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|The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra|
|Enrique Sanchez Lansch||Director, Screenwriter|
|Rainer Baumert||Production Manager|
|Pascal Capitolin||Sound/Sound Designer|
Posted October 1, 2010
This documentary by Enrique Sánchez Lansch focuses on a fascinating and under-examined historical subject—how the Berlin Philharmonic, Germany’s preeminent orchestra, adapted itself to the political and cultural realities under the Nazi regime from 1933 to 1945. The orchestra, known for its brilliant musicianship under the legendary conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, had to toe the party line under Hitler’s rule, purging its Jewish members (four of the musicians were forced to leave) and allowing itself to be used for propaganda purposes in Germany and on foreign tours. Archival footage shows the orchestra playing at Nazi party conferences, before and after speeches by Hitler and Goebbels, and during the opening ceremonies of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin under the grim, watchful eyes of the military and political elite. In return for its cooperation, the Philharmonic was granted a number of special privileges. Its members were exempt from military service and enjoyed a higher standard of living than the general population, even during the last, desperate days of World War II. The musicians knew the political score, but didn’t protest for fear of losing their special status—not to mention their freedom. Running throughout the film is the question of individual and collective moral responsibility, but Lansch wisely lets the viewer decide to what degree the Philharmonic musicians compromised themselves. Lansch was able to interview two surviving members from the orchestra’s pre-1945 period, and both address this issue in guarded fashion. According to Hans Bastiaan, the musicians were like “children” when it came to their political thinking, while Erich Hartmann says, “We were only doing our jobs.” That last statement is particularly chilling, given the common postwar excuse by German military personnel to explain the Holocaust: “We were only following orders.” In addition to such firsthand accounts, Lansch includes interviews with relatives of Philharmonic musicians as well as period newsreel footage to create a brilliant and unmissable look at the uneasy relationship between art and politics during the 20th century’s darkest period.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 1, 2010
"Then all of a sudden the portrait of Mendelssohn vanished". Thus begins the Berlin Philharmonic's 12-year period under Nazi control. The Philharmonic had been owned by the musicians, but in early 1934 Josef Goebbels' propaganda ministry took over and the orchestra became part of the effort to promote the superiority of German culture. But as this fine documentary makes clear, it was never a "Nazi orchestra". There were a handful of committed Nazis who intimidated their colleagues, and the 4 Jewish members soon emigrated. As to the rest, some eventually joined the Nazi party, whether out of careerism or self-preservation, while the rest made sure not to rock the boat. And there were good reasons not to, aside from the political threat - they were, after all, the elite Berlin Philharmonic, with Furtwangler as their conductor who would want to give that up? When war broke out, the musicians were deemed essential in their propaganda role, and none was obliged to enter military service, even up to the very end. The story is told through the testimony of the last 2 surviving musicians, violinist Hans Bastiaan and double-bassist Erich Hartmann, and the sons and daughters of various others. Aside from the interviews there is footage of the orchestra in action, which can at times make very uncomfortable viewing - it's hard to enjoy Beethoven's 9th when the concert hall is decorated with swastikas and people such as Himmler are in the audience. What makes the film so good is the clearly focused and essentially dispassionate tone taken by director Enrique Sanchez Lansch. This is solely about the orchestra - the horrors of the war are seen only in the context of what the musicians experienced. The Holocaust is only glimpsed - for example, Bastiaan says that his violin came from the orchestra's collection but he never thought about who its previous owner may have been, or the son of another musician recalls how as a child he was baffled by hearing his father say that such-and-such was in a "concert camp". So there is no judgment, and the viewer is left to make up his or her own mind on what the musicians should or should not have done. In fact as the story progresses into the last days of the war it takes on something of a redemptive quality: with the closure of all Berlin's concert halls in September 1944, only the Philharmonic kept going, and the orchestra's role changed from mere propaganda tool to, as it were, comforter of a doomed city. "You wanted to live on through this imperishable music", as Bastiaan puts it there's a moving scene where he revisits the ruins of the Olympic Village, site of one of the last concerts when it was now filled with wounded soldiers - and we hear Beethoven again, the slow movement of the 5th symphony, and this time there's no bad taste in the mouth, just beauty. The Berliners played almost to the end - their last concert was April 14th, just 2 days before the Red Army began the final assault on the city. The end of the war isn't quite the end of the story - there is the process of recovery and denazification - and the first concert after the war, of course, began with Mendelssohn. This is an important documentary, not just for people interested in the orchestra or classical music in general (the bonus feature is a full performance of the Meistersinger prelude from 1942, Furtwangler conducting) but for anyone who wishes to understand something of how ordinary Germans could have let the Nazi madness last as long as it did.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.