Can music be political? Germans have long claimed the symphony as a pillar of their modern national culture. By 1900, the critical discourse on music, particularly symphonies, rose to such prominence as to command front-page news. With the embrace of the Great War, the humiliation of defeat, and the ensuing economic turmoil, music evolved from the most abstract to the most political of the arts. Even Goebbels saw the symphony as a tool of propaganda. More than composers or musicians, critics were responsible for this politicization of music, aspiring to change how music was heard and understood. Once hailed as a source of individual heroism, the symphony came to serve a communal vision.
Karen Painter examines the politicization of musical listening in Germany and Austria, showing how nationalism, anti-Semitism, liberalism, and socialism profoundly affected the experience of serious music. Her analysis draws on a vast collection of writings on the symphony, particularly those of Mahler and Bruckner, to offer compelling evidence that music can and did serve ideological ends. She traces changes in critical discourse that reflected but also contributed to the historical conditions of the fin de siecle, World War I, and the Nazi regime.
Karen Painter is Associate Professor of Musicology at the University of Minnesota School of Music.
Introduction Part I: Tradition in a Modern Age: Bruckner and Mahler at the Fin de Siecle 1. Symphonic Idealism in Crisis 2. Symphonic Conventions of a World Past 3. Sensuality and Redemption Part II: The Politics of Tradition: Mahler and Bruckner, 1914-1933 4. Mahler's Progressive Legacy and the Aestheticization of Violence 5. Bruckner's Nationalist Legacy and the Aestheticization of Space Part III: Symphonic Traditions under National Socialism 6. Hindemith's Mathis der Maler Symphony and Symphony Ambitions under National Socialism 7. Symphonic Defeat Notes Index