Toby Thacker. Music after Hitler: 1945-1955. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007. IX + 280 S. $99.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7546-5346-2.
Reviewed by Richard Bodek (Department of History, College of Charleston)
Published on H-German (October, 2007)
Re-democratizing Music in Post-Nazi Germany
In this solid, well-researched volume, Toby Thacker has produced a much-needed history of the Allied bureaucracy that controlled music during Germany's postwar occupation and of the music during the early years of the two successor republics. He has clearly spent a great deal of time in archives, as his footnotes refer almost exclusively to primary material. Rather than taking his readers down the well-trodden routes of musical analysis or autobiographical apologetics, Thacker's details show how the Allies--and later the FRG and GDR--saw music as both politically important and crucial to building a democratic culture on the ashes of the Third Reich. He splits his narrative into two parts. Part 1 concentrates on re-education under the Allies. Part 2 examines the years of the early republics, ending in 1955.
The book's first half begins with an analysis of music and what Thacker calls "regeneration." He explains that Allied policy on music was riddled with conflict. The occupiers struggled both with each another and with themselves, working to resolve internal as well as external conflict about the proper role of music during the occupation. On the one hand, each occupying power had an interest in using German musicians to entertain its troops. On the other, at least initially, the occupiers felt a strong interest in denazification and the processes necessary to "democratize" German musical culture. Often different arms of the same occupying power tried to engage and censor the same musicians. In addition, each power had a very different idea of how postwar music should sound, even as all agreed that internationalism and modernism were necessary to release Germany from its musical hubris. The British and the Americans believed that the arts should be separate from politics. The Soviets saw music as inextricably intertwined with the building of socialism. The French believed that they alone had a musical culture that could civilize the Germans (p. 28). Although Thacker does not expand upon this point, it is well worth noting that the French had similar ideas about other fields of endeavor. For example, the University of the Saarland was founded in 1948 with much the same presumption of the value of French culture.
Thacker's discussion of music's denazification shows the mixed results of the endeavor. As he reminds us, "[I]n all zones, and after 1949 in the East as well as in the West, there were composers, conductors, performers, and musicologists who resumed their careers and flourished, despite extensive involvement with Nazism. Given that in almost all cases they appear, though, to have abandoned Nazism as a political creed, and instead seem to have adopted historical materialism, a pro-Western liberalism, or an Olympian detachment from politics, we have to ask whether this issue of their pasts mattered at all" (p. 71) Only one piece of music written during, and popular in, the Third Reich has remained in the classical repertoire (Carl Orff's Carmina Burana [from 1936]). Overtly Nazi musicology, based on racial categories, has long been discredited. Still, Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (1949), a key musicological reference work, was written largely by tainted musicologists, and many performers who enjoyed successful careers in Nazi Germany enjoyed continued success in the postwar years. Probably the best known of these was Herbert von Karajan. Here a little comparative history would have put this information into a larger perspective, since the course of other areas of German life paralleled the unraveling of denazification during the Cold War.
As Thacker moves on to a discussion of antifascism and music, he details the changes in programming that came with Allied occupation. The music of many composers neglected during the Nazi years returned to concert programs. Perhaps even more importantly, composers whose work had been banned became concert mainstays. Among these were Gustav Mahler, Felix Mendelssohn, Arnold Schoenberg, and a host of Russians. The one occupying force that seems to have been relatively out of step with the others when it came to such programming was the American administration. Rather than concentrating their energy on culture for the Germans, their early focus seemed to be on entertainment for their own troops. This priority was in line with the initial American desire for a relatively hard occupation. OMGUS (the American occupation bureaucracy) assumed that there would be very little voter support for concerts, at taxpayer expense, for presumably unrepentant Nazis. By 1947, however, even OMGUS was on board with providing a musical program for German civilians.
The year 1947 seems to have been a turning point, as denazification took a back seat to the budding Cold War. Thacker, however, demonstrates that at least for a while, inter-Allied policy on music was not as divided as was the case with the other arts. The occupation forces collaborated relatively well for several years, going as far as giving a RM 12,000 subsidy to the Inter-Allied Music Library in January 1948. Nevertheless, such cooperation did not last. Music was doomed to become as politically charged as every other aspect of life in divided Germany. Each side used music to generate as much propaganda as possible. This tendency grew with the establishment of separate German governments and their developing independence from occupation authorities; it was especially evident in the Bach Year of 1950, when each fledgling German state used concerts to claim the mantle of legitimacy and authenticity. Interestingly, however, despite the deep political divisions between the music bureaucracies in East and West Germany, Thacker is able to detail their deep agreement on certain issues--for example, veneration of the classics and a shared disdain for dance music and for jazz. As Thacker makes clear, this disdain was often expressed in terms not so far removed from those of the Nazis.
In conclusion, Thacker weighs the successes and failures of the parallel rebuilding projects. The western Allies, in their attempt to internationalize German musical life, were largely successful. The GDR's attempt to build a socialist musical culture, however, failed for a number of reasons, ones that parallel other problems of the regime. For example, the top-down bureaucratic structure attempted to reject such international movements as dissonance and electronic music while creating a new musical tradition consisting of oratorios and cantatas in the "realist" mode. Furthermore, this new tradition was supposed to break down the barrier between performer and audience. Although the state did involve more workers in the production and reception of serious music than was the case in West Germany, even on its own terms the numbers were nothing like what the musical hierarchy had hoped for. Music After Hitler will be of great interest to historians of the postwar period who would like to see a case study of one aspect of the occupation, and to historians of German music and culture who want to gain a greater understanding of the administrative and political aspects of culture.
Toby Thacker's final, albeit throwaway, sentence reads, "The ten years after Hitler's death and the end of the 'Third Reich' are probably the last time when music really mattered in Germany" (p. 242). This conclusion may be too harsh. His fine book shows the importance of music in building the postwar Germany that eventually emerged. Music's influence, therefore, is still resonant.
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Richard Bodek. Review of Thacker, Toby, Music after Hitler: 1945-1955.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
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