After hearing the author on Start the Week on Radio 4 I desparately wanted to buy this book and was pleasantly suprised to find it on sale at half price at a well known London Bookstore. Once again Amazon beaten to the punch on publication dates, more I suspect due to said bookstore;s opportunism than any fault of Amazon, although I understand this volume has been available abroad for some years which might also explain its availability, but no matter what about the book?
you'd be forgiven for thinking that there is surely little else that can be said or written about the Third reich, but Misha Aster has done so with a masterful depiction of how the Berlin Philharmonic managed to "survive" Hitler and Co's tyranny.
Nowadays the BP is one of, if not THE, pre-eminent orchestras in the world but in the Thirties and Forties things were much more murky. They were the cultural standard bearers of the Nazi party, performed with giant swastika flags as backdrops and made recordings at the behest of arch propagandist Joseph Goebbels.
Aster's account, which can be tad wordy on occasion, although never patronising or assuming an in depth knowledge of classical music, offers a sympathetic balance between the moral ambiguities of a group of musicians that was to all extent and purposes financially bankrupt trying to make a living,and making ethical compromises to survive.
There is lots to digest in this book. The music that was allowed or not allowed to be played, the political persuasions of its conductors, most notoriously Herbert Von Karajan, and how it survived and indeed flourished after the war.
I know nothing about classical music (the old cliche "I know what I like" applies) but that did not detract from my enjoyment in reading about this orchestra although I would imagine experts in the field will find more nuances in here than I did.
Well worth a look I'd say for anyone interested in the period looking for something different to read.
An excellent pieces of scholarship that explores the day-to-day mechanics of the relationship bwteen the Berlin Phil and the various organs of the Third Reich, in a nuanced study that moves scholarship beyond the initial debate about the extent of Furtwangler's association with Nazism and anti-semitism. Aster's nitty-gritty examination, based on a wealth of primary materials from Goebbel's ministry and other official sources, as well as the BPO archives reveals a complex relationship, with the orchestra (and indeed Furtwangler) extracting maximum advantage from their Faustian pact, including their members' exemption from military call-up that endured to the fall of Berlin. He provides fascinating information on practical issues such as conductors' fees, rehearsal timetable, repertoire, and travel arrangements, crwating a picture of an orchestra with a punishing wartime schedule of concerts, yet nevertheless maintaining quality throughout - as the famous Furtwangler wartime recording of the 'Ninth' still demonstrates.
However, the text is dense (as the previous reviewer has noted), and is marred by some modernistic jargon and, worse still, some very poor copy editing (several incomplete sentences) and proof reading (lots of typos; and to give one specific, out of many, examples: on one page, a spelling of 'Nuremberg' in the English and German style, both in the text, not in quotations).
on 17 November 2014
This book is an excellent account of how the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra became in1933 an agent of the Nazi regime and remained in that relationship at t5he end og the war in April 1945 and despite this was able to give a concert one month later.
Detailed in the book are the activities of the orchestra both at home and abroad during its Nazi period and the actions of its main conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler. a friend of Goebbels,as he underwent a prolonged denazification trial.
Well written and researched with a good index but apalingly poor pictures