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The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich [Paperback]

Michael H. Kater
2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

March 1 1999
Is music removed from politics? To what ends, beneficent or malevolent, can music and musicians be put? In short, when human rights are grossly abused and politics turned to fascist demagoguery, can art and artists be innocent? These questions and their implications are explored in Michael Kater's broad survey of musicians and the music they composed and performed during the Third Reich. Great and small--from Valentin Grimm, a struggling clarinetist, to Richard Strauss, renowned composer--are examined by Kater, sometimes in intimate detail, and the lives and decisions of Nazi Germany's professional musicians are laid out before the reader. Kater tackles the issue of whether the Nazi regime, because it held music in crassly utilitarian regard, acted on musicians in such a way as to consolidate or atomize the profession. Kater's examination of the value of music for the regime and the degree to which the regime attained a positive propaganda and palliative effect through the manner in which it manipulated its musicians, and by extension, German music, is of importance for understanding culture in totalitarian systems. This work, with its emphasis on the social and political nature of music and the political attitude of musicians during the Nazi regime, will be the first of its kind. It will be of interest to scholars and general readers eager to understand Nazi Germany, to music lovers, and to anyone interested in the interchange of music and politics, culture and ideology.

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In literature, music is the food of love and soothes the savage beast; in politics, it can be perverted by the worst of causes. So claims Michael Kater in his compelling study of music and musicians in the Third Reich, The Twisted Muse. What did it mean to compose music for Hitler and his Nazi regime? Kater asks; can artists working in a climate of oppression and fascist demagoguery dismiss their roles by claiming they created or performed for the sake of art alone? To answer these questions, Kater approaches his subject from two different angles: first, he examines the lives of musicians living under the Nazi regime--from little known musicians struggling in the orchestra pit to the great and famous, including Richard Strauss and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. Next, he examines the role music played in the Third Reich and the ways in which the Nazis manipulated it as propaganda.

The Twisted Muse is part biography, part history, but it is wholly fascinating. Michael Kater's unique approach to the subject of music and musicians as tools of the state ensures a wide audience, not only among music lovers, but among all those interested in politics, culture, or psychology. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

The fate of musicians in Nazi Germany is a controversial subject that has been dealt with only sparingly in the past, mostly in the course of studies of such superstars as Wilhelm Furtwangler, Herbert von Karajan, Elizabeth Schwartzkopf, Otto Klemperer and Bruno Walter. Kater, a cultural historian based at York University in Toronto, who has already written books on jazz in Nazi Germany and on how doctors fared under Hitler, has done prodigious primary research, much of it in hitherto unexamined files, to emerge with a mountain of fresh material. He does indeed discuss the well-known names-finding in most cases that their behavior falls within a gray area rather than the stark black-and-white outlines so often presented by admirers or detractors-but also examines the fate of ordinary orchestral musicians, and of journeyman soloists and composers, some of whom were never known outside the country. He writes of the Nazis' frustrating attempts to create a valid contemporary music style free of "Jewish" and jazz influences, the role serious music played in the war effort and the remarkably different routes to survival chosen by composers as unlike as Richard Strauss, Hans Pfitzner, Carl Orff and Karl Amadeus Hartmann. A work this exhaustive and extensively footnoted is obviously not for a casual reader; but anyone seriously interested in the interface of art and a peculiarly threatening political culture will find it endlessly fascinating.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Predictable and bland, but well researched March 23 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
What music historians and historians of the Third Reich seem to forget is that the National Socialist regime was very, very friendly towards those art forms it deemed pure and classical in nature. Germany's urban centers in the 1920's /early 1930's were full of jazz clubs, underground performance art theaters, cabaret houses and fly-by-night citizen art galleries. While modernists and the European radical chic may have appreciated Germany being on the "cutting edge" - the German National Socialist regime did not. The hierarchy of the Third Reich (most importantly Hitler's Minster of Culture Alfred Rosenberg) made concerted efforts to shun modern music and modern art forms (which were viewed as degenerate and Jewish in nature). In turn, the Nazis wholly embraced classical music and classical art. Indeed, Germany experienced a classical, cultural resurgence of sorts, with millions of deutschmarks being allocated by the government for public art and music programs during the 1930's/1940's. For many artists living and performing in Germany at that time, the government's attitude towards traditional art forms must have seemed overwhelming and exhilarating. It is here that Michael Kater's "The Twisted Muse" first falters - it neglects to take this delicate cultural shift into full consideration -- and then fails to place this shift within the context of German socio-politics and modern German history.
In "The Twisted Muse", readers are subjected to a thorough but overwhelmingly un-objective series of chapters each aimed at painting German musicians and conductors from the war era as demonic, crazed, maniacal fascists. If there is one thing that the book inadvertently reveals, it is that many artists of the era were simply caught up in the same frenzied whirlwind as the rest of Europe.
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61 of 63 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing; regrettably unreliable Aug. 10 2004
By Laon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I went to this book for some background information on the Nazi reception of modernism in music. Unfortunately, though I found it well written, and I share Kater's mordant view of the composers and musicians who were prepared to futher their careers by going along with Nazi policies, I found that I would hesitate before I cited or applied factual claims from the book without first getting independent confirmation.

The problem is that I do know one related area reasonably well, the Nazi reception and perception of Wagner. And what Kater says there is not just wrong, but wrong in ways that I find worrying. It's not that I think that Wagner is the most important issue in relation to Third Reich cultural policies - far from it. It's just that when you find that you can't trust what a book says about a field you do know, it leaves you worried about its claims in the areas you don't know.

Three examples. First, Kater wrote, "The evidence shows that although public stagings of Wagner operas nationally had been decreasing long before the onset of the Third Reich, and even more so after 1933, in absolute figures these performances still topped the list until 1942/43, with works by such composers as Verdi, Puccini, and Strauss well behind." [page 39]

In reality "public stagings of Wagner operas nationally" increased each year before "the onset of the Third Reich", right up to the 1932/33 season, but decreased immediately and dramatically after the Nazis took power, for the 1933/34 season, and that decrease continued and accelerated during the Nazi era.

And although Wagner had invariably "topped the list" under the Weimar democracy, with hundreds more Wagner performances each year than performances of any of his nearest rivals, in reality he quickly lost that position once the Nazis seized the cultural reins. Wagner had lost first place to Verdi by the 1937/38 season, regained it (by just 18 performances) in 1938/39, and then lost by hundreds of performances in 1939/40, slipping further down the ranks in subsequent years. Some people may find that surprising, but there it is.

Second, Kater wrote of Hitler's "autobiography, which he started writing while imprisoned as Landsberg in 1924-25, naming it _Mein Kampf_, not accidentally after Richard Wagner's own _Mein Leben_."

But there are two problems with Kater's claim that the title "My Struggle" is a sort of homage to Wagner's title, "My Life". One is that all that the two titles have in common is the word "My", like "My Apprenticeship" by Maxim Gorki, "My Life", by Bill Clinton, and so on. More importantly, Hitler actually called his book _Four and a Half Years of Struggle Against Corruption, Stupidity and Lies_. The snappier title, _Mein Kampf_, was chosen by Hitler's publishers.

Still, maybe Kater misread the tables of performance numbers. Maybe he didn't know Hitler's own title for his autobiography. Still, _The Twisted Muse_ is Kater's sixth book about the Third Reich and its cultural policies. Shouldn't a specialist, whose publishing history suggests he'd been working this territory for over 20 years when this book came out, know this stuff?

Which leads to my third example, the problem of Kater's Rosenberg quote. Kater derided the evidence, cited in Frederick Spotts' _Bayreuth_ history, that the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg was hostile to Wagner. Kater's supposed clincher, proving that Rosenberg was a fervent Wagnerian, was this quotation from Rosenberg's _Myth of the Twentieth Century_: "The cultural accomplishment of Bayreuth is perennially beyond discussion."

But in Rosenberg's book this sentence is not in fact part of a eulogy to Wagner, as Kater would have you believe, but the beginning of a criticism of Wagner that dismisses his theories and much of his work, especially the _Ring_ and _Parsifal_. The actual passage, from Book II, chapter 4, goes:

"The cultural achievement of Bayreuth will remain forever beyond question. But nevertheless, today a turning away from the basic teachings of Wagner has begun, away from the assertion that dance, music and the poetic art are forever linked in the manner proclaimed by him; and away from the assertion that Bayreuth was, in fact, the unchangeable consummation of the Aryan mystery."

Could Kater have read the one sentence he cited, then instantly closed his eyes and shut the book so that he never saw the next sentence, which happened to change Rosenberg's meaning completely? It doesn't seem possible. It's difficult to see how this quotation could be anything other than deliberately deceptive.

Kater, obviously, was running a very strong agenda, in relation to Wagner. Now, it's possible that someone can get carried away because of a controversy, and be unreliable only in that area while remaining scrupulously accurate in all other areas. But my problem is, I don't know. I read an statement by Kater about the Nazi reception of modernism, and I wonder, "But is that really true? Or if it is true, is it misleadingly selected?" And I can't tell. I can't rely on it.

Fortunately, there's another book covering the same territory, that passes the test of being accurate in areas I know, and that seems academically scrupulous in the areas I don't know. That's Erik Levi's _Music in the Third Reich_, published in 1994, also available from Amazon. Levi is no more impressed by Wagner's antisemitism than Kater is, or I am, but that doesn't drive him to start making stuff up, and that's important.

Therefore Levi's _Music in the Third Reich_ is the book in this field that I cite with confidence, and that's the book that I've kept. I recommend Levi's book. Unfortunately, I can't recommend this one.

Cheers!

Laon
32 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensable! March 30 2000
By Russel E. Higgins - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Michael H. Kater's book "The Twisted Muse" is indispensable reading for any musicologist or serious music lover. The book discusses in rich detail the music and musicians of the Third Reich, a twelve year nightmare in Germany and Austria, that destroyed the creative spirit of every musician and composer living there. Mr. Kater explains the difficulty of being a musician in the Third Reich, and dramatically documents the disabling Nazi disease that infected every composer and conductor. There were no heroes, with the possible exception of Erich Kleiber who emigrated to Buenos Aires to begin a new artistic life, and Karl Amadeus Hartmann, a composer who silenced himself in Hitler's Germany and offered as much resistance to Nazism as he could. The rest were victims. or worse, perpetrators of Nazi horror. Some musicans joined the Nazi Party in order to survive and feed their families; other joined the Party to further their own careers. Knappersbusch, Furtwangler, Tietjen, von Karajan, and Boehm showed amazing duplicity toward one another, frequently acting like beasts. Cultured and well-educated Germans were sometimes reduced to the bestial level of a Goering or a Goebbles. In fact, Nazi Germany, as Mr. Kater points out, was an a veritable scorpions' nest of egomaniacal conductors and composers advancing their careers at the expense of colleagues. For example, the composer Hans Pfitzner -- one of the few serious composers the Nazis could showcase -- is particularly portrayed as an embittered, pathetic man, filled with anger and duplicity. Mr. Kater brings a new and fascinating perspective to such famous Third Reich composers as Carl Orff, Werner Egk, and Rudolf Wagner-Regeny, not evil men, but far from virtuous, who used Nazism for personal advancement. The author introduces the reader to little known German composers like Paul Graener, who suffered a particularly cruel and ignominious end; Max Trapp, a mediocre composer who wrote reams of kitsch for the Party; and George Vollerthun, a composer the Nazis needed so much that he survived a homosexual scandal in the 1930's. Mr. Kater traces the careers of these composers as well as those who left Germany --Hindemith, Schoenberg, Weill, Korngold -- with brilliant perspective. Of particular interest are the many pages devoted to the controversial Richard Strauss. Mr. Kater's thesis is that the Nazis made Strauss pay for his sins against the dictatorship by permitting Strauss's grandsons to be physically molested, by harassing Strauss's family in Garmisch, and by murdering twenty-six members of his Jewish daughter-in-law's family. Ironically, her husband, Strauss's only son, was a fervent Nazi of relatively high rank. In the final two chapters, Mr. Kater discusses the institutionalized "hausmusik" written for Nazi youth, the music for brass ensembles, and the battle music for the pagan youth festivals and SS concert bands. He also devotes intriguing sections to the Nazi's quest for a musical philosophy and a serious composer that imbued the Fascist philosophy. Mr. Kater's discussion of Hindemith as being the ideal man (modern, an "Aryan," not a twelve-tone composer) is interesting. But the Nazis never found their composer and never defined what serious Nazi music was to be. Mr. Kater documents his phenomenal study with over 1090 footnotes; sometimes a footnote will cite four or five independent sources, including letters, memories, documents, and diaries. In short, this is a magnificent study, probably the most intriguing, best written, and most comprehensive history of music in the Third Reich yet written.
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