Wilhelm Furtwangler: Romanticism, Pure Music, and the Nazis

Well, it’s been a year since my last podcast and this podcast took a couple of months to edit. Bad turn around time all around.  But I’m still here and still more or less at this!  I will hopefully be doing more in the future, but might have to have another few months hiatus before I really get back to producing them.  In the meantime, this is a lengthy podcast with a wide variety of thoughts about both past and present and nationalism and white supremacy.  But it’s all inflected through the life of a German conductor named Wilhelm Furtwangler.  He was a true romantic, something of an idealist, and fairly unrepentent about his own ideals.  That said, he didn’t really know what to do with the Nazi regime and its virulent anti-semitism.  He himself seems not to have been anti-semitic, but also seems to have refused to believe how far the Nazi’s could go.  All through the war, Furtwangler continued to fight with the Nazis in power, while never deciding to leave Germany until the very end (almost literally the very end…in January of 1945, he left Austria for Switzerland when he heard he had been threatened – again – with arrest by the regime.)  His belief that music transcended politics is still a common idea, particularly in symphonic or abstract music, but as my guest elaborate, such a view can be pretty problematic.


My guests are both musicologists and composers (and, it turns out, they are Jewish, but that’s not necessarily the point) so it’s a solid cast of people to talk about musical ideals, art, politics, and representations of evil ideas.  Stan Charkey taught composition and music history at Marlboro for years; Etan Nasreddin-Longo studied composition and musicology at the University of Chicago and taught for a while at UC Riverside.  At the end of our discussion, we even conclude with a contemporary (it really was contemporary when I recorded this…it’s still recent) set of events surrounding similar questions in our own day.  As usual, there are a lot of references to pieces of music and a few snippets in the video that I have listed below if you want to link to them.


Since this is such a long podcast, you will definitely need at least a couple of beers…you can make them German if you’re feeling perhaps slightly ironic, or if you’re feeling extra ironic, you could go with the He’Brew from Shmaltz Brewing in Clifton Park, NY.  In either case, I recommend a good Sauerbraten with Spaetzle (a sort Sauerbraten is not dissimilar from corned beef and the spaetzle is a noodle or dumpling popular in Jewish cooking but still popular today in Austria, Poland, and parts of Germany.)  It’s hearty stuff which you might need to get through this whole podcast!

Finally, in the podcast, we play excerpts from the following Furtwangler performances:

Beethoven 5 in 1945 (one of the first concerts of Berlin after the war)

Beethoven 9 in 1942 (For Hitler’s Birthday!)

Brahms 2 in 1945 (recorded days before he fled for Switzerland)



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