Unknown pic of Furtwängler and the Füh…

After decades of censorship, whitewash and hagiolatry, documents continue to emerge of  Wilhelm Furtwängler’s deeply compromised position with the leadership of the Third Reich.

This latest discovery is from the Süddeutsche Zeitung archives.

It shows Furtwängler conducting a factory concert in 1939 in front of a huge portrait of his Führer.

The accompanying article by Helmut Mauro wonders how the Berlin Philharmonic’s wartime broadcasts were affected by these affiliations. Read here.


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  • I don’t see what is new here. He stayed in the country, suffered for it on a personal level and helped millions of people have access to some level of culture during years of madness (as well as helping some colleagues who were in danger). He was not a sympathiser of the regime (unlike HvK, KB and others) but simply “did the music job” as best he could. Perhaps naive in retrospect, yes, but this constant digging out of “new” evidence supposedly showing a hitherto unknown attitude is in my view unnecessary. He is and remains one of the most important musicians of the 20th century.

    • Not to get into a sustained discussion of the subject (and I won’t), but if you’ve read any of the scholarship on the subject, Herbert von Karajan was NOT a committed Nazi or anything close to it. He joined the party in 1935, not 1933, in order to secure his job in Aachen as General Music Director. Richard Osborne has addressed this question comprehensively and definitively in his writings. Additionally, Karajan married Anita Gutermann in 1942, who had a Jewish grandparent and by the standards of the regime was considered a Jew. He would not have done that if he were a Nazi or trying to curry favor with the regime.

      • He was “a Nazi” in the sense that he joined the party. But he was not “a Nazi” in the sense that he believed or supported their ideology. Many people deliberately confuse the two, in order to insinuate the second by stating he is “a Nazi” in the first sense.

  • Not sure there is a point to this. That WF conducted in Berlin during the Nazi era is well known. That there were flags and pictures of Hitler all over the place is hardly surprising. Furtwaengler’s recordings, for many, are legendary and represent music making in a different era. A new rehash of well known arguments is unlikely to change anyone’s view.

    • Exactly.
      Furtwängler was a German conductor who lived from 1886 to 1954. He considered himself deeply embedded into the German culture, particularly musically, but also holistically.
      Twelve of those 68 years, the Nazis had their fatal grip on power. Furtwängler stayed and tried to keep living his deep commitment to the culture of his home nation. He considered the Nazis a temporary disturbance.
      But I expect nothing but the next Furtwängler bashing post here, it’s a monthly occurrence.
      Nothing sells or creates clickbait like Nazis (and sex).

  • What point does this serve to continuously sift through the ashes of this particular past ? This beating a dead horse
    over and over displays warped thinking .He created nothing
    he was but another conductor good or bad depending on who is writing ,he is dead along with millions of others.

  • I don’t know if this latest anti-Furtwangler post is more evidence of an obsession or merely clickbait. I do know it is both ahistorical and contra-historical. The first sentence suggests there has been nothing written on this except censorship, hagiolatry, and whitewashing. If that view is sincerely held, it plainly shows an unawareness of the considerable scholarly research on the subject offering substantive evidence and a variety of views. In so far as the post may be called historical in nature, and that’s not far at all, it must be deemed of the ‘revisionist’ sort, nigh on cut out of whole cloth. Charles Munch, a native of Alsace of German stock but French by preference, was close to Furtwangler in his younger years and, though relations were a touch strained, remained in touch after the War. Munch, however, scorned Cluytens who, it has been reported, had a painting of a German officer on the wall of his apartment in Paris and kept very dodgy company. Munch also would have nothing to do with Thibaud. Casals cut off both Thibaud and Cortot for their parts in the Vichy government, but later reconciled with Cortot — but not Thibaud. Plainly Casals was aware of things others were and are not, he had a discriminating intellect, and, most of all, a passion for justice. I see no interest in justice in these posts, just a strange need to keep banging away at Furtwangler (as passim Daniel Barenboim). The ignorance in all this dismays me, frankly.

  • Isn’t that factory concert film the one that’s been on the Internet for years? Or is that just another factory concert, which were well known in any event.

    One can make an argument for WF staying in Germany and playing along the Nazi line, but I’ve yet to see evidence that he was one of Hitler’s strong allies. He wasn’t an artistic version of Himmler any more than Strauss was.

    And this, a picture of him in front of a huge portrait, certainly doesn’t convince me. Lordy, he’s just standing in front of it, not caressing it or kneeling in tribute. Sorry, Norman, this one’s pretty weak tea.

  • Any other URL where we can read the article? The SZ requires subscription. I have more pressing financial priorities.

    Is there really any new revelation that makes us change, or fine tune, our assessment of Furtwängler’s position in the third reich? Or just more noise?

  • Given the ubiquitous presence of National Socialist flags and pictures of Hitler throughout Germany during his regime, I bet you could find pictures of any well-known and often photographed person caught with such symbols in the background at some point. It proves nothing and serves no point now other than to feed the seemingly endless desire some people have for salacious tabloid click-bait.

  • I bet Furtwaengler also sent letters that had stamps with pictures of Hitler on their envelopes. That meant he licked Hitler.

  • I think this “story” is very misleading.

    He did a lot to oppose the Hitlerites and put his own position on the line. Lots of the top Jewish musicians in the world (like Y. Menuhin) very much admired him and his work and paid tribute to him for his political positions.

    His appearance at a place where there was a huge poster for Hitler is not surprising. They were everywhere.

    The real Nazi was Herbert von K.

  • I never liked Fartwungler recordings because they are so authoritarian. My first recording of Beethoven nr 5 was a Fart thing and I couldn’t stand it at all, especially not the coda of the 1st part, that was when my neighbours were at the door complaining and I got into a fight. Nothing is so calming and reassuring like Pli along Pli, my cats always begin to purr when I put that on and it doesn’t need an authoritarian conductor to make it work. When I’m really tired of the silly workload here, I play some Pli while doing hata yoga exercises and zut! I’m in sleep within half an hour. Fartwungler was a bad sleeper I guess, probably because he had a Hitler portrait over his bed.


    • “like Pli along Pli”
      Speaking of authoritarian, not to say fascistic, I am afraid you are the victim of autocorrect, John. That horrible device, that insolent invention, should be something we can do about in the here and now. Like him, love him, or loathe him there’s nothing we can do about WF now. That is what that is.

  • What’s new? We know that German musicians stayed in and conducted for the rulers of their country. They weren’t actually collaborators as they were German. Whether they were wrong to do so with a regime was one of the most obnoxious ever can be endlessly debated by people who were never in that position. Mind you, I rarely see Russian musicians pilloried for playing under the equally brutal dictatorship of Stalin! Something the liberal media has not actually addressed.

  • “Furtwängler was a nazi.” Wow, that’s some impressive investigative journalism, Mr. Lebrecht! Can’t wait to read your next posts, “People got wet from rain,” “Norman Lebrecht likes Mahler.”

    • Exactly. It baffles me that NL still hasn’t found out that Furtwängler was the chief conductor of the then Reichsorchester number 1, and was considered Germany’s biggest conductor, while never having joined the Nazi Party.

      One could say the same about his soviet counterpart Mravinsky, another non-party member (and notorious anti-semit).

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