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The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich 1st Edition

3.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195096200
ISBN-10: 0195096207
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 327 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition (January 30, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195096207
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195096200
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.3 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,671,266 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
I went to this book for some background information on the Nazi reception of modernism in music. Unfortunately, though I found it well written, and I share Kater's mordant view of the composers and musicians who were prepared to futher their careers by going along with Nazi policies, I found that I would hesitate before I cited or applied factual claims from the book without first getting independent confirmation.

The problem is that I do know one related area reasonably well, the Nazi reception and perception of Wagner. And what Kater says there is not just wrong, but wrong in ways that I find worrying. It's not that I think that Wagner is the most important issue in relation to Third Reich cultural policies - far from it. It's just that when you find that you can't trust what a book says about a field you do know, it leaves you worried about its claims in the areas you don't know.

Three examples. First, Kater wrote, "The evidence shows that although public stagings of Wagner operas nationally had been decreasing long before the onset of the Third Reich, and even more so after 1933, in absolute figures these performances still topped the list until 1942/43, with works by such composers as Verdi, Puccini, and Strauss well behind." [page 39]

In reality "public stagings of Wagner operas nationally" increased each year before "the onset of the Third Reich", right up to the 1932/33 season, but decreased immediately and dramatically after the Nazis took power, for the 1933/34 season, and that decrease continued and accelerated during the Nazi era.
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Format: Hardcover
Michael H. Kater's book "The Twisted Muse" is indispensable reading for any musicologist or serious music lover. The book discusses in rich detail the music and musicians of the Third Reich, a twelve year nightmare in Germany and Austria, that destroyed the creative spirit of every musician and composer living there. Mr. Kater explains the difficulty of being a musician in the Third Reich, and dramatically documents the disabling Nazi disease that infected every composer and conductor. There were no heroes, with the possible exception of Erich Kleiber who emigrated to Buenos Aires to begin a new artistic life, and Karl Amadeus Hartmann, a composer who silenced himself in Hitler's Germany and offered as much resistance to Nazism as he could. The rest were victims. or worse, perpetrators of Nazi horror. Some musicans joined the Nazi Party in order to survive and feed their families; other joined the Party to further their own careers. Knappersbusch, Furtwangler, Tietjen, von Karajan, and Boehm showed amazing duplicity toward one another, frequently acting like beasts. Cultured and well-educated Germans were sometimes reduced to the bestial level of a Goering or a Goebbles. In fact, Nazi Germany, as Mr. Kater points out, was an a veritable scorpions' nest of egomaniacal conductors and composers advancing their careers at the expense of colleagues. For example, the composer Hans Pfitzner -- one of the few serious composers the Nazis could showcase -- is particularly portrayed as an embittered, pathetic man, filled with anger and duplicity. Mr. Kater brings a new and fascinating perspective to such famous Third Reich composers as Carl Orff, Werner Egk, and Rudolf Wagner-Regeny, not evil men, but far from virtuous, who used Nazism for personal advancement.Read more ›
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