TRIAL OF STRENGTH: Wilhelm FurtwÄngler in the Third Reich by Fred K. Prieberg

TRIAL OF STRENGTH: Wilhelm FurtwÄngler in the Third Reich

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A significant addition to the ongoing discussion of the extent to which Germany's most important musical figure was co-opted by the Nazis. Wilhelm FurtwÄngler (1886-1954) was among the most important re-creative artists of the century, supreme interpreter of the high German classics and an almost mystical believer in their spiritual power. He was also, as Prieberg (Music in the National Socialist State, not reviewed) convincingly demonstrates, dangerously naïve in believing that he could keep those masterpieces undefiled -- and himself uncompromised -- by the politicization of the arts in Nazi Germany. In a similar manner to the way that the physicist Werner Heisenberg believed that he could preserve the purity of German science despite what he saw as the vulgarity of the Nazi regime, FurtwÄngler saw himself as the guardian of German high culture and civilization. This is not an easy book to read; the style is effortful (it's unclear whether that is the fault of the writing or of the translation), and the subject -- the degradation of an artist -- is chilling and painful. Prieberg fully explicates FurtwÄngler's acts of resistance: his arguments in the 1930s against the banning of music written by non-Aryan composers; his protests against the firing of Jewish members of the Berlin Philharmonic and their replacement by inferior musicians. Prieberg's thesis is that, having decided to stay in Germany, FurtwÄngler was ""broken"" by the regime (""blackmailed"" into conducting Hitler's birthday festivities in 1942, he avoided the task in subsequent years by pleading illness). The real strength of Prieberg's work is its reliance on contemporary documents, many quoted at considerable length, that allow the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. These conclusions are likely to be less charitable, and less favorable, to the maestro, than Prieberg's. A powerful primer on the futility of temporizing with evil.

Pub Date: June 15th, 1994
Page count: 394pp
Publisher: Northeastern Univ. Press