‘Furtwängler used to spend every Christmas with us’

‘Furtwängler used to spend every Christmas with us’


norman lebrecht

January 04, 2014

We’ve been sent the fascinating video memoirs of Professor George L. Mosse (1918-1999), who grew up in a wealthy Jewish household in Berlin and, as a child, got to know many of its cultural lions. Mosse was sent to boarding school in England when Hitler came to power. He made his name in the US as a formidable historian. His best known work is The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich (1965).


furtwangler young

h/t: Daniella Grunfeld.


  • David Boxwell says:

    Mosse avers of WF, “He didn’t behave very well after 1933.”

    GM didn’t know, or care to know, the whole story.

  • Henry Breitrose says:

    Many thanks for posting this. George Mosse was my professor at the University of Wisconsin in the 1950’s and a friend for many years thereafter. He was a broadly and deeply knowledgeable person, extraordinarily generous with his time.

    -Henry Breitrose

    Stanford, California

  • ed says:

    Thank you, Norman for this. It is truly fascinating- not just this video, which is Part I of the interview but also Part II which can be accessed after the conclusion of Part I. A Google search on Mosse will yield a huge number of sources. One such treasure is a University of Wisconsin website dedicated to Mosse and his work as an historian, and which includes a collection of his lectures on European Cultural History and Modern Jewish History which can be accessed at:


  • Mosse’s fabulous lectures are available online. I highly recommend them — they are worth considerably more than most of the MOOC lectures that you can get nowadays. I would love to have been a fly on the wall in his home, and to have listened to the conversations.

  • Just absolutely marvelous. Thanks so much for posting this. He reminds me in his manner of speech, “YES!,” of my professor at Columbia, Karl-Ludwig Selig, another refugee from Germany whose love of Don Quixote and Bach remains a wonderful memory for me.

  • Steve says:

    I was interested by his positive take on the German public schools which were Inspired by the English model.

    GM says the teaching wasn’t particularly good but the level of discipline was character building, and that in order to survive you had to be a bully.

  • R. James Tobin says:

    I studied cultural history with Mosse at the University of Wisconsin and he was my advisor for a time. His sister, who was a psychoanalyist, was a visitor in his seminar one week. Mosse was a brilliant lecturer and strode about in a commanding manner from a stage in a large lecture hall, speaking always without notes. It was interesting to hear him describe himself as naughty and a bully in school, as he had a rather authoritarian temperament to go along with his enlightenment liberalism. He called himself a Marxist of the heart. His musical tastes were conservative and did not care for music after the time of Wagner. To fully appreciate the Ring, he said, one would have to have seen the naked Rhine maiden–though he did not say where or when he had observed them like that.

  • Great that you are circulating this to a wider audience. My teacher and mentor as well. At least thirteen (!) additional major books appeared after “Crisis,” including “The Fascist Revolution: Toward a General Theory of Fascism,” whose first copies arrived at George’s home in Madison the day after his death in 1999, and his memoir, “Confronting History,” published the following year. (The idea that Mosse “didn’t know, or care to know, the whole story” of WF is merely comical.)

    • David Boxwell says:

      Less comical: the offhand and simplistic vilification of WF, regardless of the source (however well-esteemed).

      • GLM stands very well without need of defense from foolish snipers. The comment made professed knowledge of both a) what Mosse knew about something and b) what he “care[d] to know], things its maker would not have the foggiest idea about. A concern with “offhand and simplistic vilification” of the dead that is expressed through offhand and simplistic vilification of the dead does not naturally draw great respect.

      • Steve says:

        WF ought not be villified. David Boxwelll’s take on Mosse is correct having seen the whole interview.

  • David H. says:

    I think we need to be less thin skinned and more open minded. It is absolutely acceptable and understandable, that a Jewish man who escaped Nazi Germany would call out Mr. Furtwängler as “not behaving very well after 1933”. Furtwängler knew himself that he could have done better. He still wasn’t an evil doer either.

    • What David H. said. And a Jewish man from one of the most prominent and culturally connected families of Germany who, after fleeing in 1933, became one of the great historians and a great scholar of the period in question.

  • Hello Norman,

    I stumbled upon this wonderful video. I would like to see part two but am not quite sure how to access it.