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  • Der Topos der Juden: Studien zur Geschichte des Antisemitismus im deutschsprachigen Musikschrifttum
  • Hans-Joachim Hinrichsen
Der Topos der Juden: Studien zur Geschichte des Antisemitismus im deutschsprachigen Musikschrifttum, by Annkatrin Dahm. Göttingen: Van-denhoek & Ruprecht, 2007. 388 pp. €69.00.

The study deals with both the origins and the effects of antisemitism in the realm of German musical and musicological thinking and writing, whose devastating consequences became apparent in the Nazi politics of music. Annkatrin Dahm thoroughly examines a vast number of 19th and 20th century German sources—and her careful conclusion proves to be deeply depressing: below the surface of the elaborate Nazi propaganda down to notorious writings such as Richard Wagner's 1850 pamphlet Das Judenthum in der Musik and reaching even deeper back to early 19th century publishing, there is a broad and continuously growing prejudicial mainstream of in fact anti-Jewish (albeit seemingly harmless) clichés and caveats which eventually enabled Goebbels and his staff to convert German public opinion to their politics. Following the subtle definition of important differences between "modern" (racist) and "ancient" (religious) antisemitism, Dahm convincingly shows the linguistic aspects of discrimination. In 19th-century German writing, even when the words are not overtly anti-Jewish, they still can be understood in the way they were intended because both writer and reader subconsciously recognize stereotypes. Reading through this impressive amount of documentation, it soon becomes clear that even seemingly harmless phraseology contributed to general anti-Judaism, preparing the ground for much more explicit utterances. [End Page 166]

Of course, one of the most prominent figures of a study of this nature would expectedly be Richard Wagner. He is, however, given less than 10% of the volume—and rightly so. For seen within a much broader German context, admirably covered by Dahm's investigation, Wagner appears to be only the tip of the iceberg (albeit a most influential one, at least from 1869 on, when he released the second edition of his Judenthum), or, to put it another way, as the first culmination of an already ongoing subliminal development. Before analyzing Wagner's writings, Dahm thoroughly examines the emergence of the clichés of " Tiefe" (depth) and "Wärme" (warmth), both allegedly being substantial features of German music from mid-18th-century writings on, the absence of which could readily serve as an instrument for discrimination against Meyerbeer, Offenbach, or Mendelssohn. This was the fertile ground Wagner could build on. Highly impressive as well, Dahm traces developments, ramifications, and deformations of stereotyping after Wagner (see especially the Mahler and Schoenberg cases) and—of course—devotes the attention to the "Musikschrifttum" of the Third Reich that it deserves. Still, as in the case with Wagner, here the proportions are telling as well: there are 60 pages on the Nazi era, but—rightly—280 pages on its pre-history that is required to tell the whole story of the darkest depths of subliminal stereotypical thinking in German music and musicology. A close look at the aftermath and antisemitic subtexts in post-Nazi musicological writing completes the study, which is—notwithstanding its highly engaged interest—written in an unobtrusive and objective, transparent and extremely readable manner.

Based on this splendid study, there remains one important next step to be taken (for which, retrospectively, this study lays the grounds). In a letter to his daughter Daniela Thode, dated October 8th, 1886, the pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow (Richard Wagner's presumably most influential pupil) wrote: "Famose Kerle doch die Franzosen, auch im Antisemitismus unsre Vorgänger, éclaireurs!" (" Terrific guys these French, real enlighteners and our predecessors in behalf of antisemitism as well!") This statement, as remarkable as it is cynical, reveals the deeply ingrained antisemitic roots of German 19th-century intellectualism. Yet, a closer look at their origins within a broader European context would be desirable, especially considering the fact of Wagner's formative stay in Paris in the 1840s. To what extent, one might ask, are Wagner's and Bülow's anti-Jewish claims influenced by early French anti-Judaism (as Bülow himself insinuated), and why, on the other hand, was Wagner's close friend Franz Liszt (having grown up in...


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