How Bayreuth cured a Nazi depression

How Bayreuth cured a Nazi depression


norman lebrecht

February 26, 2015


Wonderful clip from Karl Ritter’s Stukas (1941) just posted on A sick Luftwaffe pilot is cured of his depression by listening to Götterdämmerung at Bayreuth. The music revives him to climb back into the cockpit and bomb civilians in England.

You see where all this Wagner leads?


  • Prewartreasure says:

    Beats Vera Lynn though, hands-down.

  • Rgiarola says:

    Are there any movie with a Lancarster pilot getting some relieve with vaughan williams, or a B-17 one with Ives? If not, they lost a great chance.

    • Max Grimm says:

      While there is no video or propaganda film on this, Paul Tibbets loved Tommy Dorsey’s music…that apparently kept depression away for him.

    • Halldor says:

      Powell & Pressburger’s wartime movie 49th Parallel – designed to help persuade the US to join the war – is actually scored by Vaughan Williams. As is the 1942 aeronautical propaganda film Coastal Command.

  • Terrence Bresden says:

    You’re right, Norman! Why, just yesterday I was listening to Wagner and I had this terrible urge to strangle my wife with my bare hands, torch my home and blow up a couple of old folks homes! Seems a bit excessive, considering I usually listen to Wagner as I snap the necks of stray baby kittens I find on the streets.

    Darn that Wagner. He ruins everything!!

    • Adrian M says:

      This reminds me of Woody Allen’s wonderful quip, to the effect that every time he hears Wagner he wants to invade Poland.

  • David Boxwell says:

    In the film, the fliers also bang out “Meistersingers” on an old upright they carry from place to place, as well as bawl recurrent lusty renditions of their “Stukas” anthem while in the cockpit. Goebbels said Americans did film propaganda better. He was right.

  • william osborne says:

    I think of that famous scene in Apocalypse Now where the US Army Air Cavalry decimates a Vietnamese village while Ride of the Valkyries blares from speakers mounted on their attack helicopters….

  • Eli says:

    Mr. Lebrecht – what a bunch of B.S.
    1. I’m Jewish
    2. I find some of the music in Götterdämmerung to be the most
    spiritually uplifting music in the canon.
    3. My wife who lived in London during the blitz (did you?) feels the
    same way
    4. No, I’m not going to bomb London or any place

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    What I find most remarkable about this is that beside trying to conquer the world, the Germans had time and personnel available to make slick propaganda films. If my memory serves me right, Germany turned over a mere 22% of GNP to the war effort, whereas Britain’s percentage was up in the 90’s.

    As for the rest, I’m with Eli, above. My half-brother is Jewish, my mother lived through the war in her house backing on to Hendon Airodrome and I can’t get enough of Götterdämmerung, by far the finest music in the Ring, in my opinion, and possibly his best ever had he not decided to write Tristan und Isolde.

    Appreciating Wagner’s music leads to nothing more than a welcome enrichment of our lives.

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    Where did my comment go??

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    Mr. Lebrecht, did you get my other comment?

    • Nick says:

      I am not sure why this happens. Sometimes a comment is posted immediately. Sometimes it takes about 8 hours to appear. On the odd occasion, it never appears at all! It has happened to me quite a few times. I wonder if some comments are withheld for moderation?

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    What I find most remarkable abotu this is the fact that, while trying to conquer the world, Germany could spend time and personnel on making slick propaganda films. If my memory serves me right, Germany turned over a mere 22% of its GDP to the war effort, while Britain’s percentage was up in the 90’s.

    As for the rest, I’m with Eli. I have a Jewish half-brother and my mother spent the war in her house backing on to Hendon Airodrome. Götterdämmerung is, in my opinion, about the finest music Wagner ever conceived; possibly his best had he not written Tristan und Isolde.

    Appreciating Wagner’s music can only lead to a welcome enrichment of our lives.

    • Robert Holmén says:

      The 22% wartime figure is almost certainly incorrect. That figure matches German military spending prior to the start of the war.

      Per Wikipedia:

      ” From mid 1943 on, Germany switched to a full war economy overseen by Albert Speer. By late 1944, almost the entire German economy was dedicated to military production. ”

      Also note that Germany’s extensive use of slave labor during the war provided a cost reduction not available to the Allies.

  • PJ says:

    And me thinking all these years Wagner’s music merely provoked a slight urge to conquer Poland.

  • schulz says:

    Mr.Lebrecht is not saying Wagner’s music is destructive by itself (though e.g. Brahms would not fit in this film). This film shows a seemingly impossible combination of a great culture and greatest genocide in our times. I knew people who played in a concentration camp orchestra – it is possible.

  • Erwin Poelstra says:

    Still not completely recovered from this defeat eh Norman? 😉
    (Wagner 53%, Verdi 42%…)

  • Aleksander Hanslik says:

    Eduard Hanslick was right then and the years after.

  • Eric Neil Koenig says:

    And what was Laurence Olivier’s 1944 movie Henry V if not also a World War II propaganda film? Some are better, some aren’t. Now, who single-handedly changed the entire course of music history, Richard Wagner or William Walton?