The German broadcasting corporation Reichsrundfunkgesellschaft (RRG) recorded many operas with revolutionary technology during World War II. This article will present the following topics:


   The NSDAP and the radio: prodesse et delectare

   A technical revolution: recording on magnetic tapes

   Recording opera for the Reichsrundfunk








*    The NSDAP and the radio: prodesse et delectare


An all-encompassing cultural revolution accompanied the Nazis' seizure of power in 1933: political life, press, radio, arts and everything else that was of public interest was brought into line. The state-owned Reichsrundfunkgesellschaft (RRG) had been founded in Berlin in 1925 and was to exist for a total of 20 years. Each German region had its own radio station with regional autonomy (Reichssender) until 1939, when all radio stations were incorporated into the Großdeutscher Rundfunk. In 1933, the RRG fell under the authority of the Reichskulturkammer (Chamber of Culture). The Reichskulturkammer was intended to be an organ of central control over the cultural activities in the Reich. It was divided into specific sections for music (Reichsmusikkammer), literature (Reichsschrifttumskammer), film (Reichsfilmkammer), theatre (Reichstheaterkammer), fine arts (Reichskammer der bildenden Künste) press (Reichspressekammer) and radio (Reichsrundfunkkammer). Richard Strauss became president of the Reichsmusikkammer in 1933 and Wilhelm Furtwängler became his deputy until 1934, when he abdicated under protest because of the Hindemith case.

Horst Dreßler-Andres, an early member of the NSDAP (since 1930) was president of the Reichsrundfunkkammer, and the minister responsible for the entire Chamber of Culture was the Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels.


The National Socialists knew about the high value the radio had for propaganda purposes, although Goebbels had initially regarded the new medium with scepticism. In 1925, he wrote:


Radio, radio, radio at home! The radio makes the German forget work and fatherland. The modern method for bourgeoising the people! Everything at home! The ideal of the bourgeois![1]


But in 1933 he had to admit that


broadcast is the most modern and most important instrument of mass manipulation.[2]


Goebbels regarded music as "the highest of all arts", something "very special" (1938) that is, especially in the sense of propaganda, universally applicable – something that matched every mood.


The German radio soon became the main weapon in the arsenal of the National Socialist cultural revolution. Goebbels proclaimed the "revaluation of all values" and a revival of "genuine" German culture. He promised "food for the soul" and a "cataclysmic rearrangement of German cultural life": Bach, Beethoven and Wagner instead of "music Jewry", "sound comedian[s]"[3] and "culture Bolshevik[s]"[4] like Stravinsky or Weill or jazz musicians. Politics and culture, politics and arts were now combined in accordance with a new terminology. That was one of the most characteristic new features of National Socialism.



Joseph Goebbels and Richard Strauss



Not only did the music for the radio have to be "German", but also the repertoires of the concert- and opera houses. First of all operas by Jewish composers and French operas were regarded as inferior, especially when based on great "German" plots like Mignon (Goethe's Wilhelm Meister) and Faust. As a consequence, Gounod's opera had to be called "Margarethe" in Germany in order to distinguish it from Goethe's work. The emphasis on national differences in musical expression became one of the most important issues:


Chajkovskij's Evgenij Onegin is entirely out of place on a German stage (...). This genial music has become some kind of sound Esperanto in every European parlour, likewise welcome everywhere, mawkish, drowsy and without any character, neither pop music nor art, just a document of the late white-bread civilisation.[5]


Wagner, in contrast, was regarded as an artist of


imperturbable Germanness [who created] German artworks of German form and German contents.[6]


Berg, Eisler, Dessau, Bloch, Křenek, Schönberg, Hindemith and Schreker were branded as "degenerate" composers, Korngold, Mahler, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Meyerbeer, Saint-Saëns, Satie, Kálmán, Offenbach were declared as "unwanted" because of their Jewish background or political attitude. Many great artists were banned from the country for similar reasons: Blech, Walter, Klemperer, Heifetz, Kreisler, Landowska, Schnabel, Kipnis, List or Tauber. But that did not mean that Germany was left without first class artists. The Nazi authorities soon assembled an exclusive ensemble of collaborators – mostly artists of international reputation who had no need to cooperate with the regime but nevertheless did: conductors and instrumentalists like Strauss, von Schillings, Furtwängler, Krauss, Knappertsbusch, Böhm, Karajan, Kempff, Fischer, Mengelberg and singers like Völker, Lorenz, Svanholm, Berglund, Gigli, Hotter, Lubin, Rosvaenge, Ralf and so on.



Goebbels and his creatures at the Reichskulturkammer had one specific aim: to educate Germans and to bring them back to the fold of genuine German culture – and of course to exploit the radio in the interests of the Nazi party.


In 1933, only about 4 million households (about 16 million listeners) had a radio set at home. That made it necessary for the NSDAP to create an infrastructure and to provide more Germans with radios. The first attempt in that direction was the introduction of the Volksempfänger VE 301, a cheap receiver affordable for everybody (hence the name which means in literal translation "the people's receiver"). The product number 301 referred to the 30th of January, the day of the Nazi seizure of power. The VE 301 was manufactured by 28 different factories using identical construction methods, and was first presented at the 1933 radio fair for only 76 Reichsmark, which was an absolutely unrivalled price.

The VE 301 soon became the most popular technical device of the Nazi era. The design was simple and combined elements of industrial modernity and traditional craftsmanship. By 1938, more than 9 million households had a radio at home.

Another device, the Deutscher Kleinempfänger, simpler and for a price of 35 RM even cheaper than the VE 301, made the number grow to 16 million households in 1941. The radio infrastructure established by the National Socialists made Germany one of the most modern countries in that regard. Only the United States had more listeners at the time.[7]





The big offensive for German art and culture started in 1934, when the Reichsrundfunk broadcast a twelve-day long Beethoven cycle, including all nine symphonies and Fidelio, a Wagner-Schiller-Chamberlain cycle and Wagner's complete Ring, which was also broadcast abroad.

However, audience ratings were not satisfactory, and in 1935 Goebbels therefore decided to focus the program on light music, which, after a while, accounted for about 70 percent of the repertory. Political speeches were not as popular as one might think. An experiment to broadcast 50 speeches by Hitler in 1933 had resulted in a massive loss of listeners. In 1936, Joseph Goebbels summed up:


The program of the broadcasts has to be such that it still interests people with sophisticated tastes, and that it is still accessible and comprehensible for the others. The program has to offer entertainment, relaxation, stimulation and education in a clever and psychologically sublime way. We must put a special focus on relaxation and entertainment, because the vast majority of all listeners have a very hard life – and they have the right to find real relaxation and recreation during the few hours of peace they have. All those who, on the other side, just wish to be fed Kant and Hegel do not carry much weight. [8]


Classical music was broadcast and recorded nonetheless. The RRG intended to create its own collection of exemplary recordings of German and international opera – even of works that were not considered "politically correct", which again shows that Goebbels did not have full control over everything that happened in and around the RRG and its many local radio stations. Here are just a few examples of recordings made between 1933 and 1939:


*     Rigoletto with Ludwig, Berger, Reinmar (18 October 1936, Reichssender Berlin)

*     Der fliegende Holländer with Ralf, Frantz, Ahlersmeyer, Teschemacher (15 November 1936, Reichssender Stuttgart)

*     Don Carlo with Teschemacher, Hann, Schmidt-Berikoven, Ahlersmeyer (24. 01. 1937, Reichssender Stuttgart)

*     La dame blanche with Ludwig, Hann, Formacher (7 November 1937, Reichssender Stuttgart)

*     Il barbiere di Siviglia with Ludwig, Hann, Bitterauf (29 November 1937, Reichssender Stuttgart)

*     Die Fledermaus with Teschemacher, Anders, Schmitt-Walter (20 February 1938, Reichssender Stuttgart)

*     Aida with Rosvaenge, Teschemacher, Hann, Weber (24 April 1938, Reichssender Stuttgart)

*     Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg with Rode, Hauss, Stetzler (24 June 1938, Reichssender Königsberg)

*     Boris Godunov with Weber, Hann, Gerlach-Rusnak, Krauss (1938, Reichssender Stuttgart)

*     Die Walküre with Rode, Buschmann, Rünger (6 August 1938, Reichssender Königsberg)

*     Oberon with Ludwig, Rosvaenge, Holndonner, Teschemacher (15 August 1937, Reichssender Berlin)

*     Faust with Rosvaenge, Singenstreu, Bohnen (6 March 1938, Reichssender Berlin)

*     Simon Boccanegra with Ralf, Teschemacher, Ahlersmeyer (29 January 1939, Reichssender Leipzig)





The engineers of the RRG were also in charge of live recordings from the leading German stages. Recording entire operas live was technically much more difficult than recording in one of the studios – although even the studio recordings made by the RRG should be seen as live recordings, since they were normally made in one single day and without cutting. Often, operas recorded in one of the RRG studios also had an audience which, like in case of the following ecstatic interpretation of "Le veau d'or" (in German) by German bass Michael Bohnen, erupts in spontaneous applause. The style of singing was "wagnerized", more weight was put on the meaning of the words, vocal acting and expression played a much more important role than just the sheer beauty of tone.


                                       Michael Bohnen: Ja, das Gold regiert die Welt


And here is a superb Max Lorenz in Die Walküre in a radio-transmitted 1937 performance from Bayreuth:


                                       Max Lorenz: Ein Schwert verhieß mir der Vater



With the start of WWII, the RRG was more and more exploited for war propaganda. The local radio stations were disbanded. So was the Reichsrundfunkkammer; its director, Dreßler-Andres, was sent to Poland. Goebbels took direct control of all German broadcasts. As a consequence, the RRG produced one single program for the entire Reich; the regional autonomies did not exist anymore. The war broadcasts were meant to motivate people, and pretended that everything was as it should be. The most popular program of the war years was Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmacht, a musical request program for the armed forces. The Wunschkonzert was transmitted live from the RRG studios in Berlin, or from the Berlin Philharmonic. Its program normally consisted of a mixture of recitations and music. The concert often started with Hitler's favourite march, the Badenweiler March, followed by a potpourri of opera and operetta arias, folk songs, choirs, marches, overtures and chamber music. Classical music and pop music were presented together. The popularity of the Wunschkonzert is legendary. It happened that over 25,000 requests were counted on just one day.[9] It was so much loved that Eduard von Borsody created a movie about it, and the movie itself was so popular that it got record attendances in 1940.

Ironically, the war made the program and the participating artists more and more international: Japanese sopranos sang Richard Strauss, Italian tenors praised the Axis Powers and "Charlie's Orchestra" (in a program hosted by the "British radio traitor" William Joyce, a.k.a. "Lord Haw-Haw") sang about German submarines. German propaganda was popular in Britain: in 1940, about 6 million British regularly listened to the program hosted by William Joyce.[10]


                                       Musical snippets from National Socialist radio programs in English, Italian and German


As the German territory grew, the RRG also expanded. German culture and propaganda had to be brought to every corner of occupied soil – in the specific language of the country, of course. By the end of 1940, the RRG employed over 500 staffers for the program in the occupied countries. Musicians, announcers and hosts produced 150 hours of program in over 30 languages every day. The RRG, according to expert Rainer Lotz, was probably the largest radio station in the world.[11]







*   A technical revolution: recording on magnetic tapes


The purpose of the recordings made by the RRG was manifold. Hans Joachim Braunmühl, chief engineer of the RRG's electroacoustic laboratories, summarized:


*   to record rehearsals and instruct performers concerning errors in their presentation;

*   to check reports prior to broadcasting them, especially for censorship purposes;

*   to distribute radio programs where there are no analog program lines;

*   to broadcast programs when the majority of listeners can hear them instead of the actual performance time;

*   to make better use of prominent performers who have other commitments during the primary listening times;

*   to repeat programs which, due to their importance, deserve to be broadcast several times;

*   to exchange programs with other radio stations by shipping recording mediums instead of depending on land lines;

*   to archive valuable recordings for future generations[12]



None of the sound recording methods known by then were, as specialist Friedrich Engel writes, adequate for such purposes: the wax record, the steel tape machine, sound foil and sound film and the mechanical-optical Philips-Miller procedure. Many famous artists were sceptical of sound recording. Furtwängler for example was a prominent enemy of sound recordings, which he found insufficient in quality. The limited space on the 78 rpm discs and the necessity to avoid clear dynamic accents influenced the interpretation to such a high degree that a studio performance considering those peculiarities could often not compare to a live performance. Furtwängler wrote about "record-compatible" music making, which was – according to him – characterized by


the fear of all too slow tempi, of great contrasts, of breaks, the fear of everything that was extreme but at the same time structuring, forming, and in a deeper sense, building. (...) The music lost its motor, its living and immediate character. The rhythm, the pulse beat of the living heart was approximated to the mechanical and schematical beat of the machine. Its organic structure lost its warmth and its full, sanguineous, living existence.[13]


But in April 1940 the RRG began to regularly record music on magnetic tapes. It was a technical improvement that was "one of the finest legacies of the RRG" (Friedrich Engel). The man behind the development of the magnetic tape used by the RRG was Walter Weber. In 1936 he described his project as follows:


It has recently become possible to replace expensive and heavy steel-tape with a film-like carrier magnetizable coating. It would appear that simultaneous improvements in tape quality and reduction of the size of the apparatus will allow to use magnetic sound recording for new tasks.


The steel tapes Weber mentioned were used since Valdemar Poulsen's "Telegraphon" (1898), a device that recorded sound on steel tape using electro-magnetic pulses. Poulsen's method never prevailed because of the unhandiness of the recording medium: paper reels coated with steel powder were not strong enough, and real steel tapes (which Germany had to import from Sweden) were too expensive and heavy – as Weber pointed out. In 1935, the German companies IG Farben (the predecessor of BASF) and AEG developed a more manageable sound carrier, made of acetyl cellulose – the new carrier Weber referred to in 1936. But the sound quality of those tapes left a lot to be desired. Especially the high noise was a problem, but also the proportion between duration of recorded sound and quantity of tape: the speed of the tape was 77 centimeters per second, which meant that 1000 meters of tape had to be used for 22 minutes of recorded sound (Poulsen's device even needed 2 meters of steel tape for one second of recorded sound and 1800 meters for 15 minutes). Still, a coil with a diameter of 30cm could now store 20 minutes of recorded sound. A 78 rpm disc of the same diameter could store about 5 minutes of sound per side. A tape of 20 minutes playing time weighed 400 grams while a wax recording with a playing time of only 4 and a half minutes weighed ten times as much, and the loss of quality was so eminent that wax recordings could only be played once after the recording was made. [14]


On 19 November 1936, the tape was used for the first time in the field: a concert of the London Philharmonic conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham was recorded in Ludwigshafen (the domicile of IG Farben) – and played back again to the surprised audience just after the concert was finished. The advantages of the new carrier were obvious: it was handier and could be reproduced right after the recording had been made. It could be played over and over again without the loss of quality that was characteristic of wax or shellac discs. In addition, the recorded material was easy to cut and to edit. It was also possible to erase recordings and to use the same tape for an unlimited number of recordings. The only remaining problem was the noise, which was mainly caused by the uneven magnetic tape coating. In 1936, when the recordings with Beecham were made, the sound quality still "barely achieved dictation quality".[15]


The breakthrough did not arrive before spring 1940. Germany was at war with France, Britain and their allies, Poland did not exist anymore, and German forces had occupied Denmark and Norway. Weber, still working on a method to minimise the noise of the magnetic tapes, finally and unexpectedly managed to reduce distortions and noise to a significant degree during a series of experiments with negative feedback. Weber about his discovery:


While experimenting with negative feedback, the test circuit began to oscillate under high degrees of feedback. When the oscillation began, a dramatic decrease in background noise was observed... The first experiment [noise reduction using high frequencies] was conducted merely attaching high and low frequencies together at the recording head. It was expected that the low frequencies would be missing from the recording, but this was not the case. On the contrary, the lower frequencies were very clean and recorded with a much lower noise level. Tests showed a noise reduction of 10dB with a non-linear harmonic distortion coefficient reduction from 10% to 3% with the same voltage on the playback head as reference. This phenomenon was further developed and resulted (...) in an entirely new recording technique. (...) Expanding the frequency curve to 10 kHz, a dynamic range of 60 dB was reached with a distortion factor of 1,5% at 1,000 Hz.[16]


Noise reduction and dynamic range had now significantly improved. Weber was aware of his discovery: "Playback quality exceeds that of any other recording process so far." The RRG started to regularly use Weber's new system ("Magnetophon K7") already in spring 1941: "No other operational work process has ever been so quickly and enthusiastically accepted, in particular by the programming staff" (Weber). In 1943, the first stereo recording was made. And by 1944, the RRG was, still according to Weber, "inconceivable without high frequency Magnetophons".[17]







*   Recording opera for the Reichsrundfunk


All the purposes that went beyond the possibilities of wax discs and steel tapes were now suddenly achieved. The RRG recorded a large number of tapes, mainly classical music and clearly with the intention to "archive valuable recordings for future generations". Pop music and even political speeches were not or very rarely recorded with the new technology. Between 1941 and 1945, the RRG recorded tapes with all leading artists who appeared in Germany and the occupied countries – and most of the tapes became indeed a valuable treasure for future generations. The RRG recorded many fantastic performances in excellent quality: Furtwängler, Gieseking, Kulenkampff, Böhm, Strauss and so on. Many of the tapes were appropriated by American and Russian troops at the end of the war (a fact that shows how valuable they were) and later re-issued on American Urania, Russian Akkord or Melodiya discs.[18] Below the Soviet label of an RRG recording of Beethoven's Ninth from 1942 with Furtwängler, Anders, Briem, Höngen, Watzke.




The operas recorded by the RRG were usually those given at German opera houses, and often, the casts of successful performances were also hired for the radio recordings. In 1942, the RRG hired exactly the same cast for a recording of Strauss' Capriccio that had been scheduled for the first performance of that opera earlier the same year. Again in 1942, a successful production of Carmen in Dresden was re-recorded by the RRG, featuring Torsten Ralf as José, Elisabeth Höngen as Carmen and the young Karl Böhm conducting the orchestra of the Staatsoper Dresden. Another "radio copy" of a well-made performance was a 1942 Andrea Chénier with Helge Rosvaenge in the title role, Käte Heidersbach as Maddalena and Willi Domgraf-Faßbaender as Gérard. Carmen and Andrea Chénier were unusual choices as both Bizet and Giordano were not exactly what the Nazis favoured, but both operas were popular and part of the repertoire of the opera houses in Dresden and Berlin.

The repertoire of the German opera houses was, as Richard Hill wrote, rather "unimaginative"[19] – or more precisely: politically brought in line. This is what winter season 1943-44 looked like at the Berlin opera houses:


     Operas by German-speaking composers (18): Fidelio, Lohengrin, Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Tristan, Tannhäuser,
    Nozze di Figaro, Entführung aus dem Serail, Così fan tutte, Clemenza di Tito, Zar und Zimmermann, Undine,
    Casanova (Lortzing), Arabella, Rosenkavalier, Salome, Tiefland, Orfeo ed Euridice, Lustige Weiber von Windsor;

     Italian operas (9): Don Pasquale, Rigoletto, Trovatore, Traviata, Ballo in maschera, Bohème, Madama Butterfly,
    Tosca, Andrea Chénier;

     Other operas (2): Carmen, Prodaná nevěsta.


Operas and operettas recorded by the RRG on magnetic tapes were:


*   Luisa Miller with Cebotari, Hopf, Herrmann, Elmendorff, Dresden 1943;

*   Parsifal (act 3) with Reinmar, Larcén, Hartmann, Berlin 1942;

*   Fidelio (incomplete) with Anders, Fuchs, Hann, Rother, Berlin 1942;

*   Fidelio with Ralf, Schöffler, Konetzni, Wien 1944;

*   Rienzi with Lorenz, Scheppan, Klose, Schüler, Berlin 1942;

*   Aida with Rosvaenge, Scheppan, Hotter, Berlin 1942;

*   Le nozze di Figaro with Hotter, Braun, Krauss, Wien 1942;

*   Carmen with Ralf, Herrmann, Höngen, Böhm, Dresden 1942;

*   Faust (as "Margarethe") with Rosvaenge, Eipperle, Hann, Wocke, Berlin 1943;

*   Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor with Ludwig, Hann, Strienz, Berlin 1943;

*   Rigoletto with Schlusnus, Berger, Rosvaenge, Hann, Berlin 1944;

*   Martha with Anders, Berger, Tegetthoff, Berlin 1944;

*   La bohème with Anders, Güden, Domgraf-Faßbaender, Berlin 1944;

*   Die Entführung aus dem Serail with Berger and Anders, Berlin 1944;

*   Der fliegende Holländer with Hotter, Ursuleac, Klarwein, Krauss, München 1944;

*   Don Giovanni with Schech, Teschemacher, Hopf, Ahlersmeyer, Dresden 1943;

*   Tosca with Rosvaenge, Hann, Ranczak, Berlin 1944;

*   Un ballo in maschera with Rosvaenge, Scheppan, Schmitt-Walter, Berlin 1943;

*   Don Carlo with Rosvaenge, Lemnitz, Klose, Rother, Berlin 1944;

*   La forza del destino with Rosvaenge, Schlusnus, Scheppan, Berlin 1942;

*   Arabella with Eipperle, Herrmann, Krauss, Wien 1942;

*   Elektra with Schlüter, Hammer, Kupper, Jochum, Hamburg 1944;

*   Arabella with Goltz, Ahlersmeyer, Teschemacher, Böhm, Dresden 1943;

*   Otello with Rosvaenge, Reinmar, Reining, Elmendorff, Berlin 1943;

*   Der Rosenkavalier with Ursuleac, Weber, Hann, Krauss, München 1942;

*   La traviata with Cebotari, Rosvaenge, Schlusnus, Berlin 1943;

*   Il trovatore with Rosvaenge, Scheppan, Schmitt-Walter, Berlin 1942;

*   Tannhäuser with Lorenz, Ludwig, Reining, Schmitt-Walter, Berlin 1943;

*   Tristan und Isolde with Lorenz, Buchner, Klose, Hofmann, Berlin 1942;

*   Pagliacci with Rosvaenge, Scheppan, Hann, Schmitt-Walter, Berlin 1943;

*   Jakobín (Dvořák) with Teschemacher, Fehenberger, Ahlersmeyer, Dresden 1943;

*   Fra Diavolo with Hopf, Böhme, Schellenberg, Dresden 1944;

*   Der Widerspenstigen Zähmung (Goetz) with Nilsson, Trötschel, Teschemacher, Dresden 1943/44;

*   Die Walküre (act 1 only) with Lorenz, Teschemacher, Böhme, Elmendorff, Dresden 1944;

*   Der Freischütz with Seider, Hann, Greindl, Heger, Berlin 1943;

*   Der Freischütz with Fehenberger, Schellenberg, Teschemacher, Böhme, Elmendorff, Dresden 1944;

*   Der Corregidor with Erb, Herrmann, Frick, Böhme, Teschemacher, Dresden 1944;

*   Otello with Ralf, Schöffler, Böhm, Konetzni, Wien 1944;

*   Macbeth with Ahlersmeyer, Alsen, Höngen, Böhm, Wien 1943;

*   Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg with Schöffler, Alsen, Dermota, Krenn, Böhm, Wien 1944;

*   Abu Hassan (Weber) with Bohnen, Witte, Schwarzkopf, Ludwig, Berlin 1944;

*   Hänsel und Gretel with Nissen, Berger, Schilp, Rother, Berlin 1944;

*   Cavalleria rusticana with Hopf, Scheppan, Hann, Berlin 1944/45;

*   Paganini with Rethy, Oeggl, Lehár, Wien 1942;

*   Wo die Lerche singt (Lehár) with Mache, Liewehr, Lehár, Wien 1942;

*   Schön ist die Welt (Lehár) with Dermota, Kern, Lehár, Wien 1942;

*   Giuditta with Ksirova, Oeggl, Lehár, Wien 1942.



Complete live performances recorded with the new RRG equipment:


*   Der fliegende Holländer with Völker, Müller, Berglund, Hofmann, Bayreuth 1942;

*   Lohengrin with Völker, Klose, Müller, Hofmann, Berlin 1943;

*   Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg with Lorenz, Zimmermann, Müller, Prohaska, Furtwängler, Bayreuth 1943;

*   Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg with Suthaus, Schöffler, Scheppan, Abendroth, Bayreuth 1943;

*   Götterdämmerung with Svanholm, Fuchs, Dalberg, Burg, Elmendorff, Bayreuth 1942.


The leading singers of the "magnetic tape period" were Helge Rosvaenge, Peter Anders, Heinrich Schlusnus, Maria Cebotari, Erna Berger, Margarethe Teschemacher, Hans Hotter, Hans Reinmar, Karl Schmitt-Walter, Hilde Scheppan, Georg Hann, Mathieu Ahlersmeyer, Max Lorenz and so on. Not all of them were members of the NSDAP or politically active as it was not necessary to be a party member in order to make career in the Third Reich, as Frederic Spotts pointed out:


Hitler himself considered artists naïve fools when it came to political matters, and did not care whether they did or not join his movement.[20]


Hitler was wise enough to understand that any artist, no matter if party member or not, served his purposes and advertised the Third Reich when performing in Germany and when obeying the official rules that the regime had set up for the music business. Not to perform Mahler was, as Spotts justly underlined, an act of collaboration:


After the war almost all prominent artists were compromised politically – and morally. They themselves insisted that they always had been apolitical, devoted solely to their art. But in a totalitarian state no one is apolitical, and the practise of art cannot be divorced from the political circumstances in which it takes place.[21]


The amalgamation of politics and arts made it in fact impossible to be an apolitical artist – apart from the fact that being apolitical in a totalitarian system would be morally condemnable per se. But on the other side, it does not mean that all performing artists were Nazis; if it is true that every artist was political, it also is true that some had to be regarded as enemies of the Hitler state: Wilhelm Furtwängler is the most prominent example. His patriotism was abused by Hitler and Goebbels, but his commitment to Jewish orchestra members and his commitment in the so-called Hindemith case, his steady refusal to give the Nazi salute, to play the Nazi anthem before a concert and to perform in occupied countries were clear signals. Himmler, chief of the SS, frequently petitioned Hitler to send Furtwängler to a concentration camp.[22] Max Lorenz is another prominent case. Lorenz was not a party member and had a Jewish wife, which he refused to divorce.

On the other side there were artists like Karl Böhm who was Fritz Busch's successor in Dresden in 1934 – with Hitler's approval. Busch had been mobbed out of office, and out of Germany, by the Nazis for being a clear-sighted antifascist. Böhm used to give the Nazi salute at the beginning of each concert.[23] Peter Anders was not a party member but regularly participated in propaganda events and signed his letters with "Heil Hitler". Beniamino Gigli, Mussolini's favourite tenor, had recorded the party hymn of the Italian fascists, and regularly came to Germany to participate in movies. An impressive list of artists who compromised themselves in an even much heavier way than Anders and Gigli could easily be given: Herbert Ernst Groh, Marcel Wittrisch, Walther Ludwig, Josef von Manowarda, Wilhelm Lang, Wilhelm Strienz, Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender, Wilhelm Rode, Rudolf Bockelmann, Gunnar Graarud, Germaine Lubin, Costa Milona, Clemens Krauss, Herbert von Karajan, Gerhard Hüsch... it was unfortunately the rule and not the exception for (particularly male) artists performing in the Third Reich to eagerly do the regime some favour, participate in various propaganda events, spread Nazi ideology in interviews and articles, record propaganda songs (gems like "Gott sei mit unserm Führer", i.e. God save our Führer, recorded by Wittrisch, or "Das Hakenkreuz", i.e. The swastika, recorded by Hüsch), and make explicit political statements (Karl Böhm, calling on his fellow Austrians to vote Yes in the fake referendum on the incorporation of Austria into the Third Reich: Whoever doesn't support this achievement of the Führer with a 100 percent YES, does not deserve to carry the honorific "German". It's a shameful record of wrongdoing. Helge Rosvaenge – the star tenor of the 1930s and 1940s in Germany – had been a supposed party member since 1933[24] (and a proven personal friend of Hermann Göring). After the war, Rosvaenge published his memoirs in East Germany, now using the parlance of the new communist rulers, mocking incompetent Nazi musicians, the "brown clique" and the "inglorious end of the millenarian Reich".[25] It's unfortunately worse, far worse. The first edition of Rosvaenge's book was published in West Germany (Lache Bajazzo!, Munich 1953), and its parlance makes clear that Rosvaenge had been a Nazi (whether a party member or not, that's of secondary importance). Only when East Germany later offered him career opportunities, he rewrote his memoirs in the way described by the author. Comparing the two versions of the Rosvaenge book is as disgusting as reading gets. About his own relationship with the Nazis, he wrote:


I was in Cairo, giving guest performances with my Viennese ensemble, when I heard the following: "Hitler has taken power in Germany!" We had never thought of anything evil. Suddenly it was there, the evil. First, everybody tried to calm oneself, saying: "It's not going to be that bad." But then the evil began to leave its brand. For us, it all started with a big farwell. Kleiber went in 1934. Blech stayed with us for a couple more years. That at least calmed us down. He stayed until 1938. I stayed until the bitter end, although it would have been easy for me as a foreigner to leave Germany. But I never really considered it. I stayed, because my roots were in Germany.[26]


Many other artists, who made their career during, in some cases thanks to the Third Reich, excelled afterwards in belittling their role during that time, or in belittling the terror of the Nazi regime. Tiana Lemnitz, one of the leading sopranos, wrote about the year 1934, in which Erich Kleiber was banished by the Nazis:


Erich Kleiber left us unfortunately very soon again. He was Leo Blech's antipole: sparkling and boyish. When Kleiber returned to the State opera after the war, we performed Strauss' Vier letzte Lieder together.[27]


Karl Böhm about the same year, in which he took over after the expulsion of Fritz Busch:


In 1934 I became chief of the Dresden Opera House and I stayed there for nine years. I can remember my first rehearsal very well – it was Wagner's Tristan: I spoke my genuine Austrian dialect, and the musicians declared: "Well, at least when it comes to the dialect, we don't have to relearn!"[28]


Not everything that certain artists have been accused of was right either. Michael Bohnen for example was the prominent victim of a smear campaign, orchestrated by tenor Hans Beirer. Bohnen, by 1947 manager of the Städtische Oper Berlin, refused to hire Beirer for the role of Jeník (in German: Hans) in Smetana's Prodaná nevěsta. Beirer paid back, spreading the rumour that Bohnen was a former NSDAP member, an informer and that he had worked for the SS. Bohnen lost his work, and although later proved innocent in a court procedure, he died a broken man.[29]



The RRG was disbanded in 1945. Its heritage of over 3,500 tapes went to the archives, which are accessible for the staffers of the German Radio Network only. The RRG tapes are valuable documents, as they not only have recorded great artists in excellent quality. They are also first-rate historical documents that preserved the style and the musical practice that were closely connected with the politics of the Nazi era.



*   LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR – BERLIN 1941 (RRG studio production)


      Edgardo xxxxxxxxxxxxxwwwsxxxHelge Rosvaenge

      Lucia xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxwwwwxxxLea Piltti

      Enrico xxxxxxxxxxxxxwxwwmxxxHans Reinmar

      Raimondo xxxxxxxxxxxwwwwxxxiWilhelm Lang

      Arturo xxxxxxxxxxxxxxwwwwxxxiErich Zimmermann

      Alisa xxxxxxxxxxxxssxwwwwxxxiMarie-Luise Schilp


      Orchester der Städtischen Oper Berlin

      Artur Rother


      Excerpt: Ha, wer lässt den Ruf nach Rache


This was one of the first operatic recordings made with the new technology (not yet a complete recording, just this snippet). The clear, metallic sound of the recording was characteristic for the sound of the Magnetophon.




*   CARMEN – DRESDEN 1942 (RRG studio production)


      Carmen xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxsElisabeth Höngen

      Don José xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxsTorsten Ralf


      Chor und Orchester der Staatsoper Dresden

      Karl Böhm


      Excerpt: Du bist's? Ich bin's!




*   IL TROVATORE – BERLIN 1942 (RRG studio production)


      Manrico xxxxxxxxxxxxxwwwwxxxiHelge Rosvaenge

      Leonora xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxsxxxxHilde Scheppan

      Ruiz xxxxxxxxxsssxxxxxxxxxxxxxAlfred Dörr


      Chor und Orchester des Deutschen Opernhauses Berlin

      Artur Rother


      Excerpt: Lodern zum Himmel





*   ANDREA CHÉNIER – BERLIN 1943 (RRG studio production)


      Andrea Chénier xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxiHelge Rosvaenge

      Maddalena xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxsTrude Eipperle

      Gérard xxxxxxxxxxxxxxssnxxxxxsWilli Domgraf-Fassbaender

      Fouquier-Tinville xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxsHans Wrana

      Dumas xxxxxxxxxxxxxssssxxxxxsMichael Roggen


      Chor und Orchester der Staatsoper Berlin

      Robert Heger


      Excerpt: Ich war Soldat ... Lasst mich hindurch, Charles Gérard





*   TANNHÄUSER – BERLIN 1943 (RRG studio production)


      Tannhäuser xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxsMax Lorenz

      Walther xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxsWalther Ludwig

      Wolfram xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxixxxxxxKarl Schmitt-Walter

      Biterolf xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxixxxxxxsWalter Großmann


      Chor des Deutschen Opernhauses

      Rundfunksymphonieorchester Berlin

      Artur Rother


      Excerpt: Den Bronnen, den uns Wolfram nannte ... Dir, Göttin der Liebe





*   GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG – BAYREUTH 1942 (RRG live recording)


      Siegfried xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxixxxxxxsSet Svanholm

      Hagen xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxFriedrich Dalberg

      Gunther xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxEgmont Koch


      Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele

      Karl Elmendorff


      Excerpt: Mime hieß ein mürrischer Zwerg










a) printed media


*   Ardoin, John: The Furtwängler record. Portland 1994

*   Böhme, Bärbel: Musikschätze der RRG. Berlin 1992

*   Engel, Friedrich: Walter Weber's technical innovation at the Reichsrundfunkgesellschaft. 2006

*   Furtwängler, Wilhelm: Wort und Ton. Zürich 1994

*   Hasse, Karl: Nationalsozialistische Grundsätze für die Neugestaltung des Konzert- und Opernbestriebs.
          Presseamt der Reichsmusikkammer, Berlin 1934

*   Hausegger, Siegmund von: Offener Brief; in: Zeitschrift für Musik, 06/1933

*   Hill, Richard S.: Concert life in Berlin, season 1943-44; in: Notes, 2nd series, vol. 1 no. 3

*   Müller-Marein, Joseph and Reinhardt, Hannes (ed.): Das musikalische Selbstportrait. Hamburg 1963

*   Mutzenbecher, Hans Esdras: Der Opernspielplan im Dritten Reich; in: Der Neue Weg, 05/1935

*   Reichel, Peter: Der schöne Schein des Dritten Reiches. München 1991

*   Rosvaenge, Helge: Mach es besser, mein Sohn. Leipzig 1962

*   Schubert, Hans: Historie der Schallaufzeichnung. Frankfurt am Main 1983

*   Spotts, Frederic: Music in the Third Reich; in: Booklet for the DVD "Great conductors of the Third Reich"

*   Steege, Fritz: Berliner Musik; in: Zeitschrift für Musik, 01/1935


b) websites


*   http://www.rundfunkmuseum.at/html/wehrmacht_wunschkonzert.html (defunct)

*   http://www.radiobremen.de/magazin/kultur/musik/charlie_orchestra/sender.html (defunct)

*   http://michael-bohnen.com/ (defunct)

*   http://www.dra.de/

*   http://www.richardhess.com/tape/history/










[1] Reichel, Peter: Der schöne Schein des Dritten Reiches. München 1991, p. 159

[2] ibid.

[3] Steege, Fritz: Berliner Musik; in: Zeitschrift für Musik, 01/1935, p. 41

[4] Hausegger, Siegmund von: Offener Brief; in: Zeitschrift für Musik, 06/1933, p. 618

[5] Mutzenbecher, Hans Esdras: Der Opernspielplan im Dritten Reich; in: Der Neue Weg, 05/1935, p. 224

[6] Hasse, Karl: Nationalsozialistische Grundsätze für die Neugestaltung des Konzert- und Opernbetriebs. Presseamt der Reichsmusikkammer, Berlin 1934, p. 262.

[7] For all the figures cf. Reichel, p. 312 ff.

[8] Reichel, p. 167 f.

[9]http://www.rundfunkmuseum.at/html/wehrmacht_wunschkonzert.html (defunct)

[10] http://www.radiobremen.de/magazin/kultur/musik/charlie_orchestra/sender.html (no longer online)

[11] ibid.

[12] Braunmühl, Hans Joachim von: Neuester Stand der Schallaufzeichnungsverfahren, Berlin 1943

[13] Furtwängler, Wilhelm: Wort und Ton. Zürich 1994, p. 36

[14] Engel, p. 4

[15] Engel, p. 2

[16] quoted in Engel, p. 4

[17] Ibid.

[18] cf. Böhme, Bärbel: Musikschätze der RRG. Berlin 1992

[19] cf. Hill, Richard S.: Concert life in Berlin, season 1943-44; in: Notes, 2nd series, vol. 1 no. 3

[20] Spotts, Frederic: Music in the Third Reich; in: Booklet of the DVD "Great conductors of the Third Reich", p. 4

[21] Spotts, p. 6

[22] Ardoin, John: The Furtwängler record. Portland 1994, p. 56

[23] Spotts, p. 8

[24] The information, taken from the Spotts-essay, has to be taken with a pinch of salt, as Spotts does not provide any kind of source. When I contacted the editor of the essay, Stefan Zucker, I could not get any reliable information either. Helge Rosvaenge visited Denmark in 1940 during the occupation and attracted attention by flying the Danish flag – a patriotic act which was forbidden by the Nazi rulers.

[25] Rosvaenge, Helge: Mach es besser, mein Sohn. Leipzig 1962, p. 41

[26] Müller-Marein, Joseph (Ed.): Das musikalische Selbstportrait. Hamburg 1965, p. 135

[27] Ibid., p. 129

[28] Ibid., p. 77

[29] cf. http://michael-bohnen.com/ (defunct), Wikipedia

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