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The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich Paperback – Mar 1 1999


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (March 1 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195132424
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195132427
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 15.6 x 2.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 540 g
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #669,568 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents


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In March 1933 clarinetist Valentin Grimm found himself caught in a dilemma. Read the first page
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 23 2001
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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 2 reviews
59 of 61 people found the following review helpful
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
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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