Music as Cultural Warfare: How the Nazi’s Co-opted the Orchestra to Serve Their Political Ends.

Art always bows to some greater ideology. There is no such thing as neutral art. It always conveys a message. Most often it is a servant of the strongest principles within a culture. This brief article reviews research to show how the Nazi propaganda machine slowly took over the Berlin orchestra to reinforce ideas of German National Socialism.  The author is clear that the foundations for this were laid many years before. Yet hearing about the actual events is both fascinating and chilling.

This process started with understanding the power of music as a cultural force. Then Goebbels “annexed” the  Berlin orchestra in the same way that Germany annexed land during the war.  But it started when members of the orchestra were willing to sell their autonomy and their souls for more money and other cultural benefits. After that, they were owned by the Nazis.

This kind of research is delightful stuff for history nerds like me. And the great question of history is always, “what does this mean for us today?” I think at present most people are associating fascism with Trump in the US. But to be honest, when I read this, I thought much more about the music and entertainment business in America as supporting the Left. In our country, one of the great weaknesses of the conservative movement has been second rate art. But within Hollywood there is a group-think that preaches leftist (rather than liberal) ideas.  Think I am exaggerating? Just listen to the speeches at the Oscar’s.  Add to this the recent censorship that is happening on University Campuses in the name of having “safe spaces” in the name of avoiding hate speech, and you can see that the Left has a much tighter grip on these cultural expressions.

In any case we need to be aware that culture-makers are trying to recruit us (and at times enslave us) for their view of the world. This is an inescapable reality for good or bad. Dictators who want to hijack culture will always move toward this source of power and it is in the best interest of free people to be aware of the greater agenda. I think the ideal situation is a culture of arts that is both free and reinforces important virtues.

Some tidbits from the article:

 

“The alchemy of the transformation began with a gradual relinquishment of autonomy, especially stark in Berlin. The Berlin Philharmonic, nationalized into a state-owned company in January 1934 under Joseph Goebbels’ Ministry of Propaganda, began to perform in the old Philharmonie on Bernburger Straße under an immense swastika. It was now expected to render service to “the German cause.” (Even Goebbels did not speak of “Nazi music” but of “German music.”) Goebbels, who began to call it “my orchestra,” increased its subsidies and its musicians’ salaries and personally signed letters of exemption from military service for its members. Goebbels also lavishly funded a movie about the orchestra (released in late 1944), which Trümpi calls “the most expensive advertising campaign ever undertaken on behalf of the Berlin Philharmonic.”

And again,

“After the Anschluss (annexation) of Austria in March 1938, things were even worse in Vienna, which liked to think of itself as the “music city” par excellence. Trümpi, the first historian granted full access to the Vienna Philharmonic archives, reports that a blacklist compiled in 1938 named 11 Jewish orchestra members, and ten more who were married to Jewish women. After the Anschluss, an annexation as much cultural as territorial, all were either forced into retirement or dismissed. Seven of them would be murdered in the Holocaust. Close to half of the philharmonic’s remaining musicians joined the Nazi Party.”

Source: The Baton and the Jackboot

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