Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Classical Music in the German Democratic Republic

Classical Music in the German Democratic Republic: Production and Reception

Kyle Frackman
Larson Powell
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell & Brewer,
Pages: 280
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Classical Music in the German Democratic Republic
    Book Description:

    Classical music in the German Democratic Republic is commonly viewed as having functioned as an ideological support or cultural legitimization for the state, in the form of the so-called "bourgeois humanist inheritance." The large numbers of professional orchestras in the GDR were touted as a proof of the country's culture. Classical music could be seen as the polar opposite of Americanizing pop culture and also of musical modernism, which was decried as formalist. Nevertheless, there were still musical modernists in the GDR, and classical music traditions were not only a prop of the state.BR> This collection of new essays approaches the topic of classical music in the GDR from an interdisciplinary perspective, presenting the work of scholars in a number of complementary disciplines, including German Studies, Musicology, Aesthetics, and Film Studies. Contributors to this volume offer a broad examination of classical music in the GDR, while also uncovering nonconformist tendencies and questioning the assumption that classical music in the GDR meant nothing but (socialist) respectability. Contributors: Tatjana Böhme-Mehner, Martin Brady, Lars Fischer, Kyle Frackman, Golan Gur, Peter Kupfer, Albrecht von Massow, Carola Nielinger-Vakil, Jessica Payette, Larson Powell, Juliane Schicker, Martha Sprigge, Matthias Tischer, Jonathan L. Yaeger, Johanna Frances Yunker Kyle Frackman is Assistant Professor of German at the University of British Columbia. Larson Powell is Professor of German at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-517-5
    Subjects: Music, History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction: Music and Heritage in the German Democratic Republic
    (pp. 1-19)
    Kyle Frackman and Larson Powell

    Although scholarship has begun to recognize and evaluate classical music in the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany), this tradition is still bracketed out of even recent English-language surveys of European musical modernism.¹ There are at least two reasons for this. First, it is assumed—as was long the case with DEFA film—that classical composers in the GDR were less adventurous than their contemporaries in other Eastern European countries, especially Poland. No GDR composer has had the international modernist reputation of Witold Lutosławski, Krzysztof Penderecki, or György Kurtág. Second, reevaluations of the GDR have often been from a cultural...

  6. 1: Provincialism, Modernity, and the Classical Heritage: The Administrative Structure of the GDR and the Situation of Music Production
    (pp. 20-33)
    Tatjana Böhme-Mehner

    Although the political and cultural system of the GDR derived much of its power from a centralized administrative structure, a striking side effect of this was a particular creative freedom within the provinces, legitimated by the concept ofErbe(heritage).¹ As will become clear, the way this concept was reinterpreted in the provinces exceeded its usual conservative function. The role of these provinces in musical life is the topic of this essay.²

    More than twenty years after German reunification, many people still believe that in most situations they can quickly tell whether their interlocutor came from East or West. Behavior...

  7. 2: Classicism as Anti-Fascist Heritage: Realism and Myth in Ernst Hermann Meyer’s Mansfelder Oratorium (1950)
    (pp. 34-57)
    Golan Gur

    The present essay deals WITH the complicated relations between Marxist aesthetics and the classical heritage as reflected in the work of Ernst Hermann Meyer (1905–88), a composer and musicologist from East Berlin. Largely forgotten today, Meyer was among the most powerful figures in the cultural and musical life of the GDR.¹ The author of numerous publications in musicology and music aesthetics, he was also a major theorist of socialist realism and Marxist music historiography.² This essay concentrates on his political oratorioMansfelder Oratoriumcomposed in 1950 to a libretto by Stephan Hermlin (1915–97).³ The subject matter of the...

  8. 3: Positioning Georg Knepler in the Musicological Discourse of the GDR
    (pp. 58-74)
    Lars Fischer

    This essay seeks to situate Knepler within the musicological discourse of the GDR primarily by assessing his relationship with the regime and the position he took in relevant controversies but also, though to a lesser degree, by reading what his vita as a scholar and author tells us about his attempts to place himself within this context. In terms of the former, I pay special attention to the year 1964, which seems to have been of particular importance for Knepler’s reorientation.¹ In terms of the latter, I suggest that Knepler’s decision to abort his multivolume history of nineteenth-century music and...

  9. 4: Ehrt euren Deutschen Meister: Reproducing Wagner in the GDR
    (pp. 75-96)
    Peter Kupfer

    Regardless of how limited productions of Richard Wagner’s (1813–83) operas actually were in Nazi Germany, it is well known that Hitler’s appropriation of the Bayreuth master nevertheless tainted the composer’s image, both inside and outside of Germany.¹ If this “Opiumschmuggler des Nationalsozialismus” (opium smuggler of national socialism) were ever to serve again as a symbol of German culture, the link with Hitler would have to be thoroughly severed.² The most radical step toward such a reimagining of the composer and his works took place in Bayreuth, the very heart of the Wagnerian world and the site of Hitler’s closest...

  10. 5: The Embodiment of Collective Memory in Neue Odyssee
    (pp. 97-118)
    Jessica Payette

    East German rubble films and novels of the immediate postwar era frequently adopt “the journey home” archetype to present realistic stories of World War II soldiers and inmates who survive the war and endure arduous travels only to arrive at nonexistent homes. The desolate bombed-out landscapes and physically and emotionally debilitated protagonists central to the establishment of theDeutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft(DEFA) aesthetic in films likeDie Mörder sind unter uns(The Murderers Are among Us, 1946) andIrgendwo in Berlin(Somewhere in Berlin, 1946) were later restaged in East German ballet inNeue Odyssee(New Odyssey, 1957), an adaptation of...

  11. 6: Marxism and Feminism in Ruth Berghaus’s Staging of Don Giovanni
    (pp. 119-134)
    Johanna Frances Yunker

    Mozart’s operaDon Giovannihas lent itself to a remarkable range of interpretations by opera directors—from the realism of Walter Felsenstein’s staging at the Komische Oper in 1966 to the grotesque comedy of Yuri Lyubimov’s 1982 production in Budapest. Within this diverse history, the production by East German choreographer Ruth Berghaus (1927–96) stands out as one of the first interpretations by a notable female director and the only one to combine a feminist and Marxist reading of the opera.Don Giovanniwas not Berghaus’s first staging of an opera by Mozart. After a number of years at the...

  12. 7: Beyond the Gewandhaus: Mahler and the GDR
    (pp. 135-156)
    Juliane Schicker

    Since the 1960s, around Gustav Mahler’s one-hundredth birthday, Mahler’s music has been firmly integrated in the canon of the classical music world. Mahler (1860–1911)—one of the greatest opera conductors, especially known for his interpretations of works by Wagner and Mozart, and the composer of ten symphonies, a cantata, and various songs—functions as an essential bridge between the romantic tradition and modernism in classical music of the early twentieth century. Scholarship about him is abundant and diverse. One aspect, however, seems to have been ignored until now: Mahler’s reception in the GDR. This essay is an introduction to...

  13. 8: Hanns Eisler’s Funeral and Cultures of Commemoration in the GDR
    (pp. 157-182)
    Martha Sprigge

    When the East German composer Hanns Eisler passed away on September 6, 1962, Lilly Becher stated that “Hanns Eislers bleibendes Denkmal ist die Melodie seines Lebens. Sie ist ‘als namenloses Lied’ eine Melodie des Volkes geworden. Sie begleitet als revolutionäres Kampflied den Aufbruch der Massen in die Zukunft.” (Eisler’s enduring monument is the melody of his life, which has become a “nameless song,” a melody of the people. As a revolutionaryKampflied[song of struggle] it accompanies the uprising of the masses into the future.)¹ Written by the wife of he former culture minister and Eisler’s collaborator for the East...

  14. 9: Exile—Remigration—Socialist Realism: The Role of Classical Music in the Works of Paul Dessau
    (pp. 183-194)
    Matthias Tischer

    Exile did more than damage the lives of those who were forced to leave Nazi Germany. Exile was certainly a traumatic experience, but in some cases it was also a creative experience. Some intellectuals and artists who were expelled from their home country reshaped their intellectual and artistic profile in their new environment. Paul Dessau, for example, became conscious of his Jewishness while in exile in Paris; he studied Arnold Schoenberg’s dodecaphony while becoming aware of music’s power to fight fascism in particular and injustice in general. His interest in modernist compositional techniques was paralleled by his profound interest in...

  15. 10: “What a Satisfying Task for a Composer!”: Paul Dessau’s Music for The German Story (…Du und mancher Kamerad)
    (pp. 195-218)
    Martin Brady and Carola Nielinger-Vakil

    From conception and production, through to its reception, the compilation film …Du und mancher Kamerad (The German Story,1956) by Andrew and Annelie Thorndike (1909–79, 1925-2012), with a score by Paul Dessau (1894-1979), was accompanied by superlatives. In its opening credits, this monumental documentary survey of German history from 1893 to 1956 proclaims itself to be the product of a massive collaborative effort: “Drei Generationen von Filmschaffenden machten die Kamera zum Augenzeugen…. Vieles hielt man vor dem Volk verborgen. In zweijähriger Arbeit wurde es aufgespürt und zu diesem Film zusammengestellt. Jede Aufnahme ist ein historisch nachprüfbares Dokument.” (Three generations...

  16. 11: Friedrich Schenker and the Third Way
    (pp. 219-240)
    Jonathan L. Yaeger

    Friedrich Schenker (1942–2013) was one of the GDR’s most important composers in the 1970s and 1980s, the standard-bearer of the East German avant-garde. Even among his cohort—the “second generation” of composers including Reiner Bredemeyer, Paul-Heinz Dittrich, Friedrich Goldmann, and Georg Katzer—Schenker’s work stands out for its unrelenting atonality and dissonance. At times his musical language is downright cacophonous. Regardless of the compositional mode he employed—aleatoric, collage, dodecaphony, free jazz—many hours of his music consist of screeching violins, wailing brass, and thundering percussion. The Dutch composer Konrad Boehmer has called Schenker’s music “organized anarchy”; Frank Schneider,...

  17. 12: A Prism of East German Music: Lothar Voigtländer
    (pp. 241-256)
    Albrecht von Massow

    As a preliminary point I would like to clarify the relation between music and musicology. Although I am personally acquainted with the composer Lothar Voigtländer (b. 1943) and he provided me with extensive material for my essay, the text itself was always based on listening to, analyzing, interpreting, and critically evaluating the music long before consulting the composer’s own statements. Several apologias and misinterpretations in scholarship caused by following such statements all too closely—for instance in the cases of Richard Wagner, Arnold Schoenberg, or Karlheinz Stockhausen—have proven that scholarship must remain independent at all times. Some pieces by...

  18. Contributors
    (pp. 257-260)
  19. Index
    (pp. 261-264)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 265-265)