as an accompanist to his singing wife. Still worse that such a donkey of a male-choir [leader] should be co-director of the Cologne Conservatory. But these people are “successful.” For art they remain ephemera [my emphasis].

Oppel’s dim view of such conformists was shared by Schenker. When the Nazis initially banned both “white and Negro Jazz” on German radio, Schenker quipped to his student Anthony van Hoboken (the famous cataloguer of Haydn’s works) that “the recently repudiated dynamic of jazz was almost more fun than that of today’s folkish art [lustiger als die der völkischen Kunst].” 

A striking example of yet another intelligent musician who should have known better yet disgracefully sought to ingratiate himself with the Nazis is provided by the ethnically half-Jewish Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno (1903–1969). Adorno was a student of Alban Berg, one of the few non-Jewish Modernists smeared as “degenerate”—though, ironically, Berg tried unsuccessfully to opportunistically curry favor with the Berlin authorities in order to replace his teacher Schönberg. On September 11, 1933, Adorno learned that, as a half-Jew, he had been deprived of his venia legendi and was unable to continue teaching in Germany. 

In Oxford, in 1934, surrounded by a flood of refugee scholars, mostly Jewish, who were in the same awkward if not desperate circumstances as himself, Adorno nevertheless—in hopes of facilitating his permanent return—still attempted to ingratiate himself with the Nazi authorities by praising Nazi choral music in the anti-Semitic, anti-Modernist Nazi journal Die Musik. In his shamefully laudatory review of Nazi composer Herbert Müntzel’s choral settings of Hitler Youth chief Baldur von Schirach’s poetry dedicated to Hitler, which was published in the June 1934 issue, Adorno enthused: 

Herbert Müntzel’s cycle stands out in the most recent choral publications by the Merseburger Verlag, mostly celebratory choirs for German [nationalist] occasions. Not only because it [the cycle] is characterized as deliberately National Socialist through the choice of [von] Schirach’s poems, but also because of its quality: [evidence of] an unusual creative will. It is not about patriotic mood and vague enthusiasm, but the question of the possibility of new folk music itself that is seriously projected through the composition…  [The aesthetics of] the fighter’s club and Neoclassical are both repudiated, and the image of a new romanticism is evoked, perhaps of the kind that Goebbels has defined as “romantic realism.”

Later, in 1963, when finally confronted with published proof of his collaboration, Adorno admitted in an interview that he deeply regretted celebrating von Schirach, and also that he should never have adopted Goebbels’ idea of “romantic realism.” Most tellingly, however, he lamely attempted to excuse his behavior by suggesting that he had tried to return to rescue German culture: “The real mistake lay in my misjudgment of the situation: if you will, in the folly of a man who found it infinitely difficult to decide to emigrate. I believed that the Third Reich couldn’t last long, that one had to stay and save what was possible.”

Müntzel’s music—for which Adorno sacrificed his personal and professional integrity—was, in fact, so ephemeral, so inconsequential, even by Nazi standards, that its print run must have been relatively small, and, as a result, it has proven impossible (in spite of this author’s sustained search) to locate even a single surviving copy of the score. To be sure, Gottfried Müller—the poster boy of Nazi music—has been largely forgotten, and the full extent of the collaboration of real talents like Strauss and Sibelius suppressed.

Myriad bombastic, ideologically conformist pieces, whether composed by mediocrities or geniuses, have been almost completely erased—whether deliberately or not is ultimately immaterial. If history may serve as a guide, one suspects that, three quarters of a century from now, all or most of today’s voluminous ideologically tendentious art and music will be similarly either forgotten or deliberately deleted.