Journal Article

Beethoven, Bayreuth and the Origins of the Federal Republic of Germany

Neil Gregor

in The English Historical Review

Volume CXXVI, issue 521, pages 835-877
Published in print August 2011 | ISSN: 0013-8266
Published online August 2011 | e-ISSN: 1477-4534 | DOI:
Beethoven, Bayreuth and the Origins of the Federal Republic of Germany

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This article takes the reception of the opening concert of the 1951 Bayreuth festival – a performance of Beethoven's IX symphony under Wilhelm Furtwängler - as a prism through which to examine the political culture of the early Federal Republic. It examines the main traditions of Beethoven reception in the first half of the twentieth century, and in Bayreuth in particular, stressing that the discourse surrounding the event was rooted in critical traditions overwhelmingly associated with the nationalist right in German politics. Secondly, it examines the place of Furtwängler in the reception of the concert, arguing that he can best be seen as the representative of a residual Wilhelminenationalism distinct from the Third Reich but also capable of surviving inside it, which made the brief transition into the Federal Republic before fading in the 1950s. This provides the key to what gave the concert its significance for contemporaries. Finally, it contrasts this concert with another, equally illuminating, but entirely forgotten one given at the same festival two years later, when the former modernist exile Paul Hindemith conducted the same symphony. The reception of this concert underlines that the early 1950s were a period in which not only the residual traces of Wilhelmine nationalism lingered, but also one through which more immediate memories of the conflicts of the 1920s and 1930s resonatedprofoundly . The events surrounding this concert also demonstrate that the liberalising impulses associated withthe late 1950s were manifesting themselves earlier and in the unlikeliest of places.

Journal Article.  19653 words. 

Subjects: British History ; World History ; European History ; International History

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