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

That Annoying Rattle- What A Snare Drum Can Illustrate About The Heart

Snare Drum
This is the bottom of a snare drum. Notice the beads stretched across the bottom drum head. 

I have two teenage sons that are both involved in high school percussion. They are in the marching band and play with several other ensembles at school and church. Prior to this high school music experience it would be safe to say that I was almost completely ignorant of the world of rhythm and percussion. I carefully maintained this state in spite of drumming on the steering wheel for most of my adult life. Anyway, I have learned a lot from their passion for drums. And I have learned that the world of rhythm is a delicate (yes “delicate”) blend of tones and instruments. Good drummers are serious about the smallest details.

One important instrument is the snare drum. The ones I have seen include a set of “snares”– very small beads strung across the bottom of the drum (see the picture above). When the drum is played the beads on the snare gently rattle against the surface of the drum adding a unique sound. This rattling is very sensitive to any action on the drum, even delicate strokes from a brush. Many snare drums have an off/on lever that can pull the snare away from the drumhead to keep it from rattling. The drum can still be played, but it makes a different sound. No rattling.  I hope you are impressed a little, and now slightly informed.

I mention this because a few nights ago I went to see one of my boys play in a concert where the snare drum featured prominently. This was unfortunate because it was NOT supposed to feature prominently. The high orchestra played first and then a visiting university symphony followed them. The music was beautiful, but because they were sharing the same space, some of the percussion instruments were left on the stage and moved to the side. As the university ensemble was playing, it was obvious that something wasn’t quite right. There was a strange noise overlaying the beautiful music. I am sure my face was wrinkled with irritation because there was something incongruent between the music I knew they were trying to play the sound I was hearing. Their group was larger and louder than the high school band. The increased volume caused a nearby, unused snare drum to vibrate. In response, the snares on the bottom of the drum began to rattle. It was NOT pleasant. After a while one of the band members walked over and switched the lever to the off position, silencing the annoyance.

This made me think of the conscience. Often this  effect is what happens inside our souls when we hear the truth of God. Human beings are unshakably moral creatures. And even relativists like to take the moral high ground when they insist it is wrong to judge them. God has reserved an ambassador within the soul, and when he speaks, our conscience rattles like that snare drum. This is especially true when we step over the line into the world of evil. It happens when we hear the truth spoken by friends or enemies, echoed in stories or songs, or read in the Bible. And often it happens during our own self-talk. We know how we ought to act, and that inner voice reminds us when we are in step or when we fall short.

Speaking of people that have never heard of the God of the Bible the Apostle Paul writes, “the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” (Romans 2:15)  I say this so that you will recognize the sound the next time you hear it. This sound is actually desirable- it was put there by the composer. Don’t try to turn it off.

Photo used by permission CC3.0 OCDP

I wrote this post several years ago, but lost track of it. It was recently discovered and I am happy to share it with you here.