The scope of this report is to analyze the control and use of music by the Nazi party from 1933 to 1945. The first point to be considered is the motive and logic behind the control of music in the Third Reich. The second subject to be discussed is the various ways in which the Nazi party controlled and used music. Finally, we will analyze the effectiveness of the control of music in Nazi Germany. Why was music controlled and used by the Nazi Party? To answer this question, we must first look at the significance of music in Germany’s cultural history.
Many of the great composers were German; Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert and Wagner to name a few. This lead to the belief that music was ‘the most German of all the arts’. The internationally recognized superiority of German conductors, musicians, and composers was a source of great pride. After World War I however, the rise of jazz, swing, serialisim and other ‘degenerate’ forms of musical experimentation were deemed to be a serious threat to the classical purity of German music and culture. This sore point was rendered all the more antagonising by the economic and cultural devastation in the years following WW1.
While relatively few German musicians were Jewish, the prominence of degenerate Jewish musicians such as Arnold Schoenberg (father of serialisim), Otto Klemperer (promoted degenerate music as a conductor), and Kurt Weill (popular leftist composer and conductor) gave support to fears of an organized Jewish attack on German musical heritage and values. Another reason for Nazi control of music was the multi-faceted suitability of music for propaganda. Along with film, music was seen as the most effective way to sway the masses.
To quote Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels: Music affects the heart and emotions more than the intellect. Where then could the heart of a nation beat stronger than in the huge masses, in which the heart of a nation has found its true home? ” From this statement it can be seen that music was harnessed to influence emotions and create a strong sense of national pride and community. In another quote, this time from Jaques Ellul: “For propaganda to be effective, it must fill the citizen’s whole day and every day” Music was particularly well suited for saturating society with propaganda.
In addition, music was viewed by citizens as an art form for leisure, and was perceived to be less threatening then other more direct forms of propaganda. While citizens might not be overly passionate about Nazi doctrines, they certainly didn’t mind singing and listening to catchy tunes about the glorious future of the Nazi party! This brings us to our second aspect. How was music controlled and used by the Nazi party? Following a flurry of organising, planning, and policy-making, the Nazi party began to take control immediately after Hitler was proclaimed Chancellor in January 1933.
It began with the disruption of performances by Jewish artists. In March 1933, the newly appointed Josef Goebbels took control of all German radio stations and press, firing all critics and editors who disagreed with his agenda. In April 1933, the law for the Re-establishment of the Civil Service was passed, the result of which was the widespread dismissal of Jewish singers, conductors, and music teachers. The Reichsmusikkammer, or Reich Music Chamber (RMK) was initiated in November 1933, consolidating existing music unions and organizations.
While many musicians welcomed a centralized music organization, membership was only given on proof of Aryan descent, effectively excluding Jews from the German music world. Being denied membership to the RMK was equivalent to a ban on a musician’s career. The Nuremburg Laws of 1935 reinforced this, making it illegal for even half Jews to perform or compose. Arnold Schoenberg was one of the more famous degenerate composers forced to leave Germany in 1934. Goebbels took the control of the German music world even further.
He created a system whereby all musicians were assigned to one of 5 levels, each with a set wage. While this did undoubtedly boost many careers, passion for Nazi ideology seems to have been rewarded more than musical talent. Composers were used as propaganda weapons for the Reich, producing countless marches, light music for entertainment, and inspirational music for Nazi party events and rallies. Many of these compositions celebrated Hitler, Germany, and the glorious future of the Nazi Party. The Hitler Youth developed its own extensive music program, and was a major audience for propaganda songs.
Music was also heavily used in concentration camps and occupied countries, one example being the camp at Oranienberg in 1933. In response to growing international pressure about treatment of prisoners, the camp commandant did a radio broadcast highlighting the musical activity of inmates. This ‘display of culture’ was used to whitewash the appalling conditions at the camp. Music was widely used at concentration camps as a psychological weapon throughout WWII, camp orchestras entertained SS troops, music was played during mass executions, and inmates were forced to sing while performing gruelling labour.
This brings us to our final aspect. How effective was the control of music by the Nazi Party? Despite the administrative, social, and institutional reforms outlined above, the impact on actual musical standards appears to have been limited. This was due to two main factors, a lack of organization, and the sheer difficulty of imposing nationwide censoring on music. The insufficient amount of organisation was mostly due to a lack of interest in music from those in charge of the cultural agenda.
Propaganda minister Josef Goebbels and Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg were more focused on education, media, and the visual arts. At the largest musical gathering held by the Nazis, the 1938 Reichsmusiktage, Goebbels was remarkably vague in specifying Nazi music goals. Although some loose guidelines were put in place, the definition of ‘degenerate’ music continued to change through the lifespan of the regime. One reason for this failure to establish concrete musical standards was the continuing in-fighting between officials responsible for music regulation.
After the head of culture, Alfred Rosenberg, was passed over by Goebbels with the newly formed ministry of propaganda, Rosenberg tried to undermine Goebbels at the expense of prominent musicians, such as Paul Hindemith. Hindemith was lined up by Goebbels as the new model composer of the regime, until Rosenberg labelled some of his earlier work ‘degenerate’ in order to undermine Goebbels decisions. This was a common result of Hitler’s leadership style, which involved maintaining his superiority over his subordinates by allowing them to fight and squabble with one another.
The second obstacle to the control of music was the impracticality of music censorship. A multitude of musical outlets lay outside the control of government departments, such as amateur recording, performances, and radio. Although radio came under governmental control in 1933, jazz and other ‘degenerate’ music ultimately survived on the radio to entertain soldiers and discourage Germans from tuning in to foreign broadcasts. Actual music censorship was limited to restrictions on publishing foreign works, and lists published by the RMK of unsuitable, non-Aryan composers.
However there was no mechanism to enforce these measures, and it was not until the war that any serious effort was made to ban foreign works. Perhaps the only significant outcome of the Nazi regime’s control of music was the reshaping of the German music world. Many German composers flourished under the regime and continued to be successful after WW1, such as Herbert von Karajan, Karl Bohm, Wilhelm Backhaus, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Walter Gieseking, Friedrich Blume, and Heinrich Bessler. Unfortunately this was accomplished at the expense of thousands of non-Aryan musicians, most of whom fled to Palestine, the UK, and the US.
While the eradication of ‘undesirable’ musicians was carried out aggressively, the total eradication of ‘undesirable’ music proved to be virtually impossible. Conclusion In conclusion, it has been shown that Nazi control of music was motivated by a sense of pride in Germany’s cultural heritage. Along with a desire to preserve the purity of German music, music was seen as a powerful tool for propaganda, as it was less threatening and more likely to be accepted by citizens. To accomplish these aims, the Nazi party drastically restructured the German music world in a short amount of time.
The centralization of music organization benefitted musicians by creating salaries and jobs. Unfortunately this was accomplished at the expense of Jewish and other non-Aryan musicians, who were deprived of their careers. Although the removal of undesirable musicians was carried out aggressively, the removal of ‘degenerate’ music proved difficult if not impossible to achieve, and very little change to music standards was achieved. Overall, while the Nazi control of music reshaped the German music world at the expense of non-Aryan musicians, the actual effect on musical standards was relatively insignificant.