COMPOSERS: The Berlin Philharmonic and the Third Reich: a film by Enrique Sánchez Lansch.
ALBUM TITLE: The Reichsorchester
PERFORMER: Berlin PO/ Wilhelm Furtwangler
CATALOGUE NO: 101453
The moral dilemma that faced prominent musicians whose careers flourished under the Third Reich, such as Richard Strauss, Wilhelm Furtwängler and Carl Orff, may be well rehearsed, particularly for those who already have an abiding interest in the complex relationship between art and politics during the first half of the 20th century. But it’s an issue that also confronted hallowed musical institutions such as the Berlin Philharmonic. Its position, as presented in this documentary through the recollections of the few surviving members of the orchestra who lived through this period, was no less problematic.Perhaps even more revealing than the sometimes apologetic and often repetitive remarks of these musicians which provide the documentary narrative for this film, is the invaluable footage of the orchestra lending its services towards bolstering the cultural respectability of the regime. The rewards for such loyalty were life saving since the Berlin Philharmonic was viewed so important for the war effort that its members were exempted from military service. In such circumstances, it’s hardly surprising that orchestral players chose to keep their heads down and retreat into the music for the sake of survival. Nowhere is this situation more chillingly realised than in the inclusion of excerpts from Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ performed by Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic for Hitler’s birthday in 1942. Watching Goebbels and other Nazi functionaries listening intently to Beethoven’s inspiring plea for tolerance and brotherhood amongst all men with the knowledge that such music-making was taking place against a background of German soldiers fighting on the Eastern front and the massed slaughter of Jews is particularly telling.