The history of the Nazis in Europe challenges any notion that a love of art will make one good. In our study of the Nazis we return now to the music and philosophy with which we began the course–that of Wagner, Strauss and Nietzsche. Hitler became popular initially because he could speak to the lower classes, and, even, felt like he was an everyman. In truth, he was, but he was also a lover of high culture, especially music. He first visited the Wagner family home in October 1923, just before the beer hall putsch (Ross 341). When Hitler came to power in 1933, he soon made Richard Strauss the president of the music section of the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Culture Chamber). Under Hitler’s leadership, the people had greater access to music than before–new opera houses should contain 3000 seats for example. Hitler also proclaimed that music existed in a world separate from history and should not be (as it was in Stalin’s Russia) overshadowed or made to tow to political lines.
Was there such a thing as a ‘Nazi sound’? Did a conservative style steeped in Wagner, Bruckner, and/or Strauss guarantee success in Hitler’s world? Did more adventures styles–those that had prospered in the free atmosphere of the Weimar Republic–guarantee failure? The answers to these questions are not as clear as is often assumed. The automatic equation of radical style with liberal politics and of conservative style with reactionary politics is a historical myth that does little justice to an agonizingly ambiguous historical reality. (Ross 346)
Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens, or Triumph of the Will is widely considered one of the best and most important propaganda films of the 20th Century. Artistically, it is a triumph. It was released in 1935.
The whole film is absolutely worth seeing, but we screened these sections: between 10:30 ~ 16:00; between 23:00 – 51:00.
Things to think about:
- What makes this film propaganda?
- Think about Germany’s situation in 1935. Hitler has been in power for 2 years. In 1932, the unemployment rate stood at 44%, by 1934 it had dropped to 14.1 %, and by 1938 it was less than 1%. How do we see that represented in the film? What is the difference between a soldier and a worker? (Is there one?)
- The Strength through Joy (Kraft durch Freude) program was another branch of this. How does its symbols compare to those seen in the film?
Propaganda was also employed by the allies. The Keep Calm and Carry on posters supposed to be released in Britain in 1939, when war planners thought the first air raids would come. Despite the fact that over 200,000 were printed, they were never displayed and eventually destroyed. Other sister posters would have been:
In the US, they also had propaganda. By far the most famous is the following image:
What is a riveter?
How do the images used in the US differ from or compare to those used elsewhere?
On the musical front, in class we listened to Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps, or Quartet for the End of Time. Here is an article written about the piece: WSJ on the Quartet for the End of Time. Very briefly, it was composed by Messiaen who, in 1940, had been stationed at Verdun. While there he requested that he be put on the early watch so that he could listen to the birds as they woke. He composed one of the segments of the quartet while there, a section for clarinet. Before he could hear it performed, the Germans took him prisoner. This piece composed and first performed, therefore, in a POW camp:
There was thick frost on the windows and 20 inches of snow outside as the 500 prisoners of war took their seats behind the German camp guards. With the crush of bodies, the temperature inside Barrack 27 rose to just above freezing, a small victory over the pitiless Silesian winter. Stretchers had been laid on the floor bearing patients from the hospital block; prisoners from the quarantined section, too, had been allowed to attend the concert on Jan. 15, 1941.
The program, approved by the German guards, described the ambitions of the piece this way: “In homage to the Angel of the Apocalypse, who lifts his hand toward heaven, saying, ‘There shall be time no longer.’ ”