C0671. WILHELM FURTWÄNGLER Cond. Bayreuth Festspiele Chorus & Orch., w.Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Elisabeth Höngen, Hans Hopf & Otto Edelmann: Choral Symphony #9 in d (Beethoven). (Germany) Archipel 0401, Live Performance, 29 July, 1951 (reopening of the Bayreuth Festival). Final copies. - 4035122404012
“Few other musicians are more intertwined in debates around collaboration, passive resistance, and the relationship between art and politics as the German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler. Forty seven years old when the Nazis came to power, Furtwängler was at the peak of his career, perceiving himself (and perceived by others) as a representative and defender of Germany’s glorious musical heritage. The son of a renowned archaeologist, he was born to a conservative bourgeois Berlin family in 1886. He was raised to believe in the supremacy of ‘German-ness’, a supremacy not linked to race but rather to spiritual and artistic creativity. Like many elites of his time, he saw the ‘Jewish question’ as one of culture rather than of race. Having studied music in Munich, the young Furtwängler acquired increasingly illustrious positions through the early part of the century. In 1922 he was named music director of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and during the inter-war years he conducted regularly at the top opera houses in Europe. By the time of Hitler’s ascent to power, he was perceived by many to be Germany’s greatest conductor.
The initial rise to power of the Nazis was welcomed by Furtwängler, as by many other conservatives in Germany. Opposed to the perceived radicalism and immorality of the Weimar Republic, and drawn to the order and ‘German values’ that the Nazis promised to provide, the conductor hoped that the Nazi party would increase pay and job security for the nation’s musicians, and focus on developing the prestige and pre-eminence of the German musical tradition. As the director of the bankrupt Berlin Philharmonic, he welcomed the Nazis’ sense of urgency over the state of the nation’s arts.
Furtwängler was by no means an ideal or self-evident puppet for the Nazis; throughout his career, he made it clear that it was his desire for beautiful music, not the desire to gain political favour, that motivated his decisions. On the one hand, he was in many ways a conservative man, something that found favour with the Party. In the midst of the experimental and avant-garde 1920s, he publicly avowed his distaste for modern music such as swing, jazz, and atonal music. On the other hand, he did not ignore musical talent for the sake of these convictions. He employed many Jewish musicians in his orchestra, and maintained friendships with members of the Jewish German élite. In 1933, however, an era began in which the separation of art and politics became simply impossible.”