Deutsche Leitkultur Musik? Zur Musikgeschichte nach dem Holocaust (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
Deutsche Leitkultur Musik? Zur Musikgeschichte nach dem Holocaust. Ed. by Albrecht Riethmüller. pp. 278. (Franz Steiner, Stuttgart, 2006. €40. ISBN 3-515-089748.)

Like other European countries, Germany has been struggling recently with the issue of 'national identity'. In autumn 2000, Friedrich Merz, the leader of the Christian Democratic Union in the Bundestag, raised the idea of a Deutsche Leitkultur, variously translated as a 'leading German culture', or 'guiding German culture', suggesting that this might be a rallying point, or a cohesive concept that could usefully be opposed to more diffuse senses of 'multiculturalism', or to the 'constitutional patriotism' long championed by the philosopher Jürgen Habermas. The debate was rekindled in 2005 under the new Chancellor Angela Merkel, but it has fizzled out, and will no doubt be resumed—perhaps in different terms—in the future. In the meantime it has provided a fresh starting point for debates about music and music history in Germany.

Any discussion of national identity in Germany has specific dimensions, and two are significant here. First, there is the presence of the Nazi past, and questions about how that is understood as part of a historical consciousness of what it means to be 'German'. Secondly, there is a question about the place of music in that consciousness. Around the world, and through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there has been a widespread assumption of the supremacy of 'German music'. This notion has appeared in many different forms, one summarized by Albrecht Riethmüller, who, referring to the musicians forced to leave Nazi Germany after 1933, speaks of the widespread perception of them as 'the best exponents of generally the best music—namely "German music"'; or in the oft-quoted idea of music as 'the most German of the arts'. Riethmüller takes this notion and links it to the idea of a 'leading German culture' in the ironic and questioning title of a recently published collection of essays he has edited, Deutsche Leitkultur Musik? (See also Albrecht Riethmüller, "'Is that not Something for Simplicissimus?!" The Belief in Musical Superiority', in Celia Applegate and Pamela Potter (eds.), Music and German National Identity (Chicago and London, 2002), 288-304.) The book arises from a multidisciplinary conference held in Berlin in 2002, and presents a series of case studies, in both German and English, of the role of music in Germany since 1945. The book's subtitle, On Music History after the Holocaust, makes clear the determination of all contributors to confront the Nazi past, and to investigate how it has affected music in Germany.

This book is concerned, above all, with continuities and disruptions in German musical history. Should the period between 1933 and 1945 be seen as an aberration in which music was not centrally implicated? Was 1945 a break with the past, a Stunde Null after which music and musicians could start with a clean slate? Or were there musical continuities during the Nazi interlude both with the preceding era, characterized typically as one of extraordinary creativity and invention, and the post-war period? The book also bravely attempts to discuss music in many of its different forms, in live performance, on records, in radio broadcasting, and in the cinema. The [End Page 453] mechanical reproduction of music, and the challenge this posed to traditional understandings of music, was a lively topic of debate before 1933. The notion of German musical supremacy is of course very much bound up with a widely accepted canon of 'great composers', with a tradition running from Bach to Brahms, Wagner, and Mahler, and not with forms of popular music. Riethmüller's book attempts to bridge the divide between what the German language bluntly labels as ernste Musik (serious music), and Unterhaltungsmusik (entertainment music), and includes essays therefore not only on 'serious' composers and their work, but also on popular music, and music on radio and in films. In self-reflexive mode, it also includes analyses of the construction of music history.

There are geographical complications. In his thought-provoking introduction, Riethmüller notes how the exodus of musicians from Germany after 1933 took ideas about 'German music' to other parts of...


pdf