Furtwängler and the Nazis - again

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John F
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Furtwängler and the Nazis - again

Post by John F » Sun Aug 05, 2018 1:54 am

Joseph Horowitz wrote the tendentious "Understanding Toscanini," which Mortimer Frank rebutted in a review titled "Misunderstanding Toscanini." But Horowitz does understand quite a lot about Furtwängler, and there are significant insights into his approach to music here.

Furtwangler and the Nazis
August 4, 2018
by Joe Horowitz

One of the most thrilling documents of symphonic music in performance—readily accessible on YouTube—is a clip of Wilhelm Furtwängler leading the Berlin Philharmonic in the closing five minutes of Brahms’s Symphony No. 4. Furtwängler is not commanding a performing army. Rather he is channeling a trembling state of heightened emotional awareness so irresistible as to obliterate, in the moment, all previous encounters with the music at hand. This experience is both empowering and—upon reflection—a little scary. And it occurred some three years after the implosion of Hitler’s Third Reich—a regime for which Furtwängler, though not exactly an advocate, was a potent cultural symbol.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leYbb5KZYDg

In 20th-century classical music, the iconic embodiment of the fight for democratic freedoms was the Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, who fled Europe and galvanized opposition to Hitler and Mussolini. Furtwängler (1886-1954), who remained behind, was Toscanini’s iconic antipode, eschewing the objective clarity of Toscanini’s literalism in favor of Teutonic ideals of lofty subjective spirituality.

Furtwängler was inaccurately denounced in America as a Nazi. His de-Nazification proceedings were misreported in the New York Times. Afterward, he was prevented by a blacklist from conducting the Chicago Symphony or the Metropolitan Opera, both of which wanted him. Furtwängler was no Nazi. Behind the scenes, he helped Jewish musicians. Before the war ended, he fled Germany for Switzerland. Even so, his ­insistence on being “nonpolitical” was naive and self-deluded. As a tool of Hitler and Goebbels, he potently abetted the German war effort. In effect, he lent his prestige to the Third Reich whenever he performed, whether in Berlin or abroad. He was also famously photographed shaking hands with Goebbels from the stage.

In “Wilhelm Furtwängler: Art and the Politics of the Unpolitical,” Roger Allen, a fellow at St. Peter’s College, Oxford, doesn’t dwell on any of this. Rather he undertakes a deeper inquiry and asks: Did Furtwängler espouse a characteristically German cultural-philosophical mind-set that in effect embedded Hitler? He answers yes. But the answer is glib.

Mr. Allen’s method is to cull a mountain of Furtwängler writings. That Furtwängler at all times embodied what Thomas Mann in 1945 called “the German-Romantic counter-revolution in intellectual history” is documented beyond question. He was an apostle of Germanic inwardness. He endorsed the philosophical precepts of Hegel and the musical analyses of Heinrich Schenker, for whom German composers mattered most. All this, Mr. Allen shows, propagated notions of “organic” authenticity recapitulated by Nazi ideologues.

Furtwängler’s writings as sampled here (others are better) are repetitious—and so, alas, is Mr. Allen’s commentary. The tensions and paradoxes complicating Furtwängler’s devil’s pact, his surrender to communal ecstasies ennobling or perilous, are reduced to simplistic presumption. Furtwängler’s murky Germanic thinking remains murky and uncontextualized. One would never know, from Mr. Allen’s exegesis, that Hegel formulated a sophisticated “holistic” alternative to the Enlightenment philosophies undergirding Anglo-American understandings of free will. One would never suspect that Schenkerian analysis, extrapolating the fundamental harmonic subcurrents upon which Furtwängler’s art feasted, is today alive and well.

Here’s an example. Furtwängler writes: “Bruckner is one of the few geniuses . . . whose appointed task was to express the transcendental in human terms, to weave the power of God into the fabric of human life. Be it in struggles against demonic forces, or in music of blissful transfiguration, his whole mind and spirit were infused with thoughts of the divine.” Mr. Allen comments: “It is this idea, with its anti-intellectual subtext, which ­associates Furtwängler so strongly with aspects of Nazi ideology. . . . That Bruckner’s music represents the power of God at work in the fabric of human existence, can be seen as an extension of the Nazi . . . belief in God as a mystical creative power.” But many who ­revere Brucknerian “divine bliss” are neither anti-intellectual nor religiously inclined.

A much more compelling section of Mr. ­Allen’s narrative comes at the end, when he observes that Furtwängler maintained his musical ideology after World War II, with no evident pause for reflection. One can agree that this says something unpleasant about the Furtwängler persona, suggesting a nearly atavistic truculence. But it is reductionist to analogize Furtwängler’s unrelenting postwar hostility to nontonal music to “the non-rational censure of ‘degenerate’ art by the Nazis.” Far more interesting is Furtwängler’s own argument that the nontonal music of Arnold Schoenberg and his followers lacks an “overview.” A calibrated long-range trajectory of musical thought was an essential ingredient of Furtwängler’s interpretive art. Absent the ­tension-and-release dynamic of tonal harmony, he had little to work with.

The political dangers inherent in German Romantic music are a familiar concern, beginning with Nietzsche’s skewerings of Wagner. The best writer on this topic remains Thomas Mann, who lived it. Here he is in ­“Reflections of a Non-Political Man” (1918): “Art will never be moral or virtuous in any ­political sense: and progress will never be able to put its trust in art. It has a fundamental ­tendency to unreliability and treachery; its . . . predilection for the ‘barbarism’ that begets beauty [is] indestructible; and although some may call this predilection . . . immoral to the point of endangering the world, yet it is an imperishable fact of life, and if one wanted to eradicate this aspect of art . . . then one might well have freed the world from a serious ­danger; but in the process one would almost certainly have freed it from art itself.”

With the coming of Hitler, Mann changed his tune and moved to California. The most ­impressive pages of Mr. Allen’s book come in an appendix: Mann’s lecture “Germany and the Germans,” delivered at the Library of Congress in 1945. Mann here becomes a proud American: “Everything else would have meant too narrow and specific an alienation of my existence. As an American I am a citizen of the world.”

It is pertinent to remember that seven years later, having witnessed the Cold War and the Red Scare, Mann deserted the U.S. for Switzerland; as early as 1951 he wrote to a friend: “I have no desire to rest my bones in this soulless soil to which I owe nothing, and which knows nothing of me.” Wilhelm Furtwängler’s refusal to emigrate, however else construed, is not irrelevant here. He processed much differently the stresses that drove Thomas Mann into permanent exile.

http://www.artsjournal.com/uq/2018/08/f ... nazis.html
John Francis

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Re: Furtwängler and the Nazis - again

Post by maestrob » Sun Aug 05, 2018 10:56 am

Very interesting, JohnF, thank you. Furtwangler's reasons for staying in Germany have always been obscure to me, and despite the article and your comments, they still are. Was it for the sake of his career? Was his reasoning philosophical? I understand much better Toscanini's thinking in opposing Hitler and Mussolini by refusing to perform in those countries, probably because that's what I would do under those circumstances. Though Furtwangler did some good from within, how could he tolerate being an icon for the Nazi regime if he was so opposed to them privately? Inquiring minds want to know. I'm sure this is "old hat" to you, so I won't press the point, but I imagine Furtwangler could have had a magnificent career outside of Germany.

John F
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Re: Furtwängler and the Nazis - again

Post by John F » Sun Aug 05, 2018 1:25 pm

Furtwängler's reason seems to me pretty clear. Germany was his country and his people, he loved it and its culture even when the party in power perverted and abused it, and while he could certainly have supported himself making music elsewhere, in other respects he would have been a fish out of water. A somewhat analogous situation arise in the U.S. during the Vietnam War, when many Americans left the country in protest or to avoid being sent to fight there or to prison if they refused.

Think about it for a moment. If somehow our country were taken over by the likes of the Nazi party, but you yourself were safe, would you nonetheless go to Sweden or Switzerland in protest (if they would have you), leaving behind your career and your orchestra if you have one and family and friends, or would you keep your head down and continue to live and make music here? I think that's what most people would do, and what many Germans did do.
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Re: Furtwängler and the Nazis - again

Post by barney » Sun Aug 05, 2018 7:38 pm

I remember reading of a torturer for a South American dictator being asked how he could do such appalling things. His reply was to the effect that the first small cruelty was the key one; gradually his conscience was seared.
I think JohnF is right about people who stayed in Germany - one would need a really clear view and acute conscience to pack everything and everyone up and start anew. I also think the parallel works - not that Furtwangler compares with a torturer, but that the first accommodation of conscience to the Nazi regime sets one on a path where one is ever more compromised.
I can easily imagine myself rationalising staying, and I can easily imagine myself leaving, in fear and outrage.

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Re: Furtwängler and the Nazis - again

Post by Belle » Mon Aug 06, 2018 12:52 am

Of course, Erich Kleiber left in disgust over the treatment of Jewish musicians. People said his wife Ruth was Jewish, but she wasn't; her mother had remarried after the death of Ruth's father and his name was Goodrich. Ruth Goodrich Kleiber was no Jew and Erich stood on principle like few before or since.

Klaus Tennstedt spoke and wrote about living in fear under the Nazis and not being able to listen to Russian or Jewish music. It's all in the Desert Island Discs interview on BBC3 from 1991. They were all terrified lest they fall foul of 'the regime'. We tend to forget that once Hitler gained a foothold his power was reinforced by those thugs in the SS.

Professor Jordan Peterson has studied totalitarianism for some years and he has commented about this, saying (I'm paraphrasing) we all think we would have been one of the good guys if we'd lived in those times but the chance of that being so are slim to none!!!

John F
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Re: Furtwängler and the Nazis - again

Post by John F » Mon Aug 06, 2018 2:58 am

barney wrote:
Sun Aug 05, 2018 7:38 pm
I can easily imagine myself rationalising staying, and I can easily imagine myself leaving, in fear and outrage.
Most who left Germany during the Nazi time did so fearing for their lives, I'm sure - and they were right. The Nazis had so many reasons for imprisoning, torturing, and killing people that the knock on the door could come at any time. Others left because they could no longer work in Germany; Fritz Busch was hounded out of Dresden by Nazi thugs even before they came to power. And yes, some left Nazi Germany or boycotted it from outrage, Kleiber and Toscanini among the most prominent musicians.

Furtwängler's most striking character flaw, I think, was his arrogance, which could be defined as an exaggerated sense of his own importance. He believed he was too important to his country to be treated as Fritz Busch had been, let alone imprisoned or murdered as so many others were. And he was indeed important to the Nazis as a symbol of their respect for mainstream German culture, indulged and treated as a VIP. So he was able largely to be a law unto himself and protect Jewish players in his orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, while they were being purged from the Vienna Philharmonic and sent to concentration camps. Eventually, as Germany was losing the war, Albert Speer warned him that the Gestapo was about to arrest him, and then he fled to Switzerland.
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Re: Furtwängler and the Nazis - again

Post by Modernistfan » Mon Aug 06, 2018 4:13 pm

I have posted several times regarding this. Furtw​​ängler was not in fact a Nazi, but definitely did have some anti-Semitic and v​ölkisch views. It needs to be remembered that, prior to 1933, there were several strands of anti-Semitism other than that of the Nazis, and many people sometimes labeled as "national conservatives" were part of this camp. These people, while not necessarily endorsing the eliminationist goals of Hitler, agreed with him that Jews were generally destructive to authentic, organic German culture and supported measures to reduce the role and significance of Jews in Germany, especially in the press and the arts. One of the hallmarks of this view was a dichotomy between culture and civilization. Culture was organic, authentic, rooted in the land, and was primarily rural. Civilization was rootless, cosmopolitan, urban, and ultimately destructive to the unity of Germany as a people; this camp associated cities with Jews. From some of his comments about Jewish musicians, including invoking the trope of "empty virtuosity," it is clear that ​Furtw​​angler was of this view. This is not inconsistent with him working to save some Jewish musicians such as the concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic, Szymon Goldberg, and others.

barney
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Re: Furtwängler and the Nazis - again

Post by barney » Tue Aug 07, 2018 5:34 pm

Modernistfan wrote:
Mon Aug 06, 2018 4:13 pm
I have posted several times regarding this. Furtw​​ängler was not in fact a Nazi, but definitely did have some anti-Semitic and v​ölkisch views. It needs to be remembered that, prior to 1933, there were several strands of anti-Semitism other than that of the Nazis, and many people sometimes labeled as "national conservatives" were part of this camp. These people, while not necessarily endorsing the eliminationist goals of Hitler, agreed with him that Jews were generally destructive to authentic, organic German culture and supported measures to reduce the role and significance of Jews in Germany, especially in the press and the arts. One of the hallmarks of this view was a dichotomy between culture and civilization. Culture was organic, authentic, rooted in the land, and was primarily rural. Civilization was rootless, cosmopolitan, urban, and ultimately destructive to the unity of Germany as a people; this camp associated cities with Jews. From some of his comments about Jewish musicians, including invoking the trope of "empty virtuosity," it is clear that ​Furtw​​angler was of this view. This is not inconsistent with him working to save some Jewish musicians such as the concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic, Szymon Goldberg, and others.
This is a very helpful clarification, and I believe it is right.

barney
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Re: Furtwängler and the Nazis - again

Post by barney » Tue Aug 07, 2018 5:37 pm

Belle wrote:
Mon Aug 06, 2018 12:52 am

Professor Jordan Peterson has studied totalitarianism for some years and he has commented about this, saying (I'm paraphrasing) we all think we would have been one of the good guys if we'd lived in those times but the chance of that being so are slim to none!!!
I entirely agree. On a slightly related note, I am always amused when I meet people who believe in past lives how they were always nobles or advisers to the king or similar. I think they - and I - were statistically far more likely to be a peasant or slave.

Belle
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Re: Furtwängler and the Nazis - again

Post by Belle » Tue Aug 07, 2018 6:34 pm

Absolutely agree; statistically we would have all been peasants or some kind of lowly worker if we'd lived in the days of Jane Austen!! It gives an edge to the biblical words, "the meek shall inherit the earth". My father always used to say that expression was created in order to keep the peasants in their place!!!

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Re: Furtwängler and the Nazis - again

Post by THEHORN » Wed Aug 08, 2018 1:26 pm

Whatever his faults, Furtwangler was no Anti-Semite , and there is absolutely no evidence of him ever having Anti-Semitic sentiments . He enabled many Jewish musicians to escape Germany , and he he were an Anti-Semite, Yehudi Menuhin, who regularly collaborated with him on violin concertos and admired him greatly and knew him well, would have said so .

John F
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Re: Furtwängler and the Nazis - again

Post by John F » Thu Aug 09, 2018 4:31 am

Now and then in his private correspondence, and possibly in print (I haven't searched through the three Furtwängler collections I have), Furtwängler made comments that today would be considered antisemitic, though in the 1920s and 1930s not so much. However, in 1933 he had the courage (or the naiveté) to write a letter to Joseph Goebbels - I believe an open letter, as it's included in the essay collection "Ton und Wort" but not in the collected letters - in which he said that the purpose of art is to unite people, not divide them; that the division between Jews and non-Jews in art was damaging; and that "People like [Bruno] Walter, [Otto] Klemperer, [Max] Reinhardt, and others must be able to come to Germany with their art and speech." "In this spirit I appeal to you, in the name of German art, not to do things which perhaps can't be taken back."

Also in 1933, WF wrote a cordial letter to Schoenberg (then still living in Berlin) on a matter of business, signing off "With many greetings to you and your wife." Schoenberg's atonal and 12-tone works were certainly not his kind of music, though he had conducted the 5 Pieces for Orchestra while music director of the Berlin Philharmonic, but he took Schoenberg seriously as an artist and as a person.
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Re: Furtwängler and the Nazis - again

Post by Lance » Thu Aug 09, 2018 12:47 pm

I am firmly convinced that Furtwangler was an anti-Nazi. I believe his primary interest was in German art/music, and he did much to keep it going in the right direction but prevailing circumstances would not often allow that to happen.
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Re: Furtwängler and the Nazis - again

Post by Lance » Tue Aug 14, 2018 3:48 pm

I have just finished reading Daniel Gillis' Furtwangler in America, published in 1970 by Manyland Books, Inc., Woodhaven, New York. This is a fairly thorough study by Gillis based on articles from the past and studies of many documents. The hatred Furtwangler endured by America — and by a large Jewish population — was because they among many others simply didn't understand the man and what he was attempting to do to keep Germany in the stronghold of their great culture during Third Reich times. This is a good read published only 14 years after the death of the maestro in 1954.
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