The Political Orchestra: The Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics during the Third Reich

The Political Orchestra: The Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics during the Third Reich

NOOK Book(eBook)

$42.99 $50.00 Save 14% Current price is $42.99, Original price is $50. You Save 14%.
View All Available Formats & Editions

Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now
LEND ME® See Details


This is a groundbreaking study of the prestigious Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics during the Third Reich. Making extensive use of archival material, including some discussed here for the first time, Fritz Trümpi offers new insight into the orchestras’ place in the larger political constellation.

Trümpi looks first at the decades preceding National Socialist rule, when the competing orchestras, whose rivalry mirrored a larger rivalry between Berlin and Vienna, were called on to represent “superior” Austro-German music and were integrated into the administrative and social structures of their respective cities—becoming vulnerable to political manipulation in the process. He then turns to the Nazi period, when the orchestras came to play a major role in cultural policies. As he shows, the philharmonics, in their own unique ways, strengthened National Socialist dominance through their showcasing of Germanic culture in the mass media, performances for troops and the general public, and fictional representations in literature and film. Accompanying these propaganda efforts was an increasing politicization of the orchestras, which ranged from the dismissal of Jewish members to the programming of ideologically appropriate repertory—all in the name of racial and cultural purity.

Richly documented and refreshingly nuanced, The Political Orchestra is a bold exploration of the ties between music and politics under fascism.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226251424
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 11/07/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 344
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Fritz Trümpi is assistant professor of music history at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna. Kenneth Kronenberg is a translator based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt

The Political Orchestra

The Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics during the Third Reich

By Fritz Trümpi, Kenneth Kronenberg

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2016 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-25142-4


"Innovation" versus "Tradition": The Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics at the End of the Long Nineteenth Century

Given the modesty which we Austrians display far too much in all questions concerning our own fatherland, there is reason to fear, I must say, that we will experience another Sadowa, meaning that the Germans, with their trained methodical aim for effect, will anticipate us, just as they did in that campaign, when they introduced the needle gun and took us by surprise.

ROBERT MUSIL, The Man without Qualities

These six successive evenings were possibly the greatest musical imposition ever to have been inflicted on the Viennese public. Even if the members of the orchestra had each been virtuosos of the first rank and the conductors gods, who would have possessed the tolerance and perseverance to withstand the pleasures so profusely on offer?

The subject of this article in the Viennese Fremden-Blatt was a guest performance by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1897 that elicited indignation from the Viennese public. The series of six concerts, conducted by Felix Mottl, Arthur Nikisch, and Felix von Weingartner — three of the most renowned conductors of the time — gave Vienna a glimpse of a new approach to concertizing that horrified the public with its seemingly endless quantity: "Just ahead of the season finale, they [the Berlin Philharmonic] presented us with a week of music of tremendously surging intensity, with a relentless sequence of artistic pleasures such as Vienna has never before experienced. Not even on ceremonial occasions." Even the liberal newspaper the Neue Freie Presse denounced the Berlin Philharmonic's "guesting and competitive conducting" and the "latest Capellmeister disease, travel fever." The musicians, according to one Viennese critic, were being turned into "machines" by this trend because they were forced to submit to each and every mood of these "podium virtuosi." The reviewer admonished the Berlin orchestra: "Should the concerts of the Berlin orchestra eventually gain acceptance here, it would be advisable to eliminate the embellishment of revolving conductors, which in any case would spare the overburdened artists unnecessary rehearsals with a different conductor each day, and allow them to play calmly and without great to-do under a conductor who has worked with them year in and year out. This might possibly yield somewhat less sensationalism but afford us far more pure pleasure." The discomfort of the Viennese public with the Berlin orchestras' performances was considerable. It manifested in such negatively charged characterizations as "guesting," "competitive conducting," "travel fever," and the use of "machines" as a metaphor. As will be discussed below in detail, the "modernistic" concerts given by the Berlin Philharmonic in Vienna clashed with a "traditionalist" concept of musical performance. But it is important to realize that Vienna's nerve was being touched from two sides. It viewed itself as quite simply the preeminent "music city," but also as a German imperial city which, ever since the political shift in power in Central and Eastern Europe had been decided in favor of Prussia, culminating in the founding of the German Reich, in 1870–71, Vienna in fact no longer was.

The defenders of the "music city" had little choice but to denigrate the achievements of the Berlin Philharmonic: "The public effusively hailed the artist [the singer Camilla Landi], and would not have objected to turning the symphony concert into an evening of Landi." And another critic, referencing the Vienna Philharmonic, made use of a culinary image to downplay the significance of the Berliners' concerts: "They have an advantage over our Philharmonic in terms of a more favorable mood of the evening. After all, we may await an informal supper with more patience than a dinner party. We certainly do not wish to give offense to the gentlemen if in this external circumstance we discern one factor in the great success that they have achieved in a city that, justly, prides itself on having the best orchestra in the world." The Viennese had found their pet musical enemy, and the Berliners noticed and would not stand idly by: the battle for supremacy in the Austro-German music world was now joined.

In the Slipstream of the German Naval Buildup: The Rapid Internationalization of the Berlin Philharmonic in Light of Germany's Global Ambitions

The Berlin Philharmonic's relationship to the traditional approach to music was similar to that of the German Kaiserreich to the European military and economic powers, which were dominated by England. In both cases the Germans represented a challenge to the established order. The American sociologist Thorstein Veblen described Germany's position as follows in his Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution(1915): "What chiefly distinguishes the German people from these others in this connection, and more particularly from the British, is that the Germans are new to this industrial system; and the distinctive traits of the German case are in the main traceable to this fact that they are still in their novitiate." Here was a bitter pill for England to swallow: "It is only that they [the British] are paying the penalty for having been thrown into the lead and so having shown the way." Thanks to its industrial-newcomer status, Germany, in contrast to industrial pioneer England, was able to leverage its textile-based economy in a move that allowed it to enter into other industrial sectors and quickly become an economic player in the new century, much like the United States.

Germany's advantageous economic position may in some respects be attributed to the Berlin Philharmonic as well. As early as 1901, the influential German music historian Wilhelm Altmann declared that the orchestra was the most important musical ensemble in Berlin: "Of all the possible musical companies in Berlin, this orchestra is the most indispensable and therefore also the most steadily employed." When this was written, the Philharmonic was not yet twenty years old, although its origins extended back further than 1882, the official year of its founding. But even then, Altmann attributed a certain modernity to those earlier musicians, when the future philharmonicists were still under the direction of Benjamin Bilse:

High society's need for good orchestral music was satisfied by the symphonic soirées of the Royal Orchestra [Königliche Kapelle], where only classical works were played in uncreative renditions under the conductors' batons — correctly, and with precise adherence to all prescribed dynamic signs, but without spirit. ... Whoever wished to hear the new music, thoroughly discredited as heretical, had to go to the concert hall, where Bilse engaged tirelessly with modern works and performed them very nicely with his orchestra.

Altmann felt that the receptiveness of Bilse's orchestra to a contemporary repertoire was a good point of departure for the Philharmonic Orchestra that would supplant it. For him, the most crucial organizational difference between the traditional court orchestra (Hofkapelle) and the Philharmonic was that the latter would be an association of "independent" musicians: "These are not civil servants standing at the podium playing for their pensions; here we see the drive for survival, here 'one for all' are greedy for success and recognition. Here we still see the capacity for enthusiasm!" Altmann paid tribute to the orchestra because it pursued its own initiatives and abstained from official state protection ("not civil servants"). He explicitly contrasted the young ensemble with the "royal orchestras" that had existed since the sixteenth century, retaining their conservative character into the nineteenth and only grudgingly accepting newer musical trends. But he was also implying the differences between the Philharmonic Orchestra and the court opera orchestras as a whole — and also, by extension, the one in Vienna from which the Vienna Philharmonic recruited its musicians. One seemingly minor event illustrates the relationship between the two orchestras in the waning years of the nineteenth century. When, in 1895, the Berlin Philharmonic played guest concerts in Vienna — this was one of its very first on foreign soil — the members of the Vienna Philharmonic refused to greet their German colleagues. Noted a reviewer for the Österreichische Musiker-Zeitung: "Our master orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic, unfortunately felt itself disinclined to exchange greetings and handshakes with its colleagues. We say 'farewell.'"

The notion of Berlin as a "progressive" music city was the starting point from which traditional orchestras eyed the Berlin Philharmonic with suspicion. One of Berlin's most influential critics and music essayists, Adolf Weissmann, noted in 1911 that all paid homage to Berlin as the world center of music, as the musical metropolis. He concluded, with a touch of progressivist euphoria:

Modern musical life in the capital of the Reich is an immense organism born of many material and spiritual currents. Even the musical arts, unworldly though they may be, have had to bend to the spirit of the time. The face of Berlin has changed since the war of 1870–1871. New elements streamed into the Reich capital, blood pulsed more rapidly, initiatives grew, Americanism permeated life and also art and music. The old spirit of Berlin laments, "You are too quick, too nervous, even brutal. You exult much less offensively than once you did over what was in fashion. We, however, are dethroned." The modern spirit replies, "True, we are not as brittle as once we were. But you are in the wrong when you claim that we dethroned you. After all, you are still among the living and have even gained in power, have explored all of your developmental possibilities. Without me, you could never have accomplished that."

The musicians of the Berlin Philharmonic were to some extent a product of this modern spirit. Both the quantitative and the qualitative consolidation of the music business that occurred in Berlin as a result of Germany's rapid economic ascent may be judged from the sheer number of organizational innovations and marketing campaigns, as well as the types of venues at which the orchestra performed, which in many respects contrasted sharply with how traditional orchestras presented themselves to the public.

The Berlin Philharmonic musicians came together as a pure concert orchestra, free of longer-term affiliations with city or state institutions such as opera houses and the like. As a result, they had no guaranteed salaries or pensions. After initial attempts to find financial sponsors for the orchestra failed, the members collectively decided, in 1887, to form an independent company, which after 1903 was managed as a limited liability company (GmbH). After that, each musician acquired a share in the orchestra upon payment of a shareholder's contribution of 600 marks. According to Altmann, it was an extremely profitable enterprise: "It should also be pointed out that the Philharmonic Orchestra ... has, happily, for a number of years been on such a firm financial footing that the individual members no longer need succumb to the enticements of a long-term pension-paying position, in the Berlin Royal Orchestra in particular." Virtually from its founding, the frequency of performances and successful marketing strategies guaranteed the orchestra considerable economic success. It also garnered an unusual amount of media attention. The sheer number of concerts alone appears to have impressed Berliners. As Altman himself enthused: "Hardly a day [goes by] that this orchestra company does not take to the stage as the bedrock of great concert performances, either in its own productions, as accompanists for renowned soloists, in support of choral concerts, or as an instrument for traveling virtuoso conductors or composers." The orchestra, according to Altmann, was "always indefatigably at work, always prepared 'for new exploits.'" The 1896–97 season, during which the Berlin Philharmonic made guest appearances in Vienna, may give us a sense of just how busy this orchestra was: its musicians took their seats onstage about 440 times during this one season.

This constant presence on the Berlin concert scene played an enormous role in its success against the competition, especially against the "old established" Hofkapellen. Nonetheless, the latter were still the standard against which the Berlin Philharmonic measured itself and was judged:

In terms of fame and artistic success on the European mainland, it holds its own against the oldest and most esteemed orchestras in the world. Although its string quartet may not be up to the standards of the Berlin Royal Opera or the purity of sound achieved by the Vienna Court Opera, and while the Meiningen Court Orchestra with its woodwinds ... perhaps elicits more haunting effects — the "barren day" with its burdensome duties compromises the achievements of the Berlin Philharmonic only fleetingly, and days that are not "elite days" are actually quite rare.

What distinguished the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, according to Altmann, was its "youthful zeal, its extraordinary ability to assimilate each new conductor, every instrumental or vocal soloist — and its exemplary merit as an ensemble."

The orchestra's "ability to assimilate," which Altmann asserted from a musical and technical viewpoint, should be viewed from an economic perspective as well, because successful musical practice demanded that the orchestra deal flexibly and imaginatively with the social and technical revolutions brought about by Germany's industrial and economic boom. Precisely because the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra could not claim legitimacy by reference to an ever manifest "tradition," it was forced to go beyond the usual commercial practices in order, finally, to inscribe itself in that tradition.

Accordingly, the spectrum of performance types was broad. As early as the first year after its founding, the Berlin Philharmonic established a concert subscription series whose quality became the yardstick against which "high culture" would henceforth be judged, and its relatively conservative repertoire attracted the city's educated (and wealthy) middle and upper classes. But, interestingly, neither the expensive Philharmonic subscription series nor the solo, choral, and special concerts, affordable mainly by the middle and upper classes, were the most numerous of the orchestra's offerings. Next to the resort concerts, which the orchestra played all summer long at the Dutch seaside resort of Scheveningen, the "popular concerts" were the most numerous. The real reason for the orchestra's rapid success was that it combined the broad appeal of popular concerts with the exclusivity of the Philharmonic concerts. The orchestra thus appealed to both the high-culture aspirations of the educated middle classes and to the broader public's desire for entertainment, an approach that was fully in tune with the burgeoning popular education (Volksbildung) movement. However, the popular concerts were actually less about light music in the usual sense than about accessible pieces and works of art music.

This combining of high culture and popular culture touches on the increasing industrialization of the music industry, a process that the Berlin Philharmonic was part of from the outset. From the perspective of contemporaries, the meeting of these two expressions of musical culture was viewed as something new, as Weissmann recognized: "In addition to the great Philharmonic concerts for those friends of music who were able to pay, low-priced popular ones were instituted for those less well-off. ... And given the thoroughness with which the new conductor [Hans von Bülow] proceeded, a maximum of enjoyment was to be expected from the popular concerts as well." The resort concerts at Scheveningen were another unconventional type of programming. Between 1885 and 1910, these concerts were an established part of the Philharmonic's schedule, and between June and September, with the orchestra performing twice daily — first in the afternoon and then in the evening — they comprised by far the largest number of concerts each year.

From the very beginning, the Berlin Philharmonic aimed to make its mark regionally, beyond Berlin itself. It soon gained a name — and engagements — beyond Germany. This meant that to establish the orchestra as internationally successful, it became increasingly necessary to develop a variety of "distribution channels" for its music.


Excerpted from The Political Orchestra by Fritz Trümpi, Kenneth Kronenberg. Copyright © 2016 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Two Cities, Two Orchestras: An Introduction
1 “Innovation” versus “Tradition”: The Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics at the End of the Long Nineteenth Century
2 Differing Responses to Increased State Influence: The Orchestras during the Republics (1918–1933)
3 Continuous Radicalization under Austrofascism and National Socialism
4 Dependence and Protection under National Socialism
5 The Orchestras’ Multifaceted Media Presence
6 Repertoire and Politicization: National Socialism and the Politics of Programming
Summary and Conclusion: “A Rivalry Like That between the Berliners and the Viennese Will Always Exist”
Appendix: Repertoire—Graphs and Commentary

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews