Mozart and the Nazis

How the Third Reich Abused a Cultural Icon

Erik Levi

Yale University Press

ISBN 978-0-300-12306-7

Mozart and the Nazis: How the Third Reich Abused a Cultural Icon

The Nazis came to power in 1933. During the subsequent three months German musical life saw tumultuous changes. Within weeks, many prominent German musicians who were considered by the regime to be politically or racially unacceptable had been forced out of employment, or felt duty-bound to emigrate.

The Salzburg Festival was particularly troublesome. Bruno Walter, who had appeared at the Festival between 1933 and 1937, refused to have anything to do with those musicians who had sought favour with the Nazis. Despite the apparent incompatibility between Mozart's humanitarian and cosmopolitan outlook and the Nazi ideology, the Third Reich doggedly promoted the composer's music to further the goals of the regime.

For instance in 1941, to mark the 150th anniversary year of Mozart's death, four special postage stamps were issued in honour of the composer. The set was issued by Bohemia and Moravia during the Nazi occupation of the northern part of Czechoslovakia. Issued on 26th October 1941, the stamps depict Prague's Theatre of the Estates, affiliated with the National Theatre. On the fourth of December, the anniversary address was given at the Vienna State Opera by Dr Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler's Propaganda Minister. Later, after 1948, the Prague Theatre was named the Tyl Theatre (after dramatist J.K.Tyl), being the venue where Don Giovanni was first performed. Hence, the stamps depicted notation from the opera.

Propaganda placed German politics before German art. In the climate that followed the Nazi takeover, to place examples of German patriotism at centre stage for any figure of cultural and historical significance was crucial. In Paris, a Mozart Week, 'received very enthusiastically by Parisian audiences', was organised in July 1941. Thus Mozart was promoted as an honorary Nazi. Effects were long-lasting. Certain Mozart projects promoted during the Nazi era re-emerged after the War; Levi's painstakingly researched book reminds us of the 'seismic scars' left on Poland, even after reunification in 1990.

John Robert Brown

First published in Classical Music magazine, 28th January 2011. Used by kind permission. Reproduction forbidden without permission.
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