Ulrich J. Blomann



"Silent sub rosa connections"


Coming to Terms with the Past and the Cold War


translated by Bradford Robinson


On 30 April 1947, some two years after the unconditional surrender of the Third Reich, the temporary professional restrictions leveled against Wilhelm Furtwängler were permanently lifted. Not only was one of the most prominent denazification cases in Germany's musical life thereby laid to rest, it amounted to something akin to a first-class general amnesty for every musician in the four zones of occupation and neighboring Austria. Fred Hamel summed up the situation, with tangible relief, in issue no. 2 of the first postwar volume of Musica:


            "It was unavoidable that Germany's musical life as a whole would see itself targeted in its most prestigious conductor. The ban that put him onto the blacklist ultimately compromised everyone who had served the cause of German music in the preceding era. It tacitly raised the question of whether any culturally creative artist who neither emigrated nor was sent to a concentration camp is employable today at all."


Furtwängler's rehabilitation took place shortly after the proclamation of the Truman Doctrine (12 March 1947) for the purpose of containing the alleged peril of Communism. It marked the beginning of a sharp acceleration in Germany's denazification proceedings, an acceleration that must be viewed against the backdrop of postwar Europe's ideological blocs, all vying for Furtwängler's potential prestige. Frances Stonor Saunders argued this point with convincing source material in 1999,[1] and two years later the "Furtwängler Affair" found its way onto celluloid in István Szabó's film Taking Sides. A system of silent sub rosa connections was reinstalled: the Cold War changed the view of the question of complicity, imposed by the victorious Allies, and the associated willingness to confront the past in every walk of society.

            Many things become clearer when seen in retrospect. In February 2012, the German Society for Musical Research (Gesellschaft für Musikforschung, GfM) held a congress on postwar culture and past policies in Mannheim (see Österreichische Musikzeitschrift, no. 2, 2012, pp. 73f.).[2] Once again, it is astonishing to see how long it took for the relations between musicology and National Socialism to become a topic of discussion. By way of explanation, it was pointed out that "events become amenable to history only after a certain lapse of time," or that an agreement to bury the past purportedly pertained between the perpetrators and their victims. Both these explanations were already contested and refuted long ago by Josef Wulf's Musik im Dritten Reich (1963) and Fred K. Prieberg's Musik im NS-Staat (1981). Striking back, academic musicology, as represented e.g. by Ludwig Finscher, dared to condemn these praiseworthy initial efforts. In the preface to the Neuwied congress report, Finscher decried, of all things, their "overly narrow and dubious source material" and their "lack of methodological rigor," arguing with completely inappropriate insistence on scholarly maximalism. Why he did so provides fertile ground for speculation. Interestingly, in the same breath, Professor Finscher himself noted that "academic musicology has not only presented nothing objectively or methodologically more satisfying on this subject, but, until a few years ago, practically nothing at all."[3] Despite these laudable attempts at self-criticism, Finscher must face the question of why, as the influential president of Germany's Society for Musical Research (1974-77) and later of its international counterpart (1977-81), he failed at least to help launch the scholarly debate on these topics while "chairing the floor" of these two organizations. After all, years before his first chairmanship, he had been the managing editor of the Society’s official journal Die Musikforschung (1961-67), where he had first certified Josef Wulf's failure to master his self-imposed task. [4]



"For those careers they needed the support of the older generation"


A second glance at Wulf's and Prieberg's books suffices to show that Finscher's early defensive reflexes may have arisen from a conflict of loyalties. Exactly ten years after publishing an obituary on his thesis adviser Rudolf Gerber, he tore Wulf's book to shreds. Yet the book gave him an initial opportunity (to put it charitably) to become familiar with at least the gist of Gerber's abysmal thoughts on the tasks of musicology in the Third Reich:


            "The notion of a value-free, autonomous discipline dissolves into a featureless phantasm devoid of raison d'être in the dawning age of 'political' scholarship." [5]



Words like these did not at all chime with the exalted image that Finscher had drawn of Gerber in his 1957 obituary:


            "In 1943 Gerber [...] was appointed to the professorship in Göttingen. Here, during the difficult years of the war and its aftermath, heedless of his own health and comfort, he served the cause of research and teaching to the point of self-sacrifice. Rudolf Gerber was a learned man in the noblest sense of the term. His truly universal activities lent expression to his will toward knowledge [...], which invariably pressed forward to the knowledge of larger connections and a living Wesensschau. [..] He was stern and relentlessly just [...], a clear-minded and sincere man who presented the prime example of a noble, rich, and fulfilled life of learning through the rigor and breadth of his own life and work. His death is a bitter and irreparable loss." [6]



Prieberg's Musik im NS-Staat also offers initial hints as to Finscher's contamination by his second teacher in Göttingen, Wolfgang Boetticher. In the Third Reich, Boetticher and his colleague Gerber had taken part in the plundering and confiscation of Jewish property under the aegis of Herbert Gerigk in the Sonderstab Musik (Special Task Force for Music),[7] the criminal activities of which were predicated on the two men's scholarly expertise.[8] In short, Gerber and Boetticher were hardly "simple party members," as was Finscher's later mentor Walter Wiora in Saarbrücken: they were perpetrators, with Boetticher probably the more unscrupulous of the two. After 1945, both remained undetected in Göttingen's Institute of Musicology, probably because, as Finscher revealingly observed in the above-mentioned article, they could reckon with the loyalty or opportunism of their students, fully aware of their reliance on these ties for their careers:


            "Perhaps with a few exceptions, the younger generation had no interest in looking back and reflecting: they seized their unique opportunities to rebuild the largely destroyed structures of the university and worked on their careers. For those careers they needed the support of the older generation, which seemed trustworthy for the simple reason that the older scholars had, as a rule, suffered no downturn in their own careers in 1945." [9]



Another reason why known involvement in criminal acts during the war years did not prove detrimental to postwar careers was a shift of paradigms in Allied policy. This turnabout prevented the Spruchkammern (civilian courts headed by German lay judges from 1946 for the purpose of gathering evidence) from continuing the process of denazification, which had been initiated with such lofty moral claims. It also kept postwar German society from delving at greater length and detail into the question of complicity.


No judge without a plaintiff


At least from spring 1947, when the Cold War fronts clearly reopened [10] and the former plaintiffs became enmeshed in ideological struggles of far greater moment, it was again possible, for the first time since the end of the war, to breathe a sigh of relief (we recall Fred Hamel's apt words on "Germany's musical life as a whole"). Now perpetrators, beneficiaries, and fellow-travelers could gradually emerge from their hiding places in the shadows of the increasingly intemperate Cold War: the Berlin Airlift (1948), the founding of the two German states (1949), the Korean War (1950). The first order of business was to inconspicuously regain the ground they had temporarily lost, and, in a second stage emerging from the first, to return with growing self-assurance to the only front that mattered: the music market, where, of course, there was money to be made. Whether in publishing houses, the media, cultural institutions, or colleges and universities, anyone willing to display a certain "pragmatism," and disinclined to wallow in escapist moralizing or overly idealistic scholarly and artistic rectitude, could skim off added-value, pursue gainful careers, and establish comfortable livelihoods.

            Until 1945 "Germany’s musical life as a whole," including that of annexed Austria, had been a powerful economic engine. Beginning roughly in 1947 it gradually went about regaining that same status, even after Austria's "de-annexation." Having witnessed the overwhelmed Spruchkammern and the clean bills of health that they handed out in 98 percent of the cases, Germany was not about to let moral broadsides disturb the increasingly stable balance of secure market shares, rising royalties, growing cultural subsidies, and highly paid professorships. Whenever the need arose, the merest hint of a moral qualm was combated legally with no holds barred and mercilessly quashed with reliable exculpating testimony from old-boy networks.

            Unwelcome disturbers of the peace, especially when, like Wulf and Prieberg, they did not even have formal scholarly qualifications, could be accused of lack of professionalism and neutralized, all with the blessing of academe. Things were even harder for university students and postgraduates. In 1969, the twenty-eight-year-old Konrad Boehmer was silenced by court order with the threat of a fine of unlimited amount. Drawing on fairly airtight evidence, he had dared to call Werner Egk – the officiating chairman of Germany's performance rights organization GEMA, the president of the German Music Council, and the chairman of the West German Composers Association – one of the "worst figures in the National Socialists' musical policies." The young moralizer, faced with empty pockets and the threat of a minimum of six months in prison, backed down. Still, his goal of publicizing the case of Egk had been attained.[11] "The only regrettable thing," Boehmer wrote in answer to a recent inquiry, "is that during the entire affair not a single German composer stood at my side. They preferred to immerse themselves in aleatoric processes, clusters, or orchestral noises." [12]


            It need hardly be stressed that the reactions outlined above to the appallingly small number of contemporaries interested in the music history of the Third Reich sent a strong signal whose impact cannot be overstated. No scholarly or journalistic blue ribbon was to be won against the overpowering strength of the old-boy networks in Germany’s culture industry, no matter how patently clear the evidence. Anyone who opened his or her mouth too wide very soon found themselves, like Wulf, Prieberg, or Boehmer, all alone on a broad minefield. Nor need they be surprised to discover later that, as persona non grata, their career chances in musicologically homogenized Germany were nil. "Liquid musicology" looks quite different from that.

            Others who, unlike the three men just named, were not blind to the realities of the times and cherished no romanticized view of scholarship, held their tongues in the nick of time and quickly capitalized on their both legally and morally promising positions as Jewish exiles to reach their career goals, which, in Germany, could not be attained without established cliques. A good example is Max Horkheimer, a man already clear-sighted before 1933 and no less so after 1945. We arrive at this conclusion from a letter he sent to his wife Maiden in the United States while traveling in Germany in June 1948:


            "The denazification process against Rector Platzhoff is now under way. The chairman of the court has written to me, saying that he has heard of my presence here, and asked me to come by and help him in the case. But I will think twice about crossing swords with the university as the sole genuine witness for the prosecution. Surely there are many people no less swinish than Herr Platzhoff who have long returned to teaching the German youth."[13]



"It's enough to drive one to despair..."


Karl Amadeus Hartmann, a Munich composer wooed as "a man of utmost integrity" by America's postwar cultural officers, waited almost too long before pulling the brakes. It was not until 1949 that he "reconciled" himself with his former Weimar acquaintances Orff and Egk by placing their music on the programs of his Musica Viva series. As early as the Munich Summer Festival of 1947, the former beneficiaries, fellow-travelers, and perpetrators had perilously closed ranks almost completely. The Festival opened symbolically with two guest performances by the Berlin Philharmonic, not under Celibidache, as originally announced, but under Furtwängler. Die Bernauerin by Carl Orff, winner of the Munich Art Prize of 1947, was mounted countless times with an all-star cast at the Bavarian State Opera, while Hartmann's Simplicius Simplicissimus once again remained unperformed.

            The Munich Summer Festival might have seemed like a highly promising fresh start for Bavaria's cultural life to anyone who did not, like Hartmann, happen to know that only a few years earlier, from 3 to 10 May 1942, practically the same clique had held a get-together at Vienna's "Week of Contemporary Music," organized by the artistically minded Gauleiter and Reichsstatthalter Baldur von Schirach. Though von Schirach had the "heavy duty" of effectively cleansing his political district of Jews during the day, he was not, in the evening, about to forego his enjoyment of the "exhilarating earthly pleasures"[14] or the "delightfully buoyant lightness and warmth"[15] of Orff's Carmina Burana, sung in the composer's presence inter alia by the tender larynxes of the Vienna Boys' Choir. To Hartmann, this must have been an unbearable affront. "That's why a complete artistic nonentity like Orff is showered with honors today," Hartmann wrote to Egon Wellesz in January 1948. "When one sees all these antics, believe me, it's enough to drive one to despair. It's terrible to live with this nation."

            Agreement between victims and perpetrators to bury the past? Far from it! The tiny minority that had kept the Third Reich morally untainted, whether in exile or in "inner emigration," were able to watch benignly as the régime's activists, fellow travelers, and beneficiaries landed on the blacklists of the military government. But it was not destined to last long: the brown-tinted vultures were already circling above their uplifted heads, waiting with growing certainty for the end of denazification. An encouraging boost came as international politics grew more heated beneath the banner of the Cold War. As the hated image of Fascism began to fade, it was quickly painted over with the newly rediscovered peril of Communism, or "Bolshevism." Operation Back-Talk, initiated on orders from the State Department by Lucius D. Clay only a few months after the proclamation of the Truman Doctrine, launched the anti-Communist crusade in Europe and the western zones of occupied Germany according to American specifications. Press passes granted to left-liberal journalists shortly after the end of hostilities were revoked without explanation in the western zones of occupation. In the wake of the loyalty oath enacted by President Truman in the United States, even the American media established on German soil (RIAS, Rundfunk im amerikanischen Sektor) were "purged" of suspicious activists, not only among the military government’s own personnel.



"The infestation of the European spirit" [16]



With the advent of the Cold War the question of complicity, largely left unanswered, was not just postponed or swept under the rug: it was swiftly besmirched with a black-and-white clash of systems in every area of society. Culture, and more specifically music, could hardly remain unaffected. Klaus Mann, faced with this recent "infestation of the European spirit," to quote his final essay (the same infestation had thwarted his attempts to publish his novel Mephisto), wound up taking his own life. "While East and West square off against each other, the best minds of Europe are held spellbound by the battle of ideologies. Neutrality, wisdom, and objectivity are considered high treason. It behooves the intellectual to make a decision, to take a stand, to fight, to be a soldier."

            One of those intellectuals who decided to fight on the aesthetic front was Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt. During the Weimar Republic this friend of Hanns Eisler had ceaselessly polemicized against the "Olympian" Schoenberg, claiming that "any bakery is more important" than an art that stands "without a position amidst the realities of life, unmoored from society, without power of commitment." By spring 1947 this anti-Schoenbergian fox of the Weimar Republic had become guardian of the Schoenberg henhouse, writing a biography of the composer and standing in the front ranks of the forces arrayed against the aesthetic premises of the Eastern hemisphere. From now on he professed faith in that same Formalism that he had once decried as art for art's sake, and in its alleged champion Schoenberg, whose twelve-tone music witnessed, to quote Carl Dahlhaus, an "epidemic proliferation" in the Western avant-garde scene. [17]


            Flanking this offensive was Adorno's Philosophy of New Music (1949). Adorno only began to write its section on Stravinsky in February 1948, and thus only after Eisler's hearings before the House Un-American Activities Committee, only after Adorno had chosen to withdraw his name from the book on film music he had co-written with Eisler, and shortly before Eisler's deportation from the United States in March 1948. "Adorno arrays the two main sections of the book against each other like two opposing armies: 'Schoenberg and Progress' vs. 'Stravinsky and the Restoration.'[18] He thrashes the living daylights out of Stravinsky."[19] The image of two opposing armies hits the metaphorical nail on its head. There is much evidence to suggest that Adorno's book, though it indeed thrashes Stravinsky, was actually aimed at Socialist Realism and the régime that vouchsafed its existence. In other words, his musico‑philosophical credo, no less than Truman's loyalty oath decree of 21 March 1947, is a camouflaged pledge of allegiance to the values of his country of exile, and thus against the Soviet hemisphere. In light of these facts, it does not in the least "appear cynical" (as Adorno, in a strangely pious tone, avers in the preface to this influential volume) "after what has happened in Europe, and what continues to threaten [!], to lavish time and mental energy on the deciphering of esoteric questions on the technique of modern composition." On the contrary, it was thoroughly pragmatic, from the viewpoint of a philosopher of music, to punctually proclaim his political allegiance while raising his aesthetic colors, though not everyone could be expected to notice this. A further discussion of this point can be found here.

            The factuality of these recent and present musical conditions attracted little interest on this side of the Iron Curtain. Musicology meant writing analyses of Schoenberg's op. 19, critically examining less explosive eras of music history, or practicing philosophy of music, and thus, as Hanns Eisler once put it, "dialectical mysticism"[20] à la Adorno and his influential disciples, who soon succeeded in taking the fight out of his dogmatic and polemical forebears.

            On the one side of Germany’s inner border was "history as a means of understanding music" (to quote the title of Georg Knepler's Geschichte als Weg zum Musikverständnis); on the other, the idea of "absolute music." On the one side, music and musicology were committed to "objective truth" or "objective laws" in the name of peace and the collective; on the other, they did the same in the name of liberty and the individual. Crossovers – Hanns Eisler's letter to Germany of 1951, Dessau's, Wagner-Régeny's, Henze's, Blacher's, and Hartmann's Jewish Chronicle ten years later – were few and far between on either side, apart from several praiseworthy exceptions in the late 1960s.

            In hindsight, given the tiny audiences for this music on either side of the Wall, these protagonists, working within sharply divided aesthetic horizons, seem like actors appearing in a play from the Theater of the Absurd. The play still awaits its final curtain as the battle continues to rage from the aesthetic trenches. How did Rudolf Gerber put it during the Third Reich? "The notion of a value-free, autonomous discipline dissolves into a featureless phantasm devoid of raison d'être in the dawning age of 'political' scholarship." He ended up being right, far beyond the year 1945 ...





[1]    Frances Stonor Saunders: Who paid the piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (London, 1999), p. 16.

[2] An initial conference on this subject already took place in Neuwied in 2000. See Isolde von Foerster, Christoph Hust, and Christoph-Hellmut Mahling, eds.: Musikforschung – Faschismus – Nationalismus: Referate der Tagung Schloss Engers (8.-11.3. 2000) (Mainz, 2001). In Austria, too, the subject was at best sporadically broached; see Musik in Wien 1938-1945, ed. Carmen Ottner, Studien zu Franz Schmidt 15 (Vienna, 2006).

[3] Ludwig Finscher: “Musikwissenschaft und Nationalismus – Bemerkungen zum Stand der Diskussion,” Musikforschung – Faschismus – Nationalismus (see note 2), pp. 1f.

[4]    Die Musikforschung (1967), pp. 335f.

[5]    Rudolf Gerber: “Die Aufgaben der Musikwissenschaft im Dritten Reich,” Zeitschrift für Musik (May 1935), pp. 497f.

[6]    Ludwig Finscher: “Nachruf auf Rudolf Gerber,” Musica 10 (1957), pp. 582ff.

[7] See Willem de Vries: Sonderstab Musik: Organisierte Plünderungen in Westeuropa 1940-45 (Cologne, 1998), and Pamela M. Potter: Most German of the Arts: Musicology and Society from the Weimar Republic to the End of Hitler’s Reich (New Haven and London, 1998).

[8]   Wilem de de Vries: "There can be little doubt that a great many stolen items of music etc. passed through      Gerber’s hands, if not only in Paris, then also in Germany. And he knew of this pillaging and never distanced himself from it. Even if he was still a ‘passive’ member of Rosenberg’s organization back in Germany, he remained complicit in its crimes.” E-mail of 9 April 2012 to the present writer.

[9]    Finscher, “Musikwissenschaft und Nationalismus” (see note 2), p. 2.

[10] For understandable reasons, many historians maintained that the Cold War already began with the Russian Revolution and was merely interrupted by the Second World War.

[11] Thomas Poeschel: ABRAXAS – Höllen-Spectaculum: Von Heinrich Heine bis Werner Egk (Berlin, 2002), pp. 17-22. Incidentally, the only person who stood at Boehmer’s side in the courtroom and the printed media with a knowledge of the sources and professional expertise was Fred K. Prieberg.

[12] Just a few years ago the writer of these lines again confirmed Konrad Boehmer’s characterization of Egk by unearthing new material in the November 1940 issue of Mitteilungen der Fachschaft Komponisten in der Reichsmusikkammer, the official journal of the composers’ chapter of the Reichsmusikkammer. There the reader will find excerpts of a speech that Egk delivered at the “War Meeting of German Composers” at Remscheid Castle (26-28 October 1940), shortly before his appointment as chairman of that same chapter, in the midst of the so-called “Battle of Britain,” just about to reach its ignominious end: "The yardstick for the vitality of a nation is its need for and ability to produce culture. I would consider it no accident if England should have to perish today. England brought forth and continues to bring forth technically polished and highly virtuosic light music and detective novels, but has long been incapable of giving the world a great literary figure, a great architect, or even one great composer, for a nation without culture is condemned to death!” Werner Egk: “Redebeitrag,” Mitteilungen der Fachschaft Komponisten in der Reichsmusikkammer, ed. Fachschaft Komponisten in der Reichsmusikkammer (Berlin, November 1940), p. 12. Among other places, this publication can be consulted in the Unter den Linden branch of the Berliner Staatsbibliothek under the shelf mark Mus. B. 3472.

[13] Max Horkheimer, quoted from Rolf Wiggershaus: Die Frankfurter Schule: Geschichte – Theoretische      Entwicklung – Politische Bedeutung (Frankfurt am Main, 1991), p. 444.

[14]   Roland Tenschert: “Werner Egk und Carl Orff in der Staatsoper,” Neues Wiener Tagblatt (11 May 1942).

[15]   Anon.: “Zeitgenössische Musik in Wien,” Niedersächsische Tageszeitung (12 May 1942).

[16]   Klaus Mann: “Die Heimsuchung des europäischen Geistes,” in idem: Die Heimsuchung des europäischen Geistes – Aufsätze (Munich, 1973), pp. 115-132, quote on p. 131.

[17]   Carl Dahlhaus: “Zum Spätwerk Arnold Schönbergs,” in idem, ed.: Die Wiener Schule heute: Neun Beiträge, Veröffentlichung des Instituts für Neue Musik und Musikerziehung Darmstadt 24 (Mainz, 1983), pp. 19-32, quote on p. 21.

[18] Adorno uses the term “Reaktion” in the table of contents but “Restauration” as a section heading in the main body of the text.

[19] Werner Klüppelholz: “Der Papst der Musik: Theodor W. Adornos Größe und Grenzen,” SWR2 Musikstunde, 9:05-10:00 am, 4 August 2009 (broadcast transcript).

[20] Hanns Eisler: “Zur Krise der bürgerlichen Musik,” in idem: Musik und Politik: Schriften 1924-1948,  Gesammelte Werke, ser. 3, vol. 1 (Leipzig, 1973), p. 188.