Karl Böhm’s estate finally finds a resting place

Karl Böhm’s estate finally finds a resting place


norman lebrecht

August 03, 2017

The papers of the Austrian conductor Karl Böhm have been consigned to the University of Salzburg, which will curate and make them accessible to researchers.

Although the acquisition is being presented in a positive light, the announcement makes clear that Böhm twice accepted key positions from Adolf Hitler – as music director of the Semper Oper in Dresden and later at the Vienna State Opera.

He also lived in a mansion that had been stolen from Jewish owners and presented to him by the Vienna Gauleiter Baldur von Schirach.

Curiously, Böhm never joined the Nazi party though he made no secret of his enthusiastic support for its aims.

Böhm died in August 1981.

Read on here.

Tha Salzburg Festival describes him as its most influential post-War conductor, after Herbert von Karajan.


  • Mike Schachter says:

    And almost totally escaped the opprobrium of Furtwangler or even von Karajan. Austrians gemuetlichkeit for you.

    • Shalom Rackovsky says:

      It has been said that the greatest Austrian achievement of modern times is convincing the world that Beethoven was Austrian and Hitler was German……

      • John Borstlap says:

        Strictly speaking: Beethoven was a Belgian, since his grandfather came from Mechelen (Flanders). And Hitler came from hell so he was neither Austrian nor German, but turned Germany and the world into hell.

        • Hamish says:

          Bollocks, Beethoven could not be considered Belgian, since the daft wee country “Belgium” did not exist until long after his death and subsequent resurrection and ascension into the Valhalla of “Right note composers”, a highly select club which does not admit any wrong note composers don’t you know.

          • John Borstlap says:

            OK, what’s in a name, it was ‘the Southern Netherlands’ which were under Habsburg rule, but certainly not German rule. And who was Bollocks? I do know of Adrian Osley Buttock (York 1743 – London 1798) but I never heard of Bollocks.

  • Ungeheuer says:

    Oh my. Still, a great conductor. One of the greatest of the greats. Would that we had anyone remotely comparable today. I say the exact same of Carlos Kleiber. I mean, not even Thielemann can approach either (and more) to shine their shoes.

  • Manfred Gerber says:

    Karl Böhm was forbidden to conduct til mid 1948.
    The family lived, like most others, in very modest
    financial conditions with no funds left at all.
    His wife, the wonderful Soprano Thea Lienhardt,
    got the family through rough times giving Lieder-
    Recitals throughout Austria.
    As far as Karl Böhm is concerned, he had deep
    regrets about his behaviour under the Nazi Regime.
    Many of his Jewish friends, mostly immigrants from
    Austria in the US, have witnessed this during his
    two decades, the artist worked three months a year at the MET !

    • John Borstlap says:

      What is easy for postwar people to forget, is the terrifying mental climate which spread during the thirties. Highly-gifted musicians rightly felt the overall threat to civilization and especially, culture (the desastrous economic situation in Germany and Austria after 1918 undermined already entire society). So, this created quite straightforward choices: either get away and build-up a new life elsewhere – England, America – as many did (if they had the chance), or let Heimat feelings, or / and opportunism and ego trippery have the upper hand and act as if entirely in tune with the regime. Also someone like R. Strauss paid dearly for his superficial opportunism and only began to take notice of the evil side of the regime when he bumped into ‘unextected’ resistance from that side. Karajan, Schwarzkopf… etc. as so many musicians took the wrong side. But they did not kill people and did not gas Jews.

      • Helene Kamioner says:

        Silence is consent. And most of these mitlaufers were probably delighted to replace Jewish artists, musicians, et al who were forbidden by the Nuermburg Gesetze to work and finally deported to labor and death camps, and never regained their positions if they had survived and returned “home.”. It seems to be getting a bit better, but when Thielemann refers to Barenboim as der Jude Barenboim, and the press refers to Barrie Kosky as der Jueddische Regiesseur, we’re right where we started from. Many Jews feel safer hiding their identity, and I agree with them.

        • Yehuda says:

          No one is more concerned with whether a person is Jewish or not as we Jews, ourselves. As my Granny used to say: any fool knows that.

        • John Borstlap says:

          I agree with the first part of this comment, but find the latter part exaggerated. Wasn’t it Kosky himself who wanted to be seen as a ‘Jewish artist’? In itself a crazy notion, like a ‘moustached artist’ or a ‘high-heeled artist’.

          As for the notion that ‘silence’ means ‘consent’, that depends upon context. In an era without the information industry as we have it now, and with many direct and dangerous pressures all around, survival strategies could mean: ignore what does not directly concern you and try to get on. It does not necessarily mean ‘consent’.

          The antisemitic burps of today are not different from those simplistic generalizations like ‘the Muslems’ or ‘the gays’. Over very long periods ‘them’ was directed to half of humanity: women.

        • Anon says:

          Didn’t you just days ago here emphasize, uncalled for, the Jewishness of Kosky and your – perceived – lack of the Jewishness of the critics? Confusing. Or confused?

  • musicadvocate says:

    Where and when did Bohm voice ” enthusiastic support ” for the Nazis ?
    In my view he was just another career obsessed “Mitlaeufer”, like many in those days, without a conscience.

  • Nigel Simeone says:

    “Curiously, Böhm never joined the Nazi party”

    It’s only “curious” if you assume that he gave “enthusiastic support” to the Nazi party. I’ve never seen any evidence for that, but perhaps his papers will reveal something new.

    At any event – and allowing for all the usual human flaws – I think he was a great conductor, and I’m glad his papers have found a good home. Most of his scores were sold off shortly after his death by Hans Schneider (I bought Böhm’s copy of the Bruckner Te Deum at the time and still have it).

    • Olassus says:

      Excellent comment, and good for you on the Te Deum score.

      I always remember, as a student, shaking Böhm’s hand and his personal connection and smile. He happened not to be a Nazi. I also remember Solti declining a handshake, while smiling. He happened not to be a Nazi either.

  • John says:

    The perennial problem. What to do with great musicians who were less than great people. I remember when I went into Chicago’s Lyric Opera for my one and only chance to hear Jon Vickers sing in a production of Tristan and having to walk through a picket line of concentration camp survivors protesting a Wagner performance. I did go in and experienced a performance I won’t forget. But I also won’t forget those picketers.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Neither Wagner, nor Vickers, killed Jews. Or anybody else, for that matter.

      • John says:

        Then you don’t have a problem. I did.

        Wagner — who I grew up loving, and still do — was a vile man on many levels, including his racism. While Wagner never knew Hitler, Houston Stewart Chamberlain — one of the slimiest of the slimy racial purity boys — was married to a Wagner, lived many years in Bayreuth, and was paid homage to by a young and adoring Adolph Hitler in the early 1920s. So while you like to see no connection between RW and AH, I do.

        Early in my career I taught in a high school where Jewish students were in the majority. One day, in music appreciation class, I put on a Beethoven symphony with the BPO and HvK, and one student — seeing the cover picture of Karajan — left the room. Turns out her parents met in Auschwitz. So pardon me if I feel some conflicts about these things. And when Arline’s parents heard the Meistersinger Prelude being played over the loudspeakers when their families disembarked from their trains, that connection wasn’t lost on them.

        • (A different) John says:

          Not the Chamberlain canard again. Wagner and Chamberlain never met. There is no evidence that Wagner was even aware of Chamberlain’s existence. Chamberlain’s association with the Wagner family only came about after the composer’s death and Chamberlain does not provide a link between Wagner and Hitler.

        • John Borstlap says:

          When Mahler, as a young boy, ran out of the house where his parents were quarrelling, and a barrel organ was by chance playing a joyful tune just there and then, for him the banal tune said something highly ironic as if it were a voice mocking tragedy, and hence this association pops-up again and again in his symphonies. These are associations, not logical parts of a causality chain. Wagner hated the sort of people who were against him, who drove capitalist banking and exploitative industrialism, who wrote mocking trivialities about him and his works in the press and who exposed his cross dressing, who wrote entire books to denounce him, who – in his eyes – threatened culture and civilization, and since many of them were from Jewish descent he concluded it must be their ‘jewishness’ which is the cause of all those barriers to his own ideas and works. It is a very stupid conclusion with awful consequences because this conclusion contributed to a political climate where antisemitism was seen as ‘progress’ and eventually turned Bayreuth into a nazi hub. But W’s music is entirely innocent of that. The associations with nazism which is invoked by the music, is the result of nazism, not of Wagner’s crazy racism.

          By the way, racism was a ‘normal’ way of thinking in 19C society, partly due to the colonialism and increasing knowledge of the wider world (which does not automatically mean: understanding). It did not have the holocaustic overtones it has acquired today. What later happened under Hitler was simply unthinkable, in a literal sense (one of the reasons so many artists of renown stayed in Germany in the thirties – it seemed as a mere temporary abberation which would fizzle-out).

          Wagner was not an evil person, he had his flaws and had to deal with extraordinary circumstances and temperament and talents. He was not a Beethoven who had the luxury, right from the beginning, of being generously supported and celebrated by the elites of his time.


        • Helene Kamioner says:

          Interesting articlein The Israel Times Newpaper: ‘I am here to sing his music; that’s a way to actually prevail over Wagner’s Jew-hatred’. Divorcing music from anti-Semitism, Israeli soprano takes on taboo at Wagner fest Netta Or sees her performance in ‘Parsifal’ as an opportunity to show the world that the Bayreuth Festival is not ‘judenrein’

  • Martinu says:

    You may also say that Hitler, presumably, didn’t kill Jews either. Most Nazis didn’t participate actively. So?

    • Nik says:

      You’re splitting hairs. He may not have done it with his own two hands, but he ordered it to be done. He came up with the policies that led to it being done. Is that enough culpability for you, and are you seriously suggesting that Böhm was equally culpable?

  • Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

    Exactly, it was the bullets and gas that killed the Jews.

    • Helene Kamioner says:

      Human beings, if you can call them so, fired the bullets and distributed the gas. Read Goldhagen’s Hitler”s Willing Executioners”.

      • John Borstlap says:

        UInder the ‘right’ circumstances, a majority of any population will be willing to carry-out atrocities, which throws a revealing light upon humanity and evolution. All the more reason to fight for civilizational values.

        • Helene Kamioner says:

          Again, I point you to Goldhagen’s book, “Hitler’s Willing Execution” and another new one about complicity, asking the question is one legally or morally required to report a crime. But since murdering Jews during the Third Reich was not considered immoral or illegal the combine guilt is washed away.

      • Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

        Erich Goldhagen is a retired Harvard professor and is the father of Daniel Goldhagen. He is a Holocaust survivor who with his family was interned in a Jewish ghetto in Czernowitz.

        So this Jewish author must be very reliable. Everyone should read this book recommended by Helene.

  • Yehuda says:

    The same Wagner work played to welcome new arrivals at Auschwitz that welcomed
    Hitler to a party rally? This is the stuff of Hollywood films but not of the ramp at Auschwitz. NonAryans were not worthy of German culture, prisoner orchestras could only perform music of nonAryans and nonGermans.

    Of course, if one is after truly guilty parties before, during and after the war, one might start with the US State and War Departments of the day, under Roosevelt!!
    Before: the State Dept., far from aiding those in flight from the Germans by easing
    the visa requirements for the US, intentionally did the opposite.
    During: the US military consistently refused to bomb the camps and the rail lines leading to them.
    After: a great many Nazi war criminals were pardoned by the Allies and released with the aim of enlisting their and public German support in the battle again atheistic Godless(sic) communism.

    Whether a Bohm, a Karajan, a Mengleberg said or did this or that is of no importance at all, given the indifference of those who had the means to help.

    Also, naming Goldhagen as a ‘source’ is a mark of deep irrelevance.

    • Helene Kamioner says:

      Yehuda, if you put blame on Roosevelt and the US, then surely you must distribute the blame against the whole world evenly. In the end were it not for the allies God only knows what would have happened. That being said, in my defense to your reply of naming Jonah Goldhagen, author of Hitler’s Willing Executioners” the operative word is “Willing” and i take it a step further, they were enthusiastic and joyful in their jobs. And I ask, how is it possible that a cultured civilization of music and dog lovers, when given the chance, or order, happily murdered my ENTIRE family in Auschwitz, Treblinka and Chelmno. And the answer as my father always said, weil di bist a yid. And God rest his blessed soul he was right. Even more irrelevant, does anyone know if Hugo Boss really designed the Nazi uniforms?

      • John Borstlap says:

        Murder begins with the process of dehumanization. When people put other people in non-human boxes, it becomes less difficult to murder them. In general, a majority of any population is rather primitive and easily manipulated, as we see all around today as well with the rise of populist extreme right parties in the West and the election of a dangerous buffoon in the USA.

      • Anon says:

        How can one still believe in God, even in one who according to one’s own traded mythology, has made one mythologically superior over other humans, “chosen”? It doesn’t make any sense to me. How can one still accept such a “God” to define one’s own identity?

        • Anon says:

          …a “God” who allowed all that. (I forgot to say)

          • John Borstlap says:

            There is an inbuilt superiority complex in Judaism (read the Old Testament) and more than a touch of racism – you cannot BECOME a Jew, as far as I know, and therefore orthodox Jews don’t evangelize, you are or you are not a Jew. And an anthropomorphic God who directly intervenes in his own creation is a myth, which can only be understood as symbolical or metaphorical. If there exists a God, ‘it’ must be outside the universe, and interventions would be either impossible or very rare and inconspicuous. The least one can say is that the Holocaust proves that a God did not intervene and that, if ‘it’ exists, ‘it’ does not cultivate a ‘chosen people’ – an absurd idea and showing too much relationship with the crazy ‘Aryan’ mythology of the nazis. Ironies of history.

          • Indeed, discrimination is a two-way street.

    • Helene Kamioner says:

      From the New York Times

      Was Slaughter of Jews Embraced by Germans?

      Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust
      By Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
      A basic question posed by students of the Holocaust has to do with the psychology of the ordinary perpetrators of the genocide against the Jews. How, some scholars have asked, did those who carried out the slaughter overcome the moral scruples it would be normal to feel when faced with the annihilation of an entire people, a far-flung people, moreover, that posed no threat to the German homeland.

      That is the wrong question, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen argues in this masterly, powerfully argued book. ”Hitler’s Willing Executioners” is an attempt to demolish the standard views about Germans and the Holocaust by arguing that when it came to the Jews, average Germans had no moral scruples to overcome in the first place.

      The perpetrators of the anti-Jewish slaughter, Mr. Goldhagen contends, did not kill Jews because of threats or some German propensity for obeying authority. They participated in the slaughter because they were steeped in a historical culture of anti-Semitism. They tortured and massacred Jews, starved them, toyed with them, punished them for their birth, and they did so voluntarily, even eagerly, with unsurpassable malice and cruelty.

      • John Borstlap says:

        As we know from psychology, people who are suffering from unbearable levels of frustration and feelings of being treated unfairly by ‘the world’, when simple enough, often project their frustration upon some other party, and destroying that party seems to relieve the inner pressure. The explanation of this psychopathology can be found in the devastating implosion of Germany and Austria after WW I with the consecutive inflation disaster which ruined millions. This, in combination with the presence of a cultural tradition of antisemitism (based upon racism and jealousy) and the availability of innocent victims (because Jews were equally suffering from the same troubles), was apparently enough to create the craziness. It is not enough to simply depict Germans of the thirties and fourties as beasts, suggesting that was because they were Germans, because that would mean making the same mistake that Wagner made when he combined cultural critique with ethnicity.

        • Helene Kamioner says:

          Many “americans” suffered in the depression, but did not influence rich and willing industrialists, etc to create zyklon B and finance the building of crematoriums and death camps, et al. I would venture to say that there is a difference between offensive and defensive aggression, and there is always a choice….History speaks for itself. Bohm was a highly respected conductor and I hope everyone enjoys his estate and contribution to music.

          • Anon says:

            IG Farben, the corporation that oversaw the production of Zyklon B, was closely associated with Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, DuPont, and other international investors. War and mass murder as a profitable racket was not a German invention. What was unique, was industrialized genocid, but that also was only a matter of time, after the dawn of the industrial age, unfortunately.

    • David says:

      Prehaps the best informed researcher and historian of the fate of the European Jews during the war, Raul Hilberg, rejected Goldhagen’s views totally: ‘The problem with Goldhagen is that he is wrong, completely wrong about everything.’ Fritz Stern, Timothy Snyder and any leading historian I can think of were and are similarily dismissive of Goldhagen’s simple-minded line, one all to easy for the so inclined to swallow.

      • Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

        But he is the descendant of holocaust survivors. People will be more than happy to buy his story just because of this privileged status.

      • Helene Kamioner says:

        I have great respect of Hilberg, haven’t heard of Fritz Stein though. as you probably know, scholars often criticize each others works. so what? it certainly doesn’t minimize their indivdual value AND validity.

      • Helene Kamioner says:

        David, further to my earlier reply. Let’s take the case of the many versions of The Tales of Hoffmann…each musicologist – Oeser, Choudans, Kaye/Keck is convinced his is the ultimate version….again, so what I ask with no offense intended. In MY opinion Goldhagen is an established and knowledgeable member of authors who write about the Holocaust and that’s enough for me. I am part of that privileged status of being a descendant of holocaust survivors and lived with the truth all my life and give credit to anyone who wishes to contribute to the shoah so that we don’t ever forget and try not to repeat history. However, I must state the I am still in a state of shock about the recent New York Times article about a museum’s exhibition of Eichmann, in which the author, or art critic actually states Eichmann was kidnapped, rather than captured.etc. Ira Stoll in the Algemeiner makes mined meat out of the author of such a biased editorial, and we are privileged to be able to at the very least air our differences with no fear. Right?

  • Anon says:

    Sergiu Celibidache about Karl Böhm: “ein Kartoffelsack, hat noch keinen einzigen Takt Musik in seinem Leben dirigiert.“

    literal translation: “a bag of potatoes, didn’t conduct a single bar of music in his life.”

  • Blair Mayne says:

    Several erroneous statements have been made about Karl Bohm’s WW1 military career. He was not in any prestigious regiment such as the KuK KJR nor the Kuk Infanterieregiment Hoch und Deutschmeister No. 4.

    He was in fact in the Supply Corp (equivalent of the RASC aka Jam Stealers) supervising pack mules, which ironically was favoured by the Jews. In his memoirs he mentions this and about getting a kick in the chest from a pack mule. Not a lot of people know this.