A day for German music to examine its conscienceComment Of The Day
Comment of the Day from William Osborne:
Today, November 9th, is a mixed sort of special day in Germany. It is the day the Berlin Wall came down, and the anniversary of the Kristallnacht in 1938. In two nights of lawlessness, the Kristalnacht rioters destroyed 267 synagogues throughout Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland. Over 7,000 Jewish businesses were damaged or destroyed, and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. Early reports estimated that 91 Jews had been murdered, but modern historical analysis puts the number much higher. Historian Richard J. Evans estimates 638 suicide deaths as a consequence of the pogrom.
November 9th is also a day to celebrate German unity (and even the American contributions to that cause,) a day to be thankful that Germany is a far better country than in 1938, and a day to soberly contemplate the rise of right-wing populism in Europe and North America.
Will we ever fully understand the history of Nazism and the Holocaust without better understanding the cultural foundations that produced them? To this day, a cultural approach to understanding this history remains an almost taboo topic and still evokes a great deal of distress, denial, and resentment.
Classical music is one of the most informative cultural areas to examine because it was so closely tied to the regime, and because it serves reasonably well as a microcosm of society. Why did the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics collaborate so strongly? Why were forty-seven percent of the Vienna Philharmonic’s members National Socialists, and why did so many belong to the party well before 1938 when it was still illegal in Austria? Why did the Vienna Phil give its highest award, the Ring of Honor, to the Gauleiter of Vienna, Baldur von Schirach, who was directly responsible for the deportation of 64,000 Austrian Jews to their deaths? Why did the Philharmonic re-issue the ring to the convicted war criminal Schirach in 1967 after it was lost during his 20 year incarceration in the Spandau Prison in Berlin? Why has the Philharmonic historically held the view that Asians would destroy the orchestra’s image of Austrian authenticity? Is this racist and correlated to Nazi concepts of racial and cultural purity? Why does the Philharmonic not have any fully Asian members to this day—something that sets it far apart form most every major orchestra in the world?
What is the correlation, and possible cause and effect, between this history and that the Austro-Bavarian region of Europe remains one of the strongest areas of hard right, far-right, and right-wing extremist thought in Europe? How did this cultural basis influence the rise of National Socialism (Nazism)? Are there cultural characteristics that caused Hitler refer to Munich as his spiritual home, and that allowed him to build the Nazi Party there?
Germany and Austria are paradigmatic for classical music. Can we gain insights into the nature of Western classical music by closely studying this cultural history? Or does classical music, as some insist, exist in a cocoon largely isolated from the world around it? Did this history shape some of values that shape the nature of our music, or is it a form of pure thought with only a limited social basis?