After Thielemann, the deafening silence

After Thielemann, the deafening silence


norman lebrecht

January 26, 2015

The main complaint made by Christian Thielemann, in a carefully-coded Pegida bombshell article, is that German politicians are refusing to address the concerns of German citizens.

The conductor accuses his country’s leaders of elitism and hypocrisy.

In one telling quote, he flings an Angela Merkel quote back in the face of the Chancellor:

Der Islam gehört zu Deutschland? Warum nicht. Vielleicht gehört das Christentum ja irgendwann zur Türkei und das Judentum zur arabischen Welt. Solange dies nicht der Fall ist, müssten wir allerdings sagen dürfen, dass es nicht der Fall ist, ohne als faschistoid, rechtspopulistisch oder intolerant zu gelten.

So Islam belongs in Germany. Why not? Perhaps Christianity also belongs in Turkey and Judaism in the Arab world. So long as that is not the case, however, we ought to be allowed to say it is not the case without being called quasi-Fascist, rightwing-populist, or intolerant.

Thielemann’s article was published on Thursday in Die Welt.

Not a squeak has been heard about it in other German media, or from any leading politician. No letter have appeared in the press.

Thielemann has made his point.

thielemann merkel

Foto: picture alliance / Sven Simon


  • John Borstlap says:

    Thielemann’s text is too vague to pin him down. But his invocation of Wagner among the guiding spirits is a serious mistake, considering W’s vision of a ‘pure’ society without ‘Jewishness’. In combination with the word ‘akzentfrei’ a real misser.
    If he had defended European Leitkultur – in which classical music is an important element – against attempts to undermine it, be it from muslem fanatics or leftwing multiculti academics, he would have had a point. But now his text reads as a gesture of sympathy for populist Pegidaparanoia.

    • Anon says:

      He invoked “Bach-Beethoven-Wagner” making Wagner only one example of the three. Projections are a tricky thing, sometimes a pipe is just a pipe.

    • Dan says:

      this Thilman is the voice of humanity. he is absulately right, islam does not belong anywhere, even in muslim countries where muslims are buchering each other,
      block islam from euroup

  • Schnabelowski says:

    Why should politicians or the media respond to Thielemann’s statement? And why on earth does Slipped Disc provide Thielemann this forum? There are many good and balanced analyses about Pegida and about Islamist terror. Thielemann’s article, full of weasel language, is certainly not one of them.
    As for Pegida’s xenophobic and uttetly paranoiac propaganda, the only sensible way to deal with it is silence
    and ignorance.

    • Simon S. says:

      Hear, hear!

    • Martin Locher says:

      That exactly is one of Thielemanns issues, that the politics ignore the concerns of the common people and that this ignorance leads to those silly xenophobic protests. Despite actually many protesters have far more moderate wishes, than the ones which make the headlines.

      Some concerns by Pegida supporters are very well justified and deserve more than ridiculing. I have called the Pegida protests a Kindergarten, maybe Thielemann would ask me not to do that and he might be right.

      As long as the politics ignore the wishes and make no attempts at filtering out hatred and then have the real issues to discuss about, the protests will continue and grow.

      • Schnabelowski says:

        What are “the concerns of the common people”…? There are different types of ‘common people’ and different problems. I disagree with you that “the politics ignore the concerns of the common people”. That is a huge generalization.
        We don’t live in a perfect society nor can we. The German society is doing well nowadays, but of course there are problems and there always will be.
        In the words of philosopher Karl Popper “Those who promise us paradise on earth never produced anything but a hell.”
        All reforms are piecemeal. That – and also the very abstract form of politics nowadays – can be frustrating, but it is the only possible way.
        What is most disturbing about Pegida is its total paranoia. Even if some concern might be justified, as you think, it is being made indigestible by a disgusting mix of xenophobia, populism, conspiracy theories etc.
        Yes, ‘the common people’ or the different types of ‘common people’ should be heard. But we shouldn’t take that paranoia seriously.
        Besides, most Pegida supporters don’t have any financial problems. They are from the middle-class and they earn well. Another proof for their paranoia. These are people that never thought about the real grippling issues of our times such as the tragedies in the developing world or the tragedies of the asylum seekers. Their xenophobia is disgusting.
        That they use the slogan “Wir sind das Volk (We are the people”, is simply disgusting since that used to be the slogan of the demonstrators in East Germany who really put their life at stake.
        These Pegida people (and Mr Thielemann’s statements) shouldn’t be given any notice at all.

        • Martin Locher says:

          I’m not sure where your hatred comes from, especially as Pegida officially states, they want asylum seekers to be looked after better. Yes, they also want them to be allocated more fairly within the EU, which surely is nothing xenophobic, but a fair statement.

          A quick calculation of 2013 numbers which might not be very exact: compared by polulationen Poland accepted about 95% less asylum requests than Germany, Spain about 97% less than Germany. The Czech Republic with about an 8th of the German population got only 695 asylum requests, Germany 126 thousand! Surely those numbers can be discussed without waving the xenophobia flag.

          The fight Islamization. Not sure what the vast majority mean, I know that some marchers only oppose the claim by some muslims to introduce sharia law. Some don’t want to accept that muslim families can refuse to send their daughters to Swimming lessons or ask for female only classrooms. Surely these points can be discussed without waving yet another xenophobia flag.

          But it is too easy to speak of xenophobia to refuse to even consider the points some of these people have. On the other hand I agree that the movement as a whole attracts some (or many) people I strongly oppose – which is why until a few days ago I thought the movement is ludicrous and should be ignored. Ignorace I feel however one of the fertilizers which makes this Pegida movement grow and might even make them more extreme.

          • SDReader says:

            I agree with much of this.

            Pegida in Dresden actually shrank this weekend, for the first time, from a peak of 25,000 to 17,000.

          • Anon says:

            You are absolutely right. Your informed rationality is a welcomed relief in this mostly irrational and ideological debate.

    • william osborne says:

      I can certainly understand Germans not wanting Pegida to represent their country, especially since the movement has not spread to other cities. At the same time, it is important that movements like this be dealt with at their beginnings and not allowed to grow — sort of like quickly stomping out a rouge fire. In this sense, the mainstream politicians and media have done a good job in informing people about the dangers of the movement. From that perspective, responses to Thielemann are important, especially within the classical music community.

      • Anon says:

        “stomp out”, “rogue fire”… Do you hear yourself? Freedom of speech must be for all, not only for those who have the same opinion we do. As long as everybody is within the framework of law and the constitutional order, there is no reason to use language as if one was dealing with a disease or insects. It’s exactly this mainstream self-righteousness that enrages these people.

        • william osborne says:

          German history is a lesson in how seriously these matters should be taken. Stop racial and ethnic hatred before it metastasizes. So far, I think Germany is doing a good job of containing the movement.

          • Anon says:

            “containing the movement”… again, listen to yourself. Your mind is projecting the Nazi movement. Free yourself from these mental limitations and look at the current phenomenon only. The anxieties, prejudgements and feelings of these people should be met with LISTENING (!) where they feel unheard, education where they lack education, resistance where they leave the constitutional order, but only there. They have to be taken serious, not ridiculed or vilified.

          • william osborne says:

            People have been listening quite closely, hence the efforts to stop the movement.

          • Anon says:

            I don’t know. I think a strong democracy must also have room for these people. It is not acceptable to outlaw them, just because they are not aligned with the political mainstream. And I suggest you try to learn more about the reality before you judge all this from another continent, only based on your projections and imaginative mind.

  • Simon S. says:

    “the concerns of German citizens” – or, to be more precise: the concerns of a apparently rather small minority of German citizens.

    Being a German myself, I consider it most disgusting that Pegida claims “Wir sind das Volk” (“We are the people” – this used to be the claim of the demonstrations against the East German regime in 1989). No, you are not. You are a rather small part of the people.

    Pegida is a movement of a certain significance only in Dresden – a city with a negligeable share of Muslim population. All attempts to extend the movement over the country failed: Cologne, Munich, Berlin, wherever: Pegida only assembled a few hundred people, facing tens of thousands of counter-demonstrators.

    Norman, please don’t join this media hype!

    • Anon says:

      And this limited appeal of the movement makes one wonder, why the media is so hyper about it, actually making it bigger than it actually is?

      • John Borstlap says:

        Because of Germany’s past. On the 27th January the president has declared that the nazi past is part of Germany’s identity (which is in itself a very dubious statement, to say the least), so any signal that can be associated with this nazi past is a great embarrassment.

  • Martin M says:

    There have been rumours and even some newspaper articles about alleged anti-Semitic and racist statements by Thielemann:,10810590,9844920.html

    And Thielemann has been reviving second- and third-rate works by Max von Schillings, who was a politically committed Nazi composer (and responsible for the expulsion of Thomas Mann, Arnold Schönberg, Arnold Döblin, Franz Schreker and so many other great artists from the Prussian Academy), by Hans Pfitzner (a glowing Anti-Semite) and a piece by Richard Strauss commissioned by Baldur von Schirach for the fifth anniversary of the Anschluss.
    Normally he is not the type of conductor thriving on rarities. If he was so keen in reviving some repertoire from the 1930s, why hasn’t he been conducting works by, say, Zemlinsky or Schreker or other excellent Jewish- or non-Jewish liberal-minded composers, who were persecuted during the Nazi era?

    • Novagerio says:

      Martin, why are Gergiev and Rozhdestvenskij conducting Prokofiev’s “Sdravitza” ( set to disgusting and psychotic “People’s” texts glorifying Stalin) without people giving a sh*t?…..

    • John says:

      I have a Columbia Masterworks LP entitled Music for Organ and Orchestra:

      E.Power Biggs performs Poulenc’s Concerto and Barber’s Toccata Festiva
      with Philidelphia and Ormandy….AND Strauss’s Festival Prelude with
      NYPO and Bernstein…

      “as performed for the opening of Philharmonic Hall
      at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.” (mid 60s, wasn’t it?)

      This last is one of the Strauss
      rarities which Thielemann brought to Berlin. By the way it was composed 1913
      before the First World War. So much for Hitler, 1943, Böhm and Karajan.

      Anyway, the standard offering for Hitler’s birthday concerts was Beethoven’s 9th.
      Are Beethoven and Bernstein now to be consigned to outer darkness. Lordy, no.

      “…they’ll all suppose
      what they want to suppose…
      when they say Thiel-e-mann”

      • Martin M says:

        John, could we please stick to the facts?
        Thielemann and the Berlin Philharmonic performed in 2011 not only Strauss’ ‘Festive Prelude’ (which, yes, was composed in 1943, but revived for Hitler’s Birthday festivities) but also Strauss’ ‘Festmusik für die Stadt Wien’ (another totally neglected piece which has remained in the closet for good reasons) – a piece which was commissioned by Baldur von Schirach, the Nazi politician who was responsible for sending Jews from Vienna to German death camps, on the occasion of the 5th anniversary of the ‘Anschluss’.
        Don’t you think it is rather weird to revive these two – musically trite – rarities in the same concert?
        As hard as it is for me to admit, I admire Richard Strauss’ works (and of Wagner’s operas) in many ways, but here we are speaking about totally trite and politically problematic occasional works by Strauss and not of his masterpieces such as ‘Vier letzte Lieder’, ‘Don Juan’ or ‘Till Eulenspiegel’.
        Add to that the fact that Thielemann has been championing the music of the third-rate Nazi composer Max von Schillings, who – as I already previously wrote – had a very vicious role in his function as the Prussian Academy’s President, and of the irreformable anti-Semite composer Hans Pfitzner.
        Of course, anyone can perform any music – in principle. However, it is a question of context. In a concert with a certain kind of discussion of presentation, politically problematic works such as Prokofiev’s Stalin Cantata or Strauss’ ‘Festmusik’ could well be performed. Another example: there was a highly informative exhibition in Germany two decades ago (I think it also travelled to the US) named ‘Entartete Musik’, presenting the persecuted great composers of the 1930s, but confronting their music with the music of those composers who remained on good terms with the Nazi regime (or actively profited from it). That was an enlightening experience.
        But this not what Thielemann or Gergiev are doing. They perform such problematic works as if they would have no history, if they would be absolute music. Therefore, these are odd choices – last, but not least, also considering how much (much more better) neglected repertoire there is – and much of it written by persecuted composers.
        The fact is that Thielemann champions ‘politically contaminated’ second- or third-rate music by an (admittedly first-rate but opportunist) composer such as Richard Strauss, or by Nazi/Anti-semitic composers such as Max von Schillings and Hans Pfitzner, while there is really excellent repertoire from the 1930s composed by Jewish or non-Jewish composers who were persecuted by the Nazis. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to revive their music?

        • John says:

          do you know the two Strauss works in question? Both are extremely effective,
          esp. the Festival Prelude, if a proper pipe organ is used. The Festmusik, while
          of more modest proportions, is also fine music. I suspect Strauss would have
          composed the same piece regardless of who the commissioner was. Musik
          is either good or bad, strong or weak, and these two easily pass any test.

          In addition to Böhm and Bernstein, Zinman and Sawallisch also recorded the Festival Prelude. The Festmusik
          is available in performances by the Phillip Jones Ens., the Locke Brass Ens.,
          the RAM Symphonic Brass and the US Marine Band. Obviously the “contamination
          is spreading.

          What DOES “politically contaminated” mean? Entartet?! Sounds rather much like “racially contaminated”, the old Nazi saw. Your presumption to lecture any conductor, any orchestra on what
          is “appropriate” to perform also recalls things that should have gone right out
          of fashion in 1945. Freedom of speech, expression and performance must
          be our watchwords.

          If you simply wish to denigrate Thielemann, then you should say so.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Spot on. There is much underperformed (or non-performed) music from the twenties and thirties which is much better than the problematic trites mentioned here. The Kammersymphonie Berlin, one of the prominent German chamber orhestras, has made it an important part of their programming to dig-up such music and record it. THAT is where the interest in discovery should go. Just one example: Ernst Toch’s Cello Concerto, a brilliant master piece from the twenties, as recorded by the KSB. Also there is a lot of Zemlinsky and Schreker that is worthwhile..

  • Martin M says:

    Novagerio, I do agree, of course, that it is extremely problematic that Gergiev conducts Prokofiev’s ‘Sdravitza’.
    As for Prokofiev, we should – however – not forget that his hands were tied in a way that Strauss’, Schillings’ or Pfitzner’s hands never were – on the contrary! Strauss was a political opportunist, Schillings was an influential Nazi cultural politician and Pfitzner a committed Anti-Semite. Prokofiev was drawn into a situation (partly because of his own misjudgment and probably also out of some personal weakness) where he had no escape but he was caught in a golden cage, as lively described by Alex Ross in ‘The Rest of Noise’.
    I think such pieces as Prokofiev’s ‘Sdravitza’ or politically linked works by Strauss, Schillings or Pfitzner could be performed in a certain context, e.g. if preceded by a discussion and an explanation about the work’s background. One could, for instance juxtapose that piece by Prokofiev with a work by Roslavets (a composer purged by Stalinist authorities) or juxtapose the music of these Nazi-friendly (or opportunist) composers with the work of ‘Entartete Musik’ composers, highlighting the special circumstances during which these works were created. That was done two decades ago in an enlightening way in the ‘Entartete Musik’ exhibition in Germany. This is not the way, however, how Thielemann (or Gergiev) present such works.

  • Simon S. says:

    Quick update on the plitical (ir-)relevance of Pegida – Frankfurt, today:

    Pegida: 100 demonstrators
    Counterdemonstration on site: 4,500
    Counterdemonstration 500m away: another 12,000

    Pegida simply deserves to be ignored.

  • Temur Zindik says:

    Christian Thielemann is perfectly justified in expressing the concerns shared by many throughout Europe. It is political correctness to deny that Europe is facing major challenges in assimilating ever growing number of Muslim migrants/refugees. I am saying this not as a far right sympathiser, but as someone brought up in Turkey, when it was a truly secular country.

  • schnabelowski says:

    The NPD (the German neo-Nazi party) has been by far most successful in the German Bundesländer (states) of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony (whose capital is Dresden, the high capital of the Pegida movement), Saxony-Anhalt und Thuringia, which all used to be part of the GDR (East Germany). These are also, again not surprisingly, the German states with the most far-right acts of violence. In many parts of these states there is a huge problem with xenophobia and also with far-right violence.
    Not at all surprisingly, these are also the German states with the – by far! – LOWEST percentage by foreigners (Sachsen-Anhalt: 1,9%; Thuringia: 2,3%; Mecklenburg-Vorpommern: 2,5%; Sachsen: 2,8%).
    Once again becomes clear: it’s all about paranoia.

  • schnabelowski says:

    The NPD (the German neo-Nazi party) has been by far most successful in the German Bundesländer (states) of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony (whose capital is Dresden, the high capital of the Pegida movement), Saxony-Anhalt und Thuringia, which all used to be part of the GDR (East Germany). These are also the German states with the most far-right acts of violence. In many parts of these states there is a huge problem with xenophobia and also with far-right violence.
    Not at all surprisingly, these are also the German states with the – by far! – LOWEST percentage by foreigners (Saxony-Anhalt: 1,9%; Thuringia: 2,3%; Mecklenburg-Vorpommern: 2,5%; Saxony: 2,8%).
    Once again becomes clear: it’s all about paranoia.

    • Anon says:

      What you describe as a “huge problem” is in reality absolutely marginal and anecdotal. It is good the the public is oversensitive into this direction, but we also should put things in perspective. What is true is that the East German population, particularly in the provinces, is more xenophobic, but in the European context, they are not an exception, actually to the contrary. You should go east to Poland for instance to witness an absolutely extreme form of xenophobia.

  • DLowe says:

    Just a minor point. I read somewhere here a description of Von Schillings as 3rd rate. Go and listen to his “Mona Lisa”. A marvel.

    Nazi git, I’m sure, but not 3rd rate. And I don’t think that revival of his works demonstrates a huge political allegiance.

  • Anon says:

    I believe the whole Pegida issue is an instigated “social engineering” project. Probably “Verfassungsschutz” has a hand in this and helped to brew up the unrest. The motive: keeping the masses busy with fighting each other, so the real coup d’etat, the overthrow of the European democratic order can be achieved.

    That overthrow is called TTIP. (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership)
    This international treaty is the end of the rule of law and a de facto take over of political rule by the corporate elite. Read about it, I’m not exaggerating. In the original (italian) definition of fascism, the direct political rule by the corporate elite is called fascism. That is where we are heading.

  • Novagerio says:

    Come on! How much Nazi was von Schillings actually? A conservative nationalist composer and Preussisch Intendant who died in the spring of 1933? What about this article? The world didn’t give a damn about the Holocaust atrocities as late as 1942?