Collaboration, morality and ‘degenerate’ music in Third Reich under scrutiny

PUBLISHED: 15:00 06 April 2017

Philippa Boyle sings at the event. Picture: Rachel Helfand Giuseppi

Philippa Boyle sings at the event. Picture: Rachel Helfand Giuseppi

Rachel Helfand Giuseppi

Culture & the Third Reich is a collection of lectures, film, discussion and live music this weekend at UCL

“We’re not promoting Nazi culture,” stage director David Edwards was keen to say when we talked about his collection of lectures, film, discussion and live music this weekend at University College under the title Culture & the Third Reich.

“The idea is to explore the impact it had on people working in the German arts and sciences at the time, and the conflicts of conscience faced by those who carried on while the horror of it all unfolded around them.”

It’s a topic Edwards has been interested in professionally, as a Wagner specialist. And Wagner, needless to say, features upfront in the programme for the weekend, with an opening talk on how the Bayreuth Festival became a symbol of Aryan dominance, its status celebrated and protected by Hitler himself.

Other highlights include the eminent musicologist Erik Levi expounding on what the Nazis called ‘Degenerate Music’; a lecture by Roger Allen, Dean of St Peter’s, Oxford about Wilhelm Furtwangler, conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic through the 1930s/40s; and a celebrated film, Das Reichsorchester, that explores the way the Philharmonic was used for cultural propaganda.

There are evening song recitals and talks on quantum theorist Max Planck and aerospace engineer Wernher von Braun.

The weekend’s general thrust, says Edwards,”is to look at how those people who appeared to collude with the regime managed a moral existence, struggling to know what they should do.”

In certain cases their dilemma fed into their work – as, you could argue, was the case with Richard Strauss, the great German composer of the 1930s/40s. Strauss wasn’t a Nazi; but he made no public opposition to the Reich and spent the war writing operas like Capriccio: an escapist trifle about whether words or music are the most important thing in lyric theatre.

It was a classic case of keeping your head down. But, as Edwards says, Capriccio is a piece about indecision, and could be said to reflect what Strauss felt in his heart, even if those feelings came packaged in pleasantries.

April 8 - 9 at the Housman Room, University College, Gower Street. Booking details: 01494 514 252, or mikemorgan@wagner65.wanadoo.co.uk

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