Vienna Philharmonic quietly denazifies a New Year’s waltz

Vienna Philharmonic quietly denazifies a New Year’s waltz


norman lebrecht

December 13, 2019

Ever since 1946, the Vienna Philharmonic has been playing a version of the Radetzky March made on their behalf by a composer called Leopold Weninger, a hardcore Nazi and good pal of the orchestra.

Weninger joined the Nazi party in 1932 and worked for various music publishers.

Not until now did anyone object to playing a Nazi arrangement. But someone this year, possibly the conductor Andris Nelsons, raised an eyebrow. As a result, says Vienna Phil chairman Daniel Froschauer, a clean score was ‘created as a joint effort of the Vienna Philharmonic and, above all, unencumbered by a brown past’.

Thanks, Andris.

UPDATE: A much better Radetzky March.

Not brown.


  • Nik says:

    It’s not a waltz though, is it.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Sick of hearing about this Nazi stuff.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Getting tired of your complaints. Go elsewhere.

    • HugoPreuss says:

      I am German and I am NOT “sick of hearing about this Nazi stuff”. That was the darkest time in my countries history, and it is not that long ago. My grandfather and my father were soldiers in the war. This “stuff” is still relevant, and you can’t understand post-1945 music and culture in general without knowing what went on before. And it is amazing, as in this piece, how many remnants of what the Nazi’s did are still surrounding us. So, cheers to Andris Nelsons, and also cheers to SD for reporting on it.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        But it was 80 or more years ago. The current generation had nothing to do with it, including the Vienna Philharmonic. Let’s talk about Napoleon and what he did to Europe if you’re so fixated on the past.

        • Bill says:

          Yeah Sue, I can’t say I see a lot of neo-Napolionic hate group activity on the internet nowadays.

          It’s still relevant.
          There are still people alive who were victims of the Nazis and even some who happily participated in the atrocities and even more who would happily bring Hitler back to life to finish the job.

        • Amos says:

          First, today a Jewish cemetery in France was vandalized by neo-nazis so this is very much a current issue. Since 2016 incidences of neo-nazis violence have skyrocketed. As for the VPO until very recently they were still as concerned with the “heritage” of musicians and conductors as they were in the 30’s and 40’s. When modern-day violence is perpetrated in the name of Napoleon we can again address his legacy.

          • Sue Sonata Form says:

            It doesn’t concern you that the French armies of Napoleon had a direct affect on both Haydn and Beethoven in the most terrifying way? The people of Europe could well be all speaking French now if the little Emperor had his way!

      • John Borstlap says:

        Indeed. There is again some brown stench around in Europe. Also, the ‘stuff’ caused the postwar break with the past, as far as many composers were concerned, and that was a serious tragedy. And then, Germany is more than the brown period, it is the country of the Weimar Klassik, of much of the greatest European literature, philosophy and poetry, and science, and really much of the greatest music written in Europe. If this is continuously denied, it will have the brownies win a posteriori.

    • Emil says:

      Believe me Sue, everyone would very much prefer a world where “Nazi stuff” wasn’t everywhere all the time, including in the news.
      Unfortunately, Nazis can’t just be wished away.

      Good on the Wiener Phil for taking this step (I’d be interested in reading more about whether/how the March was ‘Nazified’), and good on Mr Lebrecht for raising and discussing this news.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Imagine if you were a musician in one of the world’s great orchestras and you had to listen, year on year, to people going on about Nazis!! I wouldn’t like it; you wouldn’t like it. So stop doing it. The institution which is the Vienna Philharmonic is not just a historical fact but in every way it is the present musicians who sit in its ranks and play so magnificently. Yet nobody says anything much about the Berlin Philharmonic. Perhaps because it has adopted so much that is PC and approved by the bien pensant.

    • Bill says:

      I’ll bet you wouldn’t say that if you weren’t posting anonymously

    • Amos says:

      Perhaps you and Stephen Miller can become pen-pals and share your reminiscences of the “good old days”. The Nazis stuff is alive and well thanks, in part, to people who pretend it wasn’t so evil and we should ignore what it really was. Put on your favorite Liefenstahl video, turn the sound off and cue up a Bohm recording.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Are you referring to Leni Riefenstahl? A film-maker lauded in cinema circles as one of the greatest visual artists the cinema has ever known. Along with Eisenstein (who made USSR propaganda films, in case you don’t know).

        I hope you won’t be watching any of the latter’s films any time soon. He just didn’t live long enough to be PC.

    • Charles Brink says:

      “Sick of hearing about this Nazi stuff”….really? Can you please explain?

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    Interesting information. By the way, we are very lucky that no truly great composer was a Nazi. It is also a great relief that Wagner lived long before that era, so that we can still enjoy his great works and overlook his German nationalism & anti-semitism. If any great composer had the potential to be a Nazi, it was he.

    • Peter B says:

      Sigh. Wagner was about as anti-fascist as you can get. He was firmly against authoritarianism and militarism, he fought alongside the anarchist Bakunin in the Dresden Uprising, and his German nationalism was mainly cultural, and much more defensive than imperialist – with reason, since the culturally and politically imperialist nation of his time was France.

      Wagner’s so-called impact on Hitler’s world view likewise is a total myth. Yes, he was an anti-semite, and a vicious one at that. Sorry to make things complicated, but his anti-semitism doesn’t automatically make him a proto-Nazi.

      • “…since the culturally and politically imperialist nation of his time was France.” In 1870, the German states of the North German Confederation led by the Kingdom of Prussia invaded and defeated France, the first of the three times Germany would invade France over the next 70 years. And with the result of millions of deaths and unimaginable destruction.

        It’s also questionable to claim that Wagner with his nationalism and racism had no influence of Hitler’s views.

        • jan neckers says:

          You could try to read a few lines on the history of that war. It was France that declared the war and fell into a Bismarck trap. It was France that invaded German Rhineland with the cry “A Berlin”. The purpose was to annex it. For 400 years France had been the agressor nation in Europe; plundering Italy, annexing parts of the Southern Netherlands and Germany, causing death and destruction in Catalunia, Flanders, Italy and Germany; responsable for millions of victims due to Richelieu, Louis XIV and XV, the Corsican tyrant. In 1870 France was woefully unprepared and after 18 days stopped the invasion of Germany. That was when the better prepared Prussian army struck back.

        • Dennis says:

          1870 et al. didn’t arise out of a vacuum. The rise of German nationalism and the consolidation of the German states (minus Austria) under Prussian domination, was, of course, a response to French nationalism and militarism post-1789, particularly Napoleon’s 2 decades of murderous mayhem and war-making across Europe.

          • John Borstlap says:

            The Prussian domination of the German lands was in itself a catastrophe – a strangling of the better Germany in the West and South. Beyond the Elbe the lands were never romanized and they hosted lots of primitive clans (like the Landjunkers). Bismarck simply bought Bavaria’s permission to declare the empire (Ludwig II needed much money because he had emptied the state cash box with his building programs). It is all a very dirty story.

          • Sue Sonata Form says:

            Precisely. (Airbrush, airbrush)

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          Why is anybody else responsible for the personal views of others?

        • John Borstlap says:

          Inevitably, when the nazis are mentioned in any context, be it classical music, yoga, deep sea diving, gardening or vegetarianism, Wagner is taken from the cupboard. Wagner was a rather mixed-up person, and during most of his life Germany was a backward, primitive territory broken-up in numerous small states, with a struggling economy and authoritarian governments. He did not like the Kaiserreich at all and denounced its militarism, and was damning about Bismarck. His antisemitism was a cultural critique, clothed in racist terms, and therein lay his mistake, that is all. He never advised a holocaust.

        • Peter B says:

          Wagner had no influence whatsoever on Hitler’s views. There is not a single indication he had. In all his writings and in all his conversations that were taken down, Adolf Hitler never quoted Richard Wagner. Not once. Hitler never mentioned Wagner’s German nationalism, his political views, or his views on race. Never. He never mentioned “Jewishness in music” or Wagner’s other essays. In all likelyhood Hitler didn’t even have a copy of Wagner’s writings, since none of the detailed descriptions of Hitler’s library mention them.

      • “…Wagner was about as anti-fascist as you can get…”

        Had he been around, I rate the chances of Wagner taking a principled stand against Nazis to be next to zero, particularly if would have meant the shuttering of Bayreuth.

        • John Borstlap says:

          It is more likely that he would have looked-down upon little Schicklgruber with contempt and had moved his festival to America – which was, in fact, indeed his plan for a short while. He tried to get his dentist (who was American) to test the waters in the US.

    • Karl says:

      But great conductors were in the Nazi party. Can we still enjoy their recordings?

  • Marc Cotemans says:

    If I remember well Nikolaus Harnoncourt already made a statement by opening the 2001 New Year’s Concert with the original version of the Radetzky March

    • Petros Linardos says:

      You do remember very well.

      Mr. Lebrecht, are missing something or does the above blogpost need to be corrected?

      • Peter A says:

        Sounds just as Nazi to me!

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Anything that keeps the Vienna Phil and the Nazis fresh in peoples’ minds has to be a good thing, right?

        • Petros Linardos says:

          I don’t necessarily disagree with your rhetorical question, even if I wouldn’t personally phrase it that way. Did you really mean this as a response to my comment?

          When it comes to the Radetzky, I see editorial problems, not Nazi ghosts.

          Fascism, racsism, neonazism are colossal problems in modern societies, but I don’t see their connection with musicological issues of Johann Strauss I.

      • Rafael says:

        totally agree. I was just going to make the same point. I think the post would need a correction to take into account that it was Harnoncourt that first “restored” the original Radetzky March…

    • David K. Nelson says:

      Why did the March even need a “version?” I have played it but do not recall any mention of an editor or version. I just assumed it was “come scritto” (or would that be “wie geschrieben”?).

  • These are not trivial concerns, and sadly relevant. The AfD is a far-right party in Germany that has has 13.3% of the seats in the Bundestag. Their party spokesperson in the Bundestag is, Björn Höcke, who sometimes expresses reactionary views reminiscent of Mein Kampf, as in this recent remark:

    “Once the turning point has come, then we Germans do not do half measures; the rubble mounds of modernity will be eliminated.”

    [„Wenn einmal die Wendezeit gekommen ist, dann machen wir Deutschen keine halben Sachen, dann werden die Schutthalden der Moderne beseitigt.”]

    The Vienna Philharmonic has an unfortunate history of racism that continued after the war. In his memoirs, published in 1970, Otto Strasser, a fromer chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic describes the problems blind auditions caused:

    “I hold it for incorrect that today the applicants play behind a screen; an arrangement that was brought in after the Second World War in order to assure objective judgments. I continuously fought against it, especially after I became Chairman of the Philharmonic, because I am convinced that to the artist also belongs the person, that one must not only hear, but also see, in order to judge him in his entire personality. […] Even a grotesque situation that played itself out after my retirement, was not able to change the situation. An applicant qualified himself as the best, and as the screen was raised, there stood a Japanese before the stunned jury. He was, however, not engaged, because his face did not fit with the ‘Pizzicato-Polka’ of the New Year’s Concert.”

    To this day the VPO does not have any members who are fully Asian even though about a quarter of the student body at Vienna’s University of Music has been Asian for the last half century. The orchestras says there has never been an Asian member good enough to be accepted. The Chicago Symphony, by contrast, has 18 Asian members.

    In an interveiw with the West German State Radio in 1995, the VPO’s now retired solo-flutist, expressed his views about ethnic, gender, and racial uniformity in the orchestra:

    “From the beginning we have spoken of the special Viennese qualities, of the way music is made here. The way we make music here is not only a technical ability, but also something that has a lot to do with the soul. The soul does not let itself be separated from the cultural roots that we have here in central Europe. And it also doesn’t allow itself to be separated from gender. So if one thinks that the world should function by quota regulations, then it is naturally irritating that we are a group of white skinned male musicians, that perform exclusively the music of white skinned male composers. It is a racist and sexist irritation. I believe one must put it that way. If one establishes superficial egalitarianism, one will lose something very significant. Therefore, I am convinced that it is worthwhile to accept this racist and sexist irritation, because something produced by a superficial understanding of human rights would not have the same standards.”

    It’s good to see that the VPO continues to address these attitudes and their history. With the rise of Trumpism, Brexit, the FPÖ, and the AfD, along with all the other far-right movements in Europe, now is not the time for denial.

    • Gordon says:

      Yikes. What a bunch of weirdos.

    • Sashimi says:

      It is without a question that the Vienna Phil has lost out on some magnificent talent by simply refusing asians. There are many who have proved that they can understand the culture and put their “soul” into playing. However some of the 18 asians in cso (and this applies to many of the major american orhestras) are unfortunately the stereotypical machine players who think playing the notes in tune is just about as much as you can do. I guess it my have some advantages in terms of section playing but overall it is rather annoying to watch when 14 out of 16 violinists are really emotionally invested and amidst them sit two who don’t even bother to fake or pretend to try. I always ask myself why these people play an instrument when it is painfully obvious it brings them no joy… let alone us listeners

      • Petros Linardos says:

        I fully agree with your first two sentences, but then I am lost.

        “Stereotypical machine players” certainly exist among Asians, as they do among Caucasians.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          Some of us think this is a description of American orchestras: bombastic, note-perfect, bland and boring.

          (Of course, also not completely true.)

    • Nijinsky says:

      I hate to say that I had a conversation with a girl, a violinist studying at a conservatory because I think the teacher there had been working with the European youth orchestra she was in, and she had won jugend musiziert twice she had said. Had studied in France also and other places, and I think on scholarships; but then Kyung Wha Chung had played with the European Youth Orchestra, and she actually said to me, first putting her finger down in a derogatory way saying “ping,” followed by: “These people playing our music,” as if there was something wrong by the very fact the Kyung Wha wasn’t whatever would make her included in what I was to believe was “ours.”

      I seriously didn’t know what to say, and didn’t end up saying anything. But I never thought there was anything wrong with Kyung Wha Chung playing whatever she wanted, or that the music was, or should be, limited to being labeled as “ours.” I’m actually 1/8th Indonesian also, which I’m assuming wasn’t known.

      I don’t even think that the music would exist for this girl to make such an aesthetic object out of, would the composers have been limited to such ideas.

      But this isn’t expansionist territorial endeavors supported with violent weaponry.

      The Vienna Philharmonic, I can’t say, doesn’t have a sort of militant stomp to it because of its attitude, and that it leaves it a bit lacking in artistry that can be heard by a sensitive ear. So, it’s their loss rather than the other way around.

      • John Borstlap says:

        “I’m actually 1/8th Indonesian also, which I’m assuming wasn’t known.”

        Imagine someone saying to a 1/8th non-European/Kaukasian player: “How dare 1/8th of you play OUR music?!” The mind boggles.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      It was the Left which created any foot-soldiers of the so-called far Right. If you don’t want them don’t foist your insane policies on the people. The people have had it up to here with these accusations of how bad they are, how ignorant and how stupid.

      Jeremy Corbyn tells the story.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Huh? It is a bizarre fantasy that The Left created the far right. Identity politics, in a “left-wing sense” has only really existed for the last 40 years (or so), and ii is really a consequence of the civil-rights movement.

        However, right-wing populism has tried to “identify people” and partition them into those who belong and those who do not for at least one hundred and fifty years.

    • John Borstlap says:

      This retired flutist did not understand that culture, any culture, is something which can always be absorbed and internalized by anyone entirely distinct from gender, ethnicity and locality. But gender, ethnicity and locality can be strong advantages. So, the flutist had a point, but it is not the complete picture. Such contradictions are the result of some essential psychological and political problem of Western society: its universalist values are abstract in nature, but on the ground people react differently, that is also what we see now all around us.

  • Carlos Solare says:

    Now let them – and everybody else – drop the Haas editions of Bruckner Symphonies.

    • Carlos Solare says:

      What? Haas was no less a fellow-traveller (at best) that the other guy!

    • SEATAC says:

      That’s easily done and no loss at all when we have Carragan and Novak editions anyway.

    • Dennis says:

      If you have good musicological grounds to do so (there are, after all, many legitimate cases to be made against certain aspects of his editions), then by all means make a case…but simply dismissing the Haas versions on grounds that Haas became a member of the NSDAP is not a solid argument.

      Tintner and Barenboim, among others, have had no problem conducting Haas’ versions of Bruckner symphonies.

      Apparently Maestro Barenboim is fine with the Weninger Radetzky March as well, judging from this 2014 VPO New Year’s Day concert:

  • Good bot evil says:

    It s a good Version, though

  • Novagerio says:

    Wow….pity for the billions of “brown clappings” that have accompanied this tune the last 80 years… :S

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      These people need to be punished and I guess you’re going to do it. I’m sorry they don’t have your exquisite moral values.

  • Patrick says:

    Music isn’t Nazi. Nazis are Nazi.

  • Tinkerbelle says:

    Read the book by Joseph Roth, “The Radetsky March” – it is fantastic and will transport you back to those days. Read his other books too.

  • Dennis says:

    Even if a particular arrangement was done (Anyone have links to both versions for comparison?) by a composer who was a National Socialist, that hardly makes the music itself an inherently a “Nazi arrangement” in need of “denzazification.”

    Are there particular notes, keys, or chords, etc., which are Nazi? Is hearing the Weninger arrangement tantamount to receiving National Socialist propaganda?

    I never knew there were different arrangements, or who who did the one most of us are probably familiar with (assuming Weninger’s has been the most performed one?). I doubt people who have heard Weninger’s arrangment have become unwitting National Socialists.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed. One of the most crazy examples of this difference between the music and its interpretation: both Hitler and Theodor Herzl (the father of zionism) heard Wagner’s Lohengrin in Vienna in the same week, possibly they were at the same performance. It inspired both men quite much to their rather different ideas, Hitler for his ‘pure-German’ nationalism, Herzl for his ‘Jewish nation’ in Palestina.

    • Jim says:

      Glad others can see the absurdity of delving to the level that this campaign has.

      I’m all for the VPO acknowledging the Nazi period, and where reasonable taking steps to address key issues – and in this case coming up with a new arrangement of the Radetzky.

      But is it really such a big deal. If you wanted to delve into the archives of classical music to remove any music with any unsavoury taste to it, a lot of good music would be on the scrapheap….

  • Alexander Tarak says:

    What was wrong with the original?

  • david hilton says:

    Whichever version is used, it’s still a march commissioned to honour the Habsburg victory at Custoza, delaying the cause of Italian independence for a generation. My Italian grandparents would not have clapped. Johann Josef Wenzel Anton Franz Karl, Graf Radetzky von Radetz may have been a find general, but his services were exclusively devoted to an authoritarian and backward-looking regime.

    It seems to me more relevant to note what the famous march is all about; not the fairly trivial circumstance of its 20th-century arrangement.

  • Ed says:

    National Anthem of Peru. Composed by José Bernardo Alcedo with lyrics written by José de la Torre. Ugarte. Orchestral version: Leopold Weninger.

  • Johannesgoldbert says:

    If the arrangement is good, and there is no political statement in the music, I don’t see any problem in performing the NaZi-era arrangement. Can we please act with a bit of maturity and separate the art from the artist?

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Yes, while the “not brown” version adds a bit of levity, I fail to see how the “Radetzky March” has anything to do with today’s neo-nazi movement. The march itself was written in honor of Count Radetzky, a much beloved field marshal of the ‘old’ Austria, who died in 1858. It’s an equestrian march. Strauss wrote grace notes into the melodic line in a deliberate effort to keep folks from playing the march too quickly (as it often times is, outside of Austria). Any association with the nazis would be precisely the same as arguing Wagner’s or Bruckner’s guilt. In fact, it’s worse since Wagner did write out his antisemitic beliefs. I seriously doubt that those who are sympathetic to the neo-nazi movement, put on recordings of the “Radetzky March”. Wagner, maybe. To the best of my knowledge, Austria doesn’t even have any pretense of bringing back the monarchy. I vote for leaving the neo-nazi’s out of this.

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    I guess I am too late to reply to some people here, but… here it goes anyway.
    It is surprising how difficult is to find [good] performance material for the works of the Strauss family. The reality is that there is no such thing as a unified version of any of the pieces, because all orchestras in Austria are performing the pieces from photocopied material that was often hand copied in the Strauss’ time. For some of the pieces there isn’t even a score, just a 4-hand piano reduction. The original and early hand-copies of the the parts and scores of many of the pieces are housed in many institutions in Vienna, including the Staatsoper, the Volksoper, the National Library, the Library of the City of Vienna etc. The current version of the RD is one of the many versions exiting, in this case the editor copied some of the hand parts available at the time to create a score. It is not “a version” really, it is an edition with more or less level of authenticity. This might change soon as Hermann Verlag is embarqued in a scholar edition of Strauss works (and also working a new edition cleaning up the mess that Nowak and Haas made).

  • Nijinsky says:

    After this endless discussion, I really wonder
    what statement is supposed to be made. It would seem to me that even playing a “Nazi” version might point out that even a Nazi can INSTEAD get involved with music, and if there was an emotional outlet for EVERYONE that instead got involved with Nazi-ism then that would have been there, instead. To me, it’s simply cause and effect. And how is all of the rationalizing and analyzing of the past history of something that’s HERE rather than THEN is going to help those here NOW who, because their grievous emotions not being attended to, resort to who knows what?
    It’s of course supposed to point out that Nazi’s are bad, and don’t get involved with neonazi stuff, but I don’t see the fussing here doing that. No amount of berating, intimidation or threats are going to do what a simply outlet shows, when it offers a different way of dealing with emotional wounds, rather than shaming someone. Same as miracles might offer, but then those aren’t supposed to exist either, especially given each religion saying it’s the one way, which parts of each of them do.

  • Anonymous says:

    It’s a shame to hear that Leopold Weninger became a Nazi in 1932. However, in 1914, when his arrangement was published, Nazis didn’t exist at all. So his arrangement never was a Nazi arrangement.

    And to be fair (once a good tradition in England), please read the statement from the orchestra:

    In a nutshell: After some performances (between 1928 and 1946) the orchestra adjusted this arrangement according to the Strauss tradition, creating their own version. “The printed parts on the other hand, which included, among others, Weninger’s addenda for timpani, triangle and glockenspiel, have not been played by the Philharmonic in the New Year’s Concerts.”

  • Christine Doby says:

    It seems to be on YouTube under 2020 Andris Nelsons.

  • Christine Doby says:

    Also, the Radetzky march was written back in the mid-1800’s by Johann Strauss, Sr. which explains the waltzes in the middle. 🙂