Can Gergiev be fairly described as Putin’s Furtwängler?

Can Gergiev be fairly described as Putin’s Furtwängler?


norman lebrecht

March 07, 2022

A number of commentators, especially in Germany, have been trying to make sense of the western consensus to ban a Russian conductor because of his intimacy with a criminal ruler.

The analogy of Wilhelm Furtwängler has been raised from the archives. Furtwängler, Hitler’s favourite conductor, headed the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra throughout the Third Reich until he put his own safety above that of the musicians and fled to Switzerland in January 1945. He took no public stance against the regime and was seen on a number of occasions conducting beneath the swastika emblem, at the behest of Josef Goebbels. He was, however, not a member of the Nazi party, nor did he ever ( so far as is known) conduct in the occupied territories of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Holland, Belgium, Denmark or France.

Those duties were assigned to his younger rival, the party member Herbert von Karajan.

Gergiev, by contrast, has been a willing propaganda tool of the Putin regime. In 2008 he conducted a victory concert after Russia’s intervention in Georgia and Chechnya. He flew out to Syria at Putin’s command to preside over a ‘liberation concert’ at Palmyra. He has always been ready to drop everything and perform on behalf of the Kremlin, offering uncritical support to its ruler and a moral role model to musicians who might otherwise have rejected the regime.

Gergiev is implicated up to his eyebrows in Putin’s crimes as Furtwängler (or even Karajan) never was in Hitler’s.

These parallels need to be drawn, and refuted. Gergiev’s is Putin’s music master. They will go down in history hand in bloodied hand.


  • M McAlpine says:

    Maybe those Soviet musicians who played under the brutal dictatorships of Stalin, Kruschev and their successors might also be mentioned. But of course the left win g press doesn’t usually include them. It is very easy for us to judge others when we are not in their position.

    • Mil. says:

      What s your point? Soviet musicians under Stalin and Kruschev regim had no choice.
      They didn t tour Europe and USA and earned millions or tens of millions per year.
      Please think before comparing

      • M McAlpine says:

        They were members of Stalin’s communist party which was just as brutal as the Nazis. Committed just as much genocide. Think before you write. Learn a bit of history.

        • M2N2K says:

          And it is precisely because the Stalinist regime “was just as brutal as the Nazis” (but actually more murderous toward their own people), that those musicians had no choice whatsoever, as correctly pointed out by “Mil.”.

          • Sue Sonata Form says:


          • PGHK says:

            What about Karajan and Furtwangler then, they had à choice ?

          • Stephen Gould says:

            Yes they did. Von Kraut even joined the Party in May 1933, which hardly demonstrates compulsion.

          • MJA says:

            What a dumb comment, Mr Ghoul
            – see – we can all play silly games with names, though I think “Kraut” is a little much, even for SD. As for Karajan and the NSDAP (here we go again), I strongly suspect you don’t understand the insidious nature of compulsion under totalitarian regimes.

        • Steven Holloway says:

          Arrogant and idiotic. Stalin’s regime was totalitarian to a degree that Hitler’s was not. Of course musicians were party members — they had no choice if they wanted to function at all. Mravinsky detested the regime, killed no one, but are saying of him and of all artists that they were thus complicit in Stalin’s crimes,perhaps aiding and abetting Stalin in the famines that resulted from collectivization of agriculture, show trials, general slaughter. There are details in all this that are debatable, but not until you have learnt enough History to take part. Mil is ahead to you in that department.

          • M McAlpine says:

            May I just point out that there is no evidence that Furtwangler, Karajan or other German musicians who worked under the Nazis took part in the killings the Nazis perpetuated. I’m not excusing them but I never see why people work hard at excusing the Soviets but condemn those who worked under the Nazis. Maybe just a case that you can do what you like when you’re on the left but not on the right. Like the lefty idiots who used to have pictures of the murderous maniacs Lenin and Trotsky (and even Mao) on their walls at university!

          • backrowpolitics says:

            No one on the left likes Stalin, get it through your thick skull. Coming here to just make your angry old man point about the libs you cry about every day on a post about Gergiev and Russia is pathetic. Seems like you’re more concerned about denouncing the left than denouncing Putin, but that would be on-brand for today’s far-right. Who is the real commie here?

          • Gerald Martin says:

            When the Kmer Rouge began the forced evacuation of cities to the rural areas, my openly leftist college urban studies instructor enthusiastically approved, predicting, “The crime rate will go down.”

            I’m politically to the left; but I’m not stupid.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Comparable reactions by Western ‘intellectuals’ during the Chinese cultural revolution: they were enthusiastic about that ‘great reform’ which showed the value of marxism. Also with Fidel Castro’s Cuban reforms: enybody who did not agree with his plans behind bars, that was seen as ‘liberating the people’. During Stalin’s terror, French philosopher Sartre celebrated Russia’s development. The German philosopher Heidegger welcomed nazism and refused to comment, after 1945, on the holocaust, the millions of war victims, etc. If chimps could think, it seems unlikely that even they would get things THAT wrong.

        • Jack says:

          Being in Russia during those times doesn’t automatically mean that you were a member of the Communist party. Unless, of course, you have proof that even musician was a party member. What a silly comment.

      • PGHK says:

        You think Furtwangler and Karajan had à choice ? Yes its strange that forgetness and forgiveness for the communist crimes.

    • RaphiP says:

      Those who were members of the communist party apparatus applying Stalin’s rules have been rightly condemned. It is not a matter of right or left, just basic decency.

    • John says:

      Totally makes no sense……..

    • backrowpolitics says:

      A refutable and factually-lacking claim that was only made to be a dig at the “left wing” instead of actually making a legitimate point. What a joke.

    • Gerald Martin says:

      I remember during the Vietnam unpleasantness waiting nervously for my number in the draft lottery to be drawn, then reading popular folk singer Judy Collins’ admonishment that it was my “duty” to resist the draft.

  • Gustavo says:

    Did Stalin have a favourite conductor?

  • guest says:

    Furtwängler at least, for all his sins, did support Jewish musicians during the 1930’s to the extent the powers that be seriously considered the concentration camp for him. He did what he could to protect Jewish musicians and non-musicians during the war. His case is very different from Gergiev’s.

    • music lover says:

      The case is very different,because Putin did not send millions to the gas chambers…..As bad as Putin is,comparisons with Hitler,who killed 6 million of my people,among several of my family members,makes me cringe.

      • guest says:

        You seem to have a personal ax to grind. If so, I doubt that anything I could say would make you change your mind. Yet this is an uncensored site so I will reply to you nevertheless. I intend to write two replies.

        I assume you are of Jewish descent. If so I wonder at you. Furtwängler was no Nazi, at least not in the 1930’s and very early 1940’s. For at least a decade he stood up against Hitler’s politics regarding Jews. In the early 1940’s, if we are to believe Goebbels, he succumbed to pressure. It is very interesting how often Russian apologists remind the SD readership of the perils of living in a totalitarian state, as excuse why Russian artists don’t speak up. Yet this insight somehow doesn’t extend to other artists. Strange, isn’t it? The pressure on Furtwängler must have been a lot greater than the pressure on Russian artists or Russian civilians who never speak against the regime. Furtwängler stood up to Hitler and his regime for a decade. Gergiev? Gergiev has kowtowed to Putin right from the beginning.

      • guest says:

        It is pretty clear where your allegiances lie. Yes, Putin hasn’t killed millions. Yet. (The Ukraine has a population of 40 millions. He works diligently.) The Russian who killed millions was Stalin. If the millions of people whose relatives were killed by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and a few others, are all like you, small wonder the world is going to the dogs now. The small detail that the present generation is not at fault for the sins of people born in the 19th century and long gone from this world, apparently doesn’t mean anything to people like you. Nor was the previous generation at fault, or the generation before that. Doesn’t matter to you. To people like you, only me me me counts – my people, my family members three generations back, my right.

        I don’t know where you got that figure of 6 millions. I’m not going to debate it because this isn’t the point. The point is you believe two wrongs make a right. Because of what was done to your relatives 80-90 years ago (which I am not attempting to excuse in any way), killing Ukrainian children now is excusable, or at least nothing to get much worked up about, according to you. To this I say only yuck. Back to Putin and his lower “score”, you have overlooked a small detail. Putin has 6000 war heads. Hitler had not had even one, though not for lack of trying. Putin seems no less unstable than Hitler was. If he presses that button, it will be no consolation to me to know he has topped that score which seems so important to you, nor will you have time to realize the bitter irony of your people being killed by one large scale European war criminal, while yourself die of the hand of the next large scale European war criminal. This of course only if we both are lucky enough to die on the spot. For the survivors, there’s radiation poisoning.

        • music lover says:

          BS writ large….Nowhere did i say killing Ukrainian children is excusable…..I just stated the facts…Putin didn´t kill 6 million people so far…Let´s hope he will never,yes.But he didn´t…it´s pretty clear where your allegiances lie.You even doubt the six million…I don´t waste my time for human subjects marginalizing or questioning Nazi horrors…The Holocaust,which you reduce to some kind of private axe i grind because relatives of mine perished in it,so far,is a unique monstrosity in human history.i don´t even start to discuss it,period.Your patronizing,absolutely clueless hogwash makes me puke.

          • guest says:

            Kindly tone down that tone of yours, and refrain from putting words in my mouth. I didn’t play down the Holocaust, I even stressed that I am not attempting to excuse it in way. I didn’t say I doubt the 6 millions, I said I don’t know where you got the figure, there are several sources, and they don’t agree with each other. (Just to make sure you won’t attempt to twist my words again, Holocaust deniers aren’t “source” in my book. The Holocaust happened, period.) I didn’t question Nazi horrors in my comment. I haven’t reduced the _Holocaust itself_ to the private ax you grind; your private ax comes from you having lost _relatives_ in the Holocaust. Your relatives weren’t victims of Stalin’s or Mao’s purges, so you don’t mention the purges. Children being shelled in the Ukraine aren’t your relatives, so you don’t mention them. Your relatives perished in the Holocaust, so you mention the Holocaust. I am disgusted with the people who thought up and executed the Holocaust, as would any decent person in this world. I disgusted with the people who thought up and executed Stalin’s and Mao’s purges, and not only, as would any decent person in this world, or should be. I am disgusted with the people who thought up and execute the senseless killing going on in Ukraine right now, as would any decent person in this world, or should be. There is however a difference between Hitler, Stalin, Mao & Co., and what’s going on in Ukraine now. It may sound callous to you, but I assure this is not my intention. Hitler’s, Stalin’s, Mao’s atrocities are in the past. We can’t change the past, unfortunately, but I hope we can influence the present. Using past wrongs for comparison doesn’t make the present wrong any less wrong.

            We agree however in one respect: Let’s stop it. If you are so worked up you call my comment hogwash and want to puke all over it, I wouldn’t want you to have to clean your keyboard afterward.

    • Steven Holloway says:

      Well said. He also performed the music of banned composers. It has long seemed very odd to me that for long Furwangler to be the whipping boy, rather often on SD. Karl Bohm was a party member, gave the Nazi salute before concerts, pressured VPO members into signing a paper welcoming the Anschluss, got rid of Jewish orchestra members…but, no, always back to Furwangler. Elly Ney was as antisemitic as Julius Streicher, which is going some, but her recordings have been written of with approval by commenters on this blog and elsewhere. There is no sense in this endless go-around.

  • Anthony Sanderson says:

    This clip highlights Herbert von Karajan conducting at the Paris Opera during occupation. Elizabeth Schwarzkopf sang there as well.

    I visited Salzburg as a student and von Karajan’s picture seemed to be in every shop window during the festival. It seemed horribly reminisiscent of a previous era that would only have been about 35 years beforehand.

    He seemed to have been given a free pass compared to Furtwängler. A study of von Karajan’s wartime role would be worthwhile.

    • Pedro says:

      Karajan was 24 when Hitler took the power in Germany. Furtwängler was 47 and he had already conducted elsewhere in the Old an New Worlds. He should have known better how to behave in those terrible circumstances. Karajan’s position just before and during the war remains unexplained to me. Furtwängler has no excuse at all since the beginning of the nazi regime. He had been invited to go to America (namely by Toscanini) and he refused to leave, as Fritz Busch, for instance, did. For me Furtwängler was a cynic and an hypocrite. Karajan was an opportunist.

      • IP says:

        K was Dr. Goebbels’ darling while Furt would not have survived without Goering’s help. But there were much worse Nazis such as Abendroth and, above all, Konwitschny. After the war they both made nice musical and political careers in East Germany.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          Do you imagine if you’d been alive then you would have been one of the ‘good guys’ and able, all by yourself, to stand up to the ‘machine’? These comments conveniently overlook the enthusiastic support of Hitler from the middle class, intellectuals and musicians. These helped him in his rise to power.

          Just like the green gulls today – who forced Europe into energy deals with Putin -what are you to say about them? There’s Johnson today back-pedalling at a rate of knots, knowing he’s bought into the climate apocalypse and cannot do anything about it because he needs the oil and gas!! It’s a savage irony – especially for those pointing the finger at Russian “collaborators”.

        • Petros Linardos says:

          Add Oswald Kabasta to the real Nazi conductor list.

        • jaeger says:

          I am sorry but it is just the other way round, Karajan was supported by Goering and detested by Goebbels while the latter admired Furtwängler.

      • Hugo Preuß says:

        You leave out that Karajan was an Austrian, not a German. Therefore, Hitler coming to power in 1933 could have been completely irrelevant for Karajan (at least until 1938). and yet, he did everything to make himself the darling of the new regime.

    • Herr Doktor says:

      It’s been studied, Anthony Sanderson, and unless some new information surfaces, there’s no “there” there. Read the scholarship of Richard Osborne – it’s thorough and authoritative. Karajan was not a Nazi, merely someone who had the misfortune of being Austrian and living and working in Germany during a dictatorship, and who worked with the power structure that he had no say in so he could continue his career in music. He married his 2nd wife, Anita, in 1942 even though she was considered Jewish by the Nazi regime. That’s not exactly the move someone who was a political animal or a genuine Nazi would have done. Karajan was apolitical his entire life. Post WWII, he did not hang out with politicians and get involved in political matters. One doesn’t see pictures of him at parties with politicians. He cared about one thing and one thing only: His ability to make music, on his terms, in the way that he thought would produce the best possible results.

      And what results!

      Plenty can disagree, but to my ears, Karajan is the greatest Bruckner conductor of all-time. Even though I’ve been listening to Karajan’s Bruckner for 30+ years, I still am in utter astonishment of his achievements in bringing to life this visionary, deeply soulful music. And there’s lots more he did that was exceptional beyond Bruckner.

      One of my great regrets in life is that I never heard Karajan live in person. At least we have concert videos. That Bruckner 8 concert with the Vienna Philharmonic from St. Florian is exceptional and beyond criticism.

      • Stephen Gould says:

        Karajan joined the Nazi Party in 1933. This is well documented, and is too early a time to defend it by resorting to claims of duress or necessity.

        • Herr Doktor says:

          Stephen, why don’t you read the SCHOLARSHIP on the subject which has settled the matter, rather than continue to recite inaccurate information. Richard Osborne very clearly documents what happened. As Karajan himself repeatedly stated, he joined the Nazi party in 1935 to get the Aachen GMD job. Full stop. His application was then back-dated to 1933 to facilitate said appointment. Richard Osborne confirmed this by reviewing the government-stamped numbers on the applications. The applications genuinely submitted in 1933 had much earlier numbers stamped than Karajan’s application, which was stamped commensurate with applications made in 1935. Since Richard Osborne presented his findings in (I believe) the 1990s, no one has come up with any evidence to refute those findings.

          If you have any different evidence, perhaps you can share it with us…and with Richard Osborne.

      • Greg Bottini says:

        Right you are, Herr Doktor, on all counts.

    • Jobim75 says:

      It has been abundantly commented, especially in Roger Vaughan ‘s biography. Karajan never admitted the whole truth about his early adhesion. I think he was never a political animal, just an ambitious animal. Not sure he had any antisemitism in him…..Of course it does not exonerate him. Bohm was more ideologically involved probably….

  • Schnitzel von Krum says:

    There has in the past been a lot of unrestrained, moral-highground Furtwängler-bashing on this site, so it’s good to read this more measured piece.
    The best in-depth exploration of WF’s wartime record I’ve come across is this one, on the Orel Foundation site:

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Don’t forget von Karajan joined the Nazi party not once but twice

    • Rudy says:

      Same thing with Martin Heidegger, and he never had any regrets about that….

    • Herr Doktor says:

      Elizabeth, read my comments above. Karajan joined the Nazi party in 1935 to facilitate his appointment as GMD of Aachen. Richard Osborne has studied this matter intensively and his scholarship has been refuted by no one. Perhaps some future evidence could surface that will change the accurate historical narrative, but so far, no such information has become available. The fact is, Karajan joined the Nazi party in 1935 as he has always maintained, so he could get the Aachen job, and not 1933.

      I have no horse in this race. But it annoys me to no end that people keep repeating inaccurate information ad nauseum.

      Read Richard Osborne’s scholarship on this subject. It stands as the authoritative narrative of the matter. In two decades or so since it was published, no one has refuted it.

      But plenty of people keep repeating inaccurate information to the contrary.

  • Jon says:

    A better comparison might be with Heinz Tietjen. He was director of the Prussian State Theatre from 1931 – 1944, and also Bayreuth artistic director from 1931-1948. He was a deeply committed Nazi, who wielded his power in such a way that he was greatly feared by other artists. He was also Winifred Wagner’s lover, and both had friendly relations with Hitler (who she referred to as her beloved Wolf).

    His descendants continue to bar access to his archives in Berlin store ensure his close involvement with Adolf Hitler remains difficult to study.

    • Rudy says:

      He was Celibidache’s teacher. No surprise he became a neurotic conductor who treated the musicians like dirt….

  • MacroV says:

    I thought the headline was unfair to Furtwangler. Glad the post made that point.

  • Monsoon says:

    You left out how he cut a campaign ad for Putin, has participated in campaign rallies, and he participates in military photo ops.

    Calling Gergiev a “willing propaganda tool” is an understatement. He’s clearly a true believer in Putin’s authoritarian regime, and has profited handsomely from it.

    • M2N2K says:

      We don’t really know whether VG is really “a true believer“ or not, but we do know that at the very least he is a true ardent supporter, and that is more than enough.

  • Frankster says:

    There’s that famous video of him on stage after a concert with Hitler shaking hands with those the line. Furtwangler discreetly moved his baton from his right hand to his left so he didn’t have too, like the others, give the “Heil Hitler” salute.

    • Monsoon says:

      Not giving the Hitler salute is obviously better than giving it, but it’s hardly a profile in courage when you’re one of the most notabl public faces of culture in the Third Reich.

      • Steven Holloway says:

        I wouldn’t be too sure about that. If he did that sort of thing often enough, they might have started think he should be in a camp. And indeed they did think exactly that. He moved to Switzerland in time.

      • PGHK says:

        “Profile of courage ” from your comfortable sofa in front of the TV in 2022 talking about 1940. Bravo!

  • Corno di Caccia says:

    When I listen to any of Furtwangler’s recordings – he would never be my first choice in anything, anyway – I do not think of Hitler; likewise with Gergiev and his recordings conjuring up images of Putin. The music is the thing I concentrate on. Personally, I doubt whether music played any big part in either of the tryant’s lives – both the long dead and the living – but rather more the power they could easily hold over artists and musicians. After all, Stalin referred to Shostakovich and his colleagues as ‘cloud dwellers’? It was contemporary poets and writers who Stalin dealt with more severely.

    • The Ghost of Karlos Cleiber says:

      I don’t know about Stalin’s interest in music, but Hitler was absolutely a devoted music fan. He was – as all the world surely knows – very keen on Wagner. Less well-known is that he ordered the recording of all of Bruckner’s symphonies; which I think may well be genuinely the only good thing he ever did.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        Bruckner cycle? Which orchestras and conductors?

        • Greg Bottini says:

          I believe, Petros, that TGoKC may have meant that Hitler ordered those recordings to be made, something that didn’t come to fruition until many years after Hitler’s death.

      • Douglas says:

        I have read that the rhythm of the slow movement of Prokofiev’s fifth symphony may be inspired by the triplet rhythm of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata which was a favourite of Stalin. But we shouldn’t presume to know what Prokofiev intended, if anything.

      • Stephen Gould says:

        My favourite line is that the only good thing Hitler ever did was kill Hitler.

    • backrowpolitics says:

      Shosty was denounced twice by Stalin and his regime, many of Shosty’s friends were imprisoned or worse by Stalin’s regime, several of Shosty’s works were banned, he was fired from the Moscow Conservatory, then he had to become a puppet for Stalin in a visit to the US… sounds pretty severe to me.

  • Gustavo says:

    There were also many Masters of the King’s / Queen’s Musick which were loyal to the regime.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Worse: Jean-Baptiste Lully was the favorite musician of Louis XIV and wielded his power over music life untill he stamped his foot with his baton and died of the results.

  • Thomas M. says:

    Furtwängler was NEVER a Nazi supporter/sympathizer. He thought that the arts should stay away from politics altogether. The old “ivory tower” concept that just doesn’t work out in real life. He didn’t salute the Fuehrer at concerts, he didn’t do any propaganda for the Fuehrer, he managed to save quite a few Jews and opponents of the Nazi regime – his failure was not to understand that there’s no such thing as politically independent arts.

  • IP says:

    Not at all. Furt was regarded by the regime as difficult at best while Mr. G. is comfort redefined. And the artistic quality is incomparable.

  • V.Lind says:

    When I think of the amount of time posters here spend decrying movie actors who have the presumption to speak out on political issues, from Darfur to Syria to anything to do with the Middle East….who do they think they are to pontificate etc. I have consistently argued that you do not drop your citizenship rights — or your humanity — by the door when you take up performing as a career.

    Yet these days, every musician, going back a century and more, appears to be duty-bound to take a political stance, immediately, based upon the western perspective, mind you, and without regard for your safety or that of your family.

    And those musicians who issue pleas for understanding and bridge-building are sneered out of the room. It has been decreed: nothing other than outright public condemnation of Putin will do.

    Has anyone making these demands any idea what happens to dissenters in a place like Russia? CHILDREN were arrested after taking flowers to the Ukraine Embassy in Moscow as a gesture of their wish for peace. Every medium that can inform the Russian people of anything other than state propaganda is being closed down. And the day-to-day struggle for food and other essentials is beginning to bite, as sanctions kick in.

    • Maria says:

      Exactly. Just not free to do the most basic we are allowed to do, and dissention? You must be joking. A no-fly zone over Ukraine as they have been crying out for for days might help, but NATO is not willing, and we are all brainwashed into thinking there will be another war. What war? We have one, and people are getting killed who have nothing to do with the war.

    • JS says:

      Russians wanted their Putin, their strong man who would hold everything in check – so they got him. Most Russians supported Putin, completely wholeheartedly. It is enough to read what Russians wrote in the social media until the last days. How naive you all are, instead of getting to know the real Russians, you create your ideas about them based on what YOU feel and think and not on facts.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Untrue: there are many Russian civilians who always opposed Putin and their numbers are currently growing fast. Most of the P-supporters are misled by many years of government brainwashing and deprivation of real information. If there ever were an ’empire of lies’ it is contemporary Russia where the government has created an entirely fake ‘reality’.

  • JohninDenver says:

    It is not the case that Furtwangler never performed in occupied countries. He conducted in Prague in November 1940 and March 1944. He conducted in Denmark in February 1942. Goebbels wrote in his diary after the latter occasion: “Furtwängler paid me a visit. He has just made a tour of Sweden and Denmark and is full of high National Socialist spirits. This man has undergone a transformation, which makes me exceedingly happy. I have struggled with him for a long time, and I now see success with him. He approves perfectly my radio and film policies and is putting himself at my service.”

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Thank you.

    • Gabriel Parra Blessing says:

      Do you know *why* he was making nice with Goebbels in that particular occasion or do you think context is immaterial? Did *you* leave the US when Trump was elected in 2016? Do you pledge to leave the US should he be reelected in 2024? How easy to sit in judgement when you’re not living under constant threat by a murderous regime.

      • Helen Wynn says:

        so you think Biden is the savior of the United States? Why bring up Trump or do you still have TDS. Trump wont be elected in 2024 if we even make it that far. Have a good day.

  • M2N2K says:

    Such comparison would be a huge compliment to VG, for several reasons.

  • Theodora says:

    In short: Yes.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Now THAT’S funny!

  • John Borstlap says:


    The Fartwungler situation is also much more complicated. This has been very well described by his Jewish secretary, Dr Berta Geissmar, in her gripping memoir book ‘The Baton and the Jackboot’, Hamish Hamilton , London 1944, many reprints. The book is very rich in anecdote and with a clear view of what was happening. She was Fartwungler’s secretary but could flee Germany and became Beecham’s secretary.

  • Maria says:

    Very easy to judge others when we are not in their shoes or their culture other than newspaper talk. People there are not free to speak out even on the smallest things, and people being picked up and beaten, as we saw on Sky New yesterday, for even demonstrating peacefully. Even in the west, many at work don’t speak out when something is wrong in their work environment but heads down as it’s not worth the cost of losing their job and have a mortgage to pay – anything for a quiet life.

  • Wm. Bainbridge says:

    Apart from the relationship to the murderous dictator, to which I can add nothing useful, Gergiev is very decent, but he’s no Furtwängler, weird hand twitches notwithstanding. There’s a standard if one wants to be anybody’s Furtwängler.

  • Harry Collier says:

    Oh knock it off. Can’t we leave geopolitics to the many, many websites that deal with it? How about a blog that talks about MUSIC, and MUSICIANS? Perhaps call it SlippedDisc II.

    • backrowpolitics says:

      Music is and always has been political, as have the arts. Most musicians are political too. I guarantee you most, if not all classical music you like is political, whether overtly or not.

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    What is the opinion here of the conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky and his talent for survival in Stalin’s Russia?

  • Francisco says:

    Vocês e suas reportagens são loucos. Estão linchando um músico ser humano incrível apenas por não ser um globalista. Vão fazer o mesmo com Gates, Fauci e Schwab com suas vacinas assassinas?

  • Ludwig's Van says:

    No, not fair – there’s no analogy here! Furtwangler never spoke in favor of ANY Nazi, nor did he verbally support the regime. Naive certainly, but a principled man – who paid an enormous price. Gergiev isn’t worthy to shine Furtwangler’s shoes.

  • PHF says:


  • David K. Nelson says:

    At least some sources I have read suggest that Hitler’s very public love for Wagner opera and admiration for Furtwängler’s conducting were both something less than sincere and that his actual favorite music was sentimental operettas. At the risk of treading into areas which have already been much explored on this site and elsewhere, it seems to me that Hitler professed admiration for Furtwängler was based on Furtwängler’s artistic reputation as the best possible interpreter of the heights of German musical culture. I suppose a case could even be made that Hitler had no choice — how could he say and write what he did about German culture and art and then prefer a “lesser” conductor of it? Even if he actually preferred someone else to Furtwängler it was too late — general opinion had already anointed Furtwängler. Hitler was just going with the flow.

    That’s the big difference I think with Putin and Gergiev. Gergiev, whatever his very real talents, does not have that kind of immediate identification with the heights of Russian musical art the way, say, Mravinsky did (rightly or wrongly). He’s just one of many, and far from the worst, but was not anointed the way Furtwängler was. Whether that makes the much-more voluntary Putin/Gergiev link worse than the Hitler/Furtwängler link I leave to others.

  • Frank Flambeau says:

    Unfair to Furt.

  • Ana says:

    Only one mistake. Putin is not Hitler.

    • guest says:

      But Ana, not even Hitler was Hitler right from the start, it took him many years of preparation to march into the first country. After that he became unstable pretty quickly. Give Putin a chance, I’m sure he won’t disappoint you. I am also sure you will rejoice to be reminded Putin has 6000 war heads while Hitler didn’t have even one. I am afraid you will not rejoice in being reminded Furt stood up for a good decade to Hitler and his politics regarding Jews, while Gergiev has kowtowed to Putin right from the beginning.

  • Gabriel Parra Blessing says:

    Furtwängler was not a perfect man, yet it was his sincere conviction and belief that he was doing “right” by staying in Germany to attempt to preserve, through music, what he regarded as best in the German spirit, which he made clear in his diaries he believed was perverted by Nazi thugs. His mistake was in regarding the Nazis as mere thugs and not the threat to humanity, not just the “German spirit”, that they represented. Unfortunately, Furtwängler was a Teuton through and through, a chauvinist of all things German (he regarded the only symphonic music worth performing as particularly Germanic in nature), but he was no Nazi. He was disgusted by them, couldn’t stand Hitler, but it could be said that his moral failure was that his objection to them was less ethical or moral than it was aesthetic. Although a self-declared “anti-intellectual”, he himself was a snob, and he was repulsed by the Nazis chiefly because he regarded them as vulgar, representative of the worst of the mob, the lumpen. It’s notable that in his diaries, he devotes little space to expressing horror over their atrocities, and was far more offended by, for instance, their declaring Hindemith a degenerate composer (which is what led him to resign his official position as Chief Conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic). In the end, Furtwängler engaged the world in aesthetic terms, and there was little room in his conception for ethical, moral or political considerations. As such, he was a tragic figure, in so far as he was not a *bad* man, but a profoundly blinkered and limited man, one who yet conducted the greatest performances of the core German orchestral repertoire ever captured on record.

    • Rudy says:

      He was paid very large amounts of money for his concerts. Too much. Was this the reason he decided to stay in Germany, perhaps ??

      • Gabriel Parra Blessing says:

        He was offered the NY Phil by Toscanini himself and would have made a ridiculous sum had he accepted. He elected to stay in Germany instead. I’m not saying he was right (or wrong) to do so, but I believe he did so out of conviction rather than convenience, economic or otherwise.

  • Dave says:

    Historical comparisons are pretty pointless as norms differ – in the 50s gays were universally regarded with contempt and punished. By today’s norms Gergiev is a grotesque supporter of a criminal psychopath (and apparently sees nothing wrong with Russia’s treatment of gays to boot).

  • Ignacio Javier says:

    There are different historical and political situations. It,s a difficult comparison. Anyway from the artistically point of view there is no comparison: Furtwangler was a gigant of the 20 th century conducting and Gergiev is a common conductor that very rarely reaches excellence

  • Simpson says:

    Thank you, Norman, you are completely right again. All those writing about VG and “no choice” – you have no clue what you are writing about, this is laughable. For those who are interested, I recommend an excellent essay on WF by Harvey Sachs, first published in The Yale Review, Volume 81 No. 3, July 1993.

  • WP says:

    Read the transcripts of Furtwängler’denazifaction trial, at the end of which the court stated (I’m paraphrasing): Not only has it become clear that you did not act on behalf of the Nazi regime, but that in fact, you resisted whenever possible. The testamony of dozens of witnesses (many of whom said they owed their lives to him) has made this abundantly clear.
    Furtwängler took the most difficult and dangerous road available to him: that of resisting from the inside. It is said that Hitler did once threaten him with a sentence in a concentration camp. His reply “I shall find myself in the best of the company!” Reputedly, Hitler was at a loss for words…

  • Anthony Jahn says:

    Furtwangler? No, Karajan! An opportunist, arriviste, and the Nazis’ willing tool. Oh, and his name was not VON Karajan: he added the “von” as part of his pretense to German aristocracy, to his original ( most likely Armenian) name. Not a nice guy and not a particularly good conductor. The great Wagnerian soprano Astrid Varnay told Wieland Wagner that she would not sing with him at Bayreuth, and the Wagners fired him.

  • Save the MET says:

    There is a difference between Furtwaengler and Gergiev. Furtwaengler would conduct for Hitler, but would not salute him, still bad but not awful. Putin tells Gergiev to walk over hot coals and he does it; just awful. IMHO, Putin is fine in Russian music, especially with an orchestra which can play brilliantly without him, like the Vienna Philharmonic. His readings of for instance German Romantics are not particularly good. His conducting of the Wagner Ring Cycle I saw in person was one of the worst I’ve heard. My best guess, is while Gergiev was largely forgiven for his endorsement of Putin for the Russian attack on his homeland of Georgia; but his support of Putin declaring parts of the Ukraine as part of Russia was a bridge too far. While he may keep conducting in St. Petersburg and Moscow, his opportunities to conduct in the West going forward are now extremely limited to nil for the foreseeable future.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      “IMHO, Putin is fine in Russian music, especially with an orchestra which can play brilliantly without him, like the Vienna Philharmonic.”
      There’s no need at all for Gergiev, then.

  • Danny says:

    Furtwangler was a great artist. Gergiev is not.
    Furtwangler was considered (by himself, pro-nazis, and anti-nazis) THE keeper of the great tradition of Germanic music.
    Gergiev isn’t considered any such thing for Russian or Germanic musical tradition. I don’t think Gergiev really understands the music he conducts.
    Gergiev actively supports Putin and his obscenities.
    Furtwangler actively resisted Hitler, Nazism and its obscenities, only short of the point of dying for it. He considered music, Germany, the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics safer and better with him remaining alive. He was 100% correct in that, in my opinion.
    There is nothing wrong with being a proud, loyal Russian-even while Putin is in charge. But Gergiev goes much further than that.
    There was nothing wrong with being a proud, loyal German-even during the Hitler/Nazi era. Furtwangler NEVER went further than that.
    The comparison between the two is completely false.