Anne-Sophie Mutter: Why is religion given priority over art?

Anne-Sophie Mutter: Why is religion given priority over art?


norman lebrecht

December 13, 2020

The German violinist, who is now playing in churches, sends a challenge to her government in an interview on a religious radio station:

We have a basic right to freedom of art and freedom of religion. I cannot understand that religion is given priority over art, because this basic right is food and not luxury. Art gives us hope and a view into another beautiful dimension and a shared sensual experience, as of course does a church service. I am very grateful that there are church services in which, as in the history of the church, music has always played a major role. This now enables us to be there musically for a few people and appeal to solidarity and ultimately to charity…

The service in the Berlin Cathedral this Saturday is prompted by the German Orchestra Foundation, which founded an emergency fund in March to make life a little easier for freelance artists. This fund urgently needs support. That is one of the reasons why we offer musical accompaniment in church services. It is not only a gift – hopefully it will be seen that way – to the worshipers, but it is also an appeal for solidarity for freelance musicians.

Since March we have been banned from performing almost continuously, which entails insane financial losses. Bear in mind that 95 percent of artists live on the poverty line. I think a music teacher gets 11,000 euros a year. Every Advent concert, every other appearance that is lost is a catastrophe in every respect. There is national assistance, but it is extremely bureaucratic and the criteria are often set in such a way that many cannot access the money at all. The November aid is probably a little easier to get. Incidentally, 3000 euros for a year in which practically no income could be earned is too little. So you can’t die from it, but you can’t live with it either.

More here.


UPDATE: Where Mutter got it wrong


  • anon says:

    Because the freedom of religion is not claimed by priests whose motive is to get paid, whereas freedom of arts is claimed by artists whose motive is to get paid.

    It’s the pecuniary motive that is the differentiating factor.

    The freedom of art guarantees the right for an artist to express herself, not her right to get paid a certain minimum annual salary.

    Yes, the right to basic housing and food is a basic right, but it is a different right from the right to artistic expression or the right to religious freedom.

    Artists have every right, like every other citizen to ask for aid to survive.

    Artists don’t have a right to demand a higher standard of living than other citizens just because they are artists.

    (For example, Met musicians: oh, I made 6 figures last year, I demand to continue to have a 6 figure salary this year, just because I am a Met musician.)

    • Herr Doktor says:

      “Because the freedom of religion is not claimed by priests whose motive is to get paid, whereas freedom of arts is claimed by artists whose motive is to get paid.”

      Are you joking, Anon? Religion is the GREATEST BUSINESS in the history of business. Recurring revenues. Low-to-non-existent manufaturing costs. Great margins. No supply constraints.

      Maybe there are more convincing arguments to make, but for sure, yours is a non-starter. And I say this as someone who is entirely respectful of other peoples’ religious beliefs, even if I don’t share them.

      • Maria says:

        Entirely respectful? My word! Down right insulting and offensive to those of us who have some religious beliefs and who are also artists – but not on six-figure salaries no more than our hardworking priests, rabbis and Imans.

        • Herr Doktor says:

          I’m sorry you feel insulted, Maria. That was not my intent. However, to address your argument, the person at your local McDonald’s flipping burgers makes no money–minimum wage or slightly better. But that doesn’t mean that McDonald’s is not a wealthy company.

      • B.h says:

        well said Herr Doktor

    • Jimbo says:

      Religion is belief in the supernatural based on revelation maintained by dogmatic tradition.

  • HugoPreuss says:

    I appreciate ASM’s activism on behalf of her less fortunate fellow musicians. And I miss going to concerts and opera immensely. And there is precious little evidence (as in: none) that concerts have been corona spreaders in the past.

    However, constitutionally she is dead wrong. The freedom of the arts (Art. 5 Basic Law) means that there is no censorship and that the government will not interfere with the contents of the arts. But even that is not unlimited. To produce, e.g., a vile antisemitic painting and then call it “art” is NOT protected under the German constitution.

    The freedom of religion is not just guarenteed by the constitution (Art. 4), but also its free exercise (Art. 4.2). Religion and religious services are different from the arts.

    While I agree with here in terms of policy, there is the sad fact that in terms of constitutional law she doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      As long as she retains though arms, though.

    • Tamino says:

      She doesn’t dispute the interpretation of constitutional law. She disputes the law itself. Rightfully so. It is not comprehensible, why religion and its practice enjoys higher protection than the arts. Arguably religion is an outdated method of mind (self-)control, maintained by dogmatic tradition. Art is more in line with post-enlightened ideas of our humanity and would deserve HIGHER constitutional protection than irrational believes in higher powers and anti-scientific dogmas like religion.

  • BruceB says:


  • James Weiss says:

    In the US, the churches are closed.

  • Andrew says:

    A-S Mutter seems not to understand what religion is. It’s about God not her. The Sacraments are essential. It can’t be compared to a branch of the entertainment industry no matter how good the production values. (But yes, let’s open the concert halls and theatres too.)

    • Patricia says:

      She doesn’t know what she is talking about. Churches have long been places for performances of music and dance, and they are full of art – stained glass, tapestry. And where does she think Bach wrote all those organ works?

      • Nijinsky says:

        Without music there would be no church, it’s not the other way around. When consciousness first blossomed in the minds of men, it was music that was spiritual, not an institution, and not a building.

        Without the “church”, you wouldn’t have had invading tyrants believing they had the right to convert the savages, and you wouldn’t have the deluded doctrines maintaining that they (the “church”) were the only ones that could save people’s souls giving them the right to do the most inhumane cruel things to people, in the name of “God.”

        And without the “church” in present day, you wouldn’t have a whole list of bizarre doctrines dehumanizing people, whether it’s about sexuality, belief in one deity over another, or one religion over another; and still the same thing, that said religion has the task to take over the lives of people.

        • John Borstlap says:

          People don’t need religion to do the most inhumance cruel things to other people. And music is the fruit of religion, in the sense that spirituality gave birth to both religion and music, and in that combination music had to serve religion, not the other way around. So it is reasonable to say that music is the child of religion.

          • Tamino says:

            Music the child of religion? That’s far fetched. We can assume that first there was song and musical expression.

          • John Borstlap says:

            But anthropogical evidence points towards religious contexts.

          • Nijinsky says:

            That’s quite a romanticism of the word “religion.” Any child just about at some point starts singing, a tune, and people think: “that’s music.” I don’t really see them identifying anything as natural (and spiritual) as a child would do for no other reason than it’s alive, as “religion.”

    • Nijinsky says:

      I don’t know how Anne-Sophie simply putting forth the truth, that her colleagues are languishing and they deserve better turns into her not knowing what religion is and that it’s about God not her, a “God” you’ve here defined as something quite abusive, saying that something as innate to the human condition as art isn’t essential. That couldn’t be God, if it would be a creative energy. Instead you’ve been misled to fill in a formula, like A plus B equals C with stuff that has no bearing on what it equals when put together, although it sounds like it’s the answer, given that it’s made out to be a formula. As in The Sacraments plus Religion equals the essentials of life. And yet you’re no different than the pharisees deciding Jesus needed to be put to death because he interfered with such brain washing and showed people that there is a way than retains the innate nature of being human and finds the divine, despite those maintaining “the sacraments” are made out to be the only path.

      Why such phobic attachments clouded with arrogance against others who simply aren’t brainwashed? And the whole belief anyone might have, as they might in anything that might infer a suggestion that there’s something more, and lead to where faith can lead, is only allowed a limited room, the bleak amount of miracles or miracle workers your church allows contaminated with pretense.

      No, I don’t think it’s Anne-Sophie who has a lack of understanding as to what religion should be….

    • Tamino says:

      Your opinion is a pure mental construct, not the truth. And a quite far fetched and strange mental construct at that. You are free to have it, but keep it to yourself.
      Sacraments are a man made invention. Nothing essential, unless you decide to make it something essential personally. But keep it to yourself.

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    Good for her.

  • Edward says:

    At least we know in the States, based on what just ruled by the Supreme Court, that religion does have priority over arts. The rationale is that free exercise of religion is protected by the First Amendment. Unfortunately, arts is not included in the First Amendment.

    • Patricia says:

      If you think of the arts as a kind of speech or expression, they are in the First Amendment.

    • Araragi says:

      The Supreme Court case to which you refer hinged more on treating religious groups *the same* as secular groups. Petitioners contended that Covid restrictions were more severe on them than secular groups since other establishments were permitted to open. The Court agreed. The Court did not say religious groups have “priority over arts.” The art houses could bring similar challenges to the closures though, for now, most seem to have enough decency to remain closed voluntarily until next season (perhaps more understandable considering the higher average age of opera and symphony attenders). It’s noteworthy that some of the larger movie houses sued NJ on similar grounds as the religious groups. I’m not aware of where the litigation currently stands.

    • Jimbo says:

      So much for separating church and state

    • Tamino says:

      Time to bring the constitution then into the 21st century. Funny believes people have. No reason to bother the enlightened part of society with their irrational childish beliefs into a higher God like power. But convenient to enslave oneself to be an eternal child, quite the mental construct to get rid of individual responsibility. Religion is stupid.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The relationship between classical music and religion is one of a decently-educated child growing-up and rebelling against its one single parent, and eventually going its own way. But under the surface, the child’s genetic make-up still related it to the parent, until it became a hooligan after WW II. Classical music would serve a broader community if its relation to spirituality and the human psyche were better understood…. Only recently the positive influence of classical music on children’s brain development was discovered – as if it needed scientific proof to confirm what so many parents already knew all along. How stimulating are church visits in comparison?

    It seems more effective and functional to give classical music priority over religion, or at least: to treat them equally.

    For people with time on their hands and uninformed about the religious source of classical music, this article may be of some interest:

  • Le Křenek du jour says:

    Ms. Mutter purports bewilderment at the priority granted to the communal worship of figments of imagination in preference to the performing arts.

    Let her be reminded of an anecdote cherished by former Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin.
    When an activist representing a civic action group required that the Library strike a noun deemed derogatory from the titles of fifteen hundred books on record, the nonplussed Librarian replied: we have some twenty thousand titles comprising the expression ‘son-of-a-bitch’, and no one has ever asked us to do anything about them.
    The activist shot back: “That’s because you sons-of-bitches aren’t organised.”

    Such, in a nutshell, would be my rejoinder to Ms. Mutter:
    no matter how abstruse the creeds of Pops-in-the-sky-worshipers, they are organised. They can raise taxes; they are represented at every level of the “Gremien” beloved to German bureaucrats and politicians; they can mobilise significant numbers of voters (the one prospect more frightening to politicians than Covid-19).
    You want to be heard?
    You want to beat the other SOBs at their own game?
    Get organised!

  • Garech de Brun says:

    Music, except that specifically composed for the worship of almighty god, is mere entertainment.
    It is now the season of Advent as the words of Hail to the Lord’s anointed foretell.

    Hail to the Lord’s anointed
    Great David’s greater Son.
    Hail in the time appointed
    His reign on earth begun
    He comes to break oppression,
    To set the captive free,
    To take away transgression
    And rule in equity.

    He comes with succour speedy
    To those who suffer wrong,
    To help the poor and needy
    and bid the weak be strong.
    To give them songs for sighing
    Their darkness turn to light
    Whose souls, condemned and dying
    Were precious in his sight.

    He shall come down like showers
    Upon the fruitful earth
    And love, joy, hope, like flowers
    Spring in his path to birth.
    Before him, on the mountains
    Shall peace, the herald, go
    And righteousness, in fountains
    From hill to valley flow.

    Kings shall fall down before him
    And gold and incense bring.
    All nations shall adore him
    His praise all people sing.
    To him shall prayer unceasing
    And daily vows ascend;
    His kingdom still increasing
    A kingdom without end.

    O’er every foe victorious
    He on his throne shall rest;
    From age to age more glorious
    All blessing and all-blessed.
    The tide of time shall never
    His covenant remove.
    His Name shall stand forever
    That Name to us is Love.

    Text. James Montgomery, music Trad. Vaughan Williams

    This is sung by the choristers, lay vicars choral and scholars of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin on their new CD Hark! What a sound. Advent from Dublin. The choir school was founded in 1432, the oldest in Ireland. My ancestor’s tomb is near Dean Swift.

    • Tamino says:

      You are clearly joking? Music not composed to worship is only entertainment? That’s incomorehensible. Keep your wild irrational mental constructs to yourself please, it insults human intellect and dignity.

  • Che triste! says:

    Just play your fiddle!! No one wants to hear your crap!!

  • Mary Zoeter says:

    Have the arts throughout history brought about as much death and destruction as religion has?

    • John Borstlap says:


      And there are only three cases in which music killed its practitioner; Lully in 17C France who hurt his foot while conducting; and two 19C conductors while managing the flood of Tristan.

  • fflambeau says:

    I love her comments.

  • Nijinsky says:

    One might think this is an old story?
    Why stories get old?
    There was once upon a time a man named ETA Hoffman, the A actually from Amadeus. And he was going to finish his story about Kreisler, where Kreisler had to deal with the church barring music. But that seemingly never has been published. People think that music barrs the church, who knows what they think that for, or how that could be, but music is just too….. (please-fill-in-what-and-take-a-good-look-to-see-if-that’s-real). Hedonism, I suppose, who knows what. Same thing a naked body will lure people into evil practices, or long hair, who knows what (a strawberry?)….

    Well strawberries are evil, I have to admit that. I was in a very hyperactive manner working on a violin, an old factory made “Guarneri Del Gesu” and had taken it apart to tune the inner parts; but was so happy that I thought I was getting too hyper active (which is impossible actually, were happiness true, which it was) and so this evil idea of a strawberry took over. My cat wanted some attention, and came meowing up to me, and my hyper active hands, the ones I thought could be “too happy” went right into the space that would be my cat’s eyes, and healed some energy. The eyes were so beautiful, a couple weeks after that too. Now, I was used to this, what’s called psychic surgery, had been to one of these amazing people from the Phillipines who this happens to all the time, regularly, I had seen a man who could be the reincarnation of Charles Bizet for all I know. But you really end up in another dimension. Another reality. It would be like being the sun, the sun that never dies (we are spirits from forever, already indestructible otherwise there would be no forever, so that’s possible) only it (“I”, “You”) then doesn’t burn down the apartment I was in, my finger looking like they went an inch into my cat’s eyes. Something stronger than the strong nuclear force, stronger because it’s lighter rather than causing more stress with the idea of “strength,” or that it needs an opposite to show how strong it is. We’re that grand, really, despite what we think of ourselves, or are told by whoever (religion, governments, schools, society, other gangs legal and not)….. And so coming out of that. I felt for a moment the same way I would feel after eating a strawberry, being that it (for me) makes me a little bit dizzy like I’m in love. The same feeling without the strawberry being tangible to physical limitations people would decide wasn’t there, and so I knew, having enjoyed a strawberry ever, knowing what that was: to really enjoy that it becomes part of forever, and even if they destroyed the whole planet just like that, that joy couldn’t be destroyed, and so the strawberry was still there. Just like our spirit. Same with everything else we truly enjoy, an what makes us happy.

    What does this have to do with Kater Murr (tomcat Murr), who wrote his story on the other side of the page where Kreisler’s was written down. What’s on the other side of what we think is “reality?”

    And why is music just too, too empathetic to the human condition for people? Would the world really fall apart if people were just people (human), and not something controlled by higher forces?

    This is not “devoid” of religion either. The healer I mentioned when he was a child had seizures, was sick, wasn’t supposed to go to church, but snuck out anyhow one day, and on the steps of the church came upon an old woman in rags, and she asked him for some alms, he gave her whatever he had in his pocket, she took his hands and told him he would be traveling the world teaching people about Jesus, when he turned around, she had disappeared. Then he knew that was the mother of perpetual help, and he did get better, his seizures stopped, and he did travel the world teaching people what Jesus is. But that’s not what the church is about, for the most part…..

    Is that crazy enough to consider that maybe a piece of music could teach one as much as needing someone seemingly tortured to death, then deemed the savior, just to see that there’s more to life: you’re not the limitations you think or you put on the body, and looking beyond that you might remember what it is to be human?

  • Concertgoer says:

    Anne-Sophie should record the Biber Rosary.

  • Gustavo says:

    The problem is that the German government is headed by socalled Christian Democrats who base their actions on Christian principles, i.e. human life is more worth than non-human life: religion first, science and technology (industry) to control nature second, culture third, environment last.

  • William Lansbury says:

    Nor Religion or Art should get priority during the pandemic