Music under the Nazis

Music under the Nazis

Innovation was frowned upon.

It isn’t surprising that the Nazi regime looked towards the past to promote their musical hegemony. Hitler’s favorite composer was Richard Wagner, a German who died in 1883, and had Wagner’s music played at many party functions and rallies. He also employed only German musicians, who believed that the German masters should only be played by German, anti-Semitic musicians.

This obsession in looking into the past meant that new musical compositions—particularly music that could be perceived as subversive or anti-Hitler—were discouraged or forbidden. The regime focused more on performance than on composition because composers continued to be influenced by the banned works of Hindemith, Weill, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky and because of this “no coherent Nazi style of new music emerged.” In other words, composers were still interested in anti-regime composers—subconsciously or not—so it was impossible to compose forgoing their influence.

Certainly the regime had a vested interest in discouraging new ideas, particularly new music. New musical ideas are a road to free-thinking and new thoughts. The music of the past is so linked with the thinking of the path—the forms, the connections with the old world masters—that it also keeps the thinking of the masses to expect that all music is traditional and old and that nothing new can be created because their genius is the end of the road. This same idea can be applied to thinking—an idea that the Nazis probably clung to because so much of their ideology was historically-based. It was impossible for the Nazis to conceive of a new musical style that cut out many decades of innovation.

Music is a means for sympathizing and understanding its composer, perhaps why Jewish music was banned. If a person likes a piece of music, he probably likes, or at least respects, that piece of music’s composer and thinks he has some merit in his contributions to society. Therefore, the Nazis didn’t want any sympathy for Jews in their de-humanizing campaign against them.

Finally, music is a means for propaganda. Old music—with its recognizable and repeatable melodies- was a way to link the glory of the state with a glorious piece of music that would be easily linkable in the peoples’ heads if they heard it again, linked with another nationalist type of activity.

What do you think of this musical ideology? Do you think that new music leads to innovative thinking and is a threat to an established regime?