The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich Paperback – Mar 1 1999
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
No Kindle device required. Download one of the Free Kindle apps to start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, and computer.
To get the free app, enter your e-mail address or mobile phone number.
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.
Inside This Book(Learn More)
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.