In literature, music is the food of love and soothes the savage beast; in politics, it can be perverted by the worst of causes. So claims Michael Kater in his compelling study of music and musicians in the Third Reich, The Twisted Muse
. What did it mean to compose music for Hitler and his Nazi regime? Kater asks; can artists working in a climate of oppression and fascist demagoguery dismiss their roles by claiming they created or performed for the sake of art alone? To answer these questions, Kater approaches his subject from two different angles: first, he examines the lives of musicians living under the Nazi regime--from little known musicians struggling in the orchestra pit to the great and famous, including Richard Strauss and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. Next, he examines the role music played in the Third Reich and the ways in which the Nazis manipulated it as propaganda.
The Twisted Muse is part biography, part history, but it is wholly fascinating. Michael Kater's unique approach to the subject of music and musicians as tools of the state ensures a wide audience, not only among music lovers, but among all those interested in politics, culture, or psychology.
From Publishers Weekly
The fate of musicians in Nazi Germany is a controversial subject that has been dealt with only sparingly in the past, mostly in the course of studies of such superstars as Wilhelm Furtwangler, Herbert von Karajan, Elizabeth Schwartzkopf, Otto Klemperer and Bruno Walter. Kater, a cultural historian based at York University in Toronto, who has already written books on jazz in Nazi Germany and on how doctors fared under Hitler, has done prodigious primary research, much of it in hitherto unexamined files, to emerge with a mountain of fresh material. He does indeed discuss the well-known names-finding in most cases that their behavior falls within a gray area rather than the stark black-and-white outlines so often presented by admirers or detractors-but also examines the fate of ordinary orchestral musicians, and of journeyman soloists and composers, some of whom were never known outside the country. He writes of the Nazis' frustrating attempts to create a valid contemporary music style free of "Jewish" and jazz influences, the role serious music played in the war effort and the remarkably different routes to survival chosen by composers as unlike as Richard Strauss, Hans Pfitzner, Carl Orff and Karl Amadeus Hartmann. A work this exhaustive and extensively footnoted is obviously not for a casual reader; but anyone seriously interested in the interface of art and a peculiarly threatening political culture will find it endlessly fascinating.
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