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Great Conductors of the Third Reich: Art in the Service of Evil
Great Conductors of the Third Reich Art in the Service of Evil
Actors: Leo Blech, Karl Böhm, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Clemens Kraus, Herbert von Karajan
Genres: Indie & Art House, Educational, Musicals & Performing Arts, Military & War
NR     2005     0hr 53min

GREAT CONDUCTORS OF THE THIRD REICH includes stunning newsreel footage showing that Böhm, Furtwängler, Karajan, Knappertsbusch and Krauss, among others, turned themselves and their art into Nazi propaganda. The Nazis ...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Leo Blech, Karl Böhm, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Clemens Kraus, Herbert von Karajan
Genres: Indie & Art House, Educational, Musicals & Performing Arts, Military & War
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Educational, Classical, Military & War
Studio: Bel Canto Society
Format: DVD - Black and White - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 03/08/2005
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 0hr 53min
Screens: Black and White
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 0
Edition: Classical
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: German

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Movie Reviews

Breaks my heart; beauty does not equal truth or goodness. | Los Angeles, CA USA | 06/01/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,--that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'

This DVD will prove that Keats was mistaken.

Some of the selections on this DVD are among the most beautiful and exciting performances of some of the greatest music ever written. Yet this beauty did not produce truth nor did it generate goodness.

That the Nazis treasured Beethoven and used the Ninth Symphony, with its history of celebrating freedom of the spirit, as one of their signature pieces, created such anguish in me that it was hard to watch and listen. And to see one of the most gifted and imaginative conductors of all time, Wilhelm Furtwangler, shaking hands with Josef Goebbels at a concert in honor of Hitler's birthday, made me want to cry.

Yet it is important that music lovers watch this DVD. It is of the greatest importance that we never confuse beauty with truth, or beauty with goodness, or talent with morality, or intelligence with wisdom. These performances, especially the Beethoven, show that beauty can be used in the service of evil, talent can be hijacked by the most vile murderers, intelligence and culture perverted by the wicked.

All my life I have had a problem with Wagner. He was the single most horrible person to produce sublime beauty whom I know. What does one do with this?

One friend of mine refused to buy Karajan recordings until after he died. I spent decades immersed in opera before I was willing to see my first performance of The Ring (which actually swept me away, to my great ambivalent dismay).

Some of these conductors were active and enthusiastic participants in the Nazi regime. Others convinced themselves that they were serving "art" and not the regime, but saw themselves contributing to the propaganda of the Nazis nevertheless.

The question of the relationship between beauty and goodness is hard to resolve. I guess I'm going to have to struggle with it for the rest of my life. Perhaps others will start a thread on this that will shed some light on the perplexing problem this DVD generates."
Misleading - NOT a documentary - just clips!
Book Reviewer | San Francisco | 05/04/2009
(1 out of 5 stars)

"Although I was told (in the fine print) that this was documentary footage of conductors of the Third Reich, I had naively assumed - from the gaudy words "Art in the Service of Evil" - there would be some narration, some explanation, some background of what compelled great musicians to stay in the Nazi world and serve it with their music, etc. However, there was none of that. Except for one brief newsreel segment, this DVD was nothing but a pasted together compilation of conductors in the Third Reich playing music. That's it - they just played music - no explanation, no background, no voiceover, no subtitles, nothing. Literally, you simply watched newsreel footage of a conductor waving his baton in front of an orchestra and playing the music. Well, that told me nothing at all. (By the way, what WAS it with the Third Reich's obsession with 'Der Meistersinger'? That was played over and over again on this DVD as if there was nothing else available.)

This DVD is useless, a waste of money. If you want a true documentary of musicians in the Third Reich, don't waste your money on this - instead, buy "The Reichsorchester". THAT is a superb DVD of the Berlin Philharmonic during the Third Reich with interviews of musicians, newsreels, reading of diaries, reminiscences, facts, etc., that gives you an honest and thorough understanding of what it was like. But this DVD is a waste of money!"
A Gratuitous Slander of Furtwaengler!
Ralph J. Steinberg | New York, NY United States | 08/03/2009
(1 out of 5 stars)

"Although I have not seen this video as such, I am acquainted with its contents from other sources. I will confine myself to commenting on the notes of Spotts, specifically the most outrageous attack I have ever seen in print on Wilhelm Furtwaengler.
I suppose controversy over the wisdom of Furtwaengler's decision to stay in Nazi Germany (encouraged by Jewish artists such as Arnold Schoenberg and Max Reinhardt) will always continue. But Spotts, like his predecessor Ira Hirschman, goes far beyond this, stating that Furtwaengler was an enthusiastic collaborator with Goebbels, profitted from the regime, and was virulently anti Semitic, objecting to the mistreatment of Jews only when it would harm Germany's image and cultural needs.
The facts speak otherwise. If Furtwaengler was an enthusiastic collaborator, why did he resign from all his posts after protesting the ousting of Jewish musicians and the ban on Hindemith? Yehudi Menuhin pointed out that in resigning, Furtwaengler gave up all benefits and pensions, and indeed was penniless after the war. He never resumed his posts during the regime, only remaining with the Berlin Philharmonic as a free-lance conductor. Any concessions that he made, such as conducting at the "Winterhilfe" concerts (a series of charity events) were done to wring from Goebbels the assurance that the Berlin Philharmonic would continue to be subsidized and that THEY WOULD BE EXEMPT FROM THE ARYANIZATION DECREE, ALLOWING THE JEWISH MUSICIANS TO CONTINUE AS BERLIN PHILHARMONIC MEMBERS. When the Jewish members finally did emigrate, Furtwaengler expressed his regret and continued to write to them. And of course, if Furtwaengler was such a loyal supporter of the Nazis, why did Himmler finally order the Gestapo to shadow the conductor, causing him to seek asylum in Switzerland to avoid assassination? Remember that Himmler wrote in Furtwaengler's dossier, "There is no Jew, filthy as he may be, for whom Furtwaengler does not stretch out a helping hand."
When Furtwaengler wrote his letter to Goebbels defending Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer from dismissal, he stated that as an artist, his job was not to disrupt people, but to unite. He saw no difference between Jewish and non-Jewish art, only between good and bad art. In other words, the distinctions between religions and races meant nothing to him, only quality counted! Of course, he could not attack this from the standpoint of humanity, as this would hardly cause an anti Semitie like Goebbels to lend his ear to the plea.
The case of Arnold Schoenberg is very telling here. Furtwaengler was reported to have only intervened for him so that he would not be made into a martyr by the Nazis. As this was reported by the Nazi-controlled press, the veracity of this statement is very much in doubt. Frau Schoenberg tells a much different story: Furtwaengler visited them in Paris and offered to negotiate with the Nazis for the release of Schoenberg's assests. He expressed shame over what was being done to Schoenberg and asked them: "What shall I do now?" Schoenberg replied: "You must stay and conduct good music!" Max Reinhardt also urged him to remain.
I met a cellist who had played under Furtwaengler in the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. He of course was a Jewish German refugee. When this man was about to emigrate, he had a conversation with Furtwaengler about the political situation. According to him, Furtwaengler said that he could not abandon his orchestra, as he regarded them as his children. One might add that Furtwaengler also had fears that the Nazis would imprison his mother if he emigrated (remember that they did in fact confiscate his passport after his resignations). Interesting that he did finally emigrate after learning that his mother had died.
Being Jewish AND German, I can appreciate the notion that there was another, truer Germany that existed along with the Nazis, and that men like Furtwaengler were needed to keep its values alive. (Only recently has a German Resistance been acknowledged).Had he not stayed and used his influence whenever he could, the Berlin Philharmonic might not exist today, and something like 108 people might not have survived the war. On a personal level, however, I now wish that he had left, for his own sake, and could have avoided the irresponsible vilifications that he still, posthumously, undergoes at the hands of people who won't look beneath the surface. But like Frau Schoenberg, I will hold Furtwaengler dear in my heart, no matter what slander is thrown in his way."
No documentary, just old footage -- mostly of Meistersinger
T. Fisher | 10/08/2009
(2 out of 5 stars)

"I have to agree with a previous reviewer regarding the value of this film. I, too, had been expecting a documentary about conductors in the Third Reich and some explanation of background with arguments against or maybe even in favor of them and their decisions to work under the Nazis. There is none of that.

What we do have are clips, as follows:
- Max von Schillings conducting the Berlin Staatsoper Orchestra in the William Tell overture, 1932-33
- Leo Blech conducting the Berlin Staatsoper Orchestra in the the Meistersinger Prelude, 1933
- A short speech by Joseph Goebbels opening up the renovated German Opera House Berlin in 1935, prior to...
- ... Karl Böhm conducting the Meistersinger Prelude and finale to Act III
- Brief Nazi newsreel clip about the Salzburg Festival
- Another brief newsreel clip of German tanks in Paris and the arrival of the Berlin Opera with "Madame Wagner" in tow to watch a Berlin Philharmonic concert conducted by Karajan -- again with the Meistersinger prelude! But the footage has just excerpts, not the entire prelude.
- Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting -- guess which piece? That's right! The Meistersinger Prelude, at the AEG factory in 1942.
- Furtwangler conducting the BPO in Beethoven's Ninth, fourth movement, choral section. This is the famous "Hitler's birthday" performance with the big swastikas on the walls, followed by the Goebbels handshake and Furtwängler's subsequent wiping off his hand with a handkerchief.
- Hans Knappersbuch again conducting the BPO in the choral section of Beethoven's Ninth, fourth movement, in 1942-43.
- Brief clip of Clemens Krauss conducting the BPO in Schubert's Unfinished Symphony in France in 1943
- Winifred Wagner in 1940 greeting Hitler at Bayreuth. The Führer waves to the audience from a balcony in a tuxedo, which might be the single most interesting image on the whole DVD. Clips of the finale of -- you guessed it -- the Meistersinger.

There is no value added in terms of commentary or documentarian insight. And worst of all, right now all these old historical clips are up on YouTube, which means there is even less incentive to buy this DVD.

If you are looking for insight into classical music under the Nazis, I can highly recommend The Reichsorchester: The Berlin Philharmonic, which deals specifically with the BPO under Furtwängler, as told by the surviving members of the orchestra from that period. I also like Taking Sides, a fictionalized account of Furtwängler's denazification proceedings after the war. While it is not historically accurate, it does a good job of framing the moral issues and questions of the responsibilities of artists serving vicious dictatorships.

I suppose you might want to get this DVD if for some strange reason you just can't get enough of Nazi performances of the Meistersinger Prelude. Can't think of any other real reason to get it. Worth watching once, perhaps.