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Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954) has entered the historical memory as a renowned interpreter of the canon of Austro-German musical masterworks. His extensive legacy of recorded performances of Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner and Wagner is widely regarded as unsurpassed. Yet more than sixty years after his death he remains a controversial figure: the complexities and equivocacy of his high-profile position within the Third Reich still cast a long shadow over his reputation. This book builds an intellectual biography of Furtwängler, probing this ambiguity, through a critical examination of his extensive series of essays, addresses and symphonies. It traces the development of his thought from its foundations in late nineteenth-century traditions of Bildung and associated discourses of conservative-minded nationalism, through the turbulent years of the Weimar Republic and the cultural and moral dilemmas of the Nazi period, to the post-World War II years of Bundesrepublik reconstruction, in which the beleaguered idealist found himself adrift in an alien cultural environment overshadowed by the unfolding narrative of the Nazi holocaust. The book will be of interest not only to music scholars but to cultural and intellectual historians as well.
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ROGER ALLEN is a Fellow of
St Peter’s College, Oxford
and author of Richard Wagner’s
Beethoven (1870): A New
Translation (Boydell Press, 2014).

“Roger Allen’s penetrating
and authoritative study
of Wilhelm Furtwängler
as musician, thinker and
composer is mandatory
reading for the many people
that are fascinated by the
turbulent cultural history of
Germany during the first half
of the twentieth century.”

Professor of Music, Royal Holloway,
University of London

Cover image: Wilhelm Furtwängler
c. 1937 © Lotte Meitner-Graf. By kind
permission of The Lotte Meitner-Graf
Archive www.LotteMeitnerGraf.com.
Cover design: www.stay-creative.co.uk



Emeritus Professor of Modern European
History, University of Cambridge


“This incisive, scholarly and
entertaining biography of
one of the towering figures
of twentieth-century musicmaking illuminates not just
his subject, not just his times
but also profound issues of
the relationship between
culture, society and politics.”




Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886–1954)
has entered the historical memory
as a renowned interpreter of the
canon of Austro-German musical
masterworks. His extensive legacy
of recorded performances of
Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner
and Wagner is widely regarded
as unsurpassed. Yet more than
sixty years after his death he
remains a controversial figure: the
complexities and equivocacy of
his high-profile position within the
Third Reich still cast a long shadow
over his reputation.
This book builds an intellectual
biography of Furtwängler, probing
this ambiguity, through a critical
examination of his extensive
series of essays, addresses
and symphonies. It traces the
development of his thought from
its foundations in late nineteenthcentury traditions of Bildung
and associated discourses of
conservative-minded nationalism,
through the turbulent years of
the Weimar Repub; lic and the
cultural and moral dilemmas of
the Nazi period, to the post-World
War II years of Bundesrepublik
reconstruction, in which the
beleaguered idealist found
himself adrift in an alien cultural
environment overshadowed by
the unfolding narrative of the Nazi
holocaust. The book will be of
interest not only to music scholars
but to cultural and intellectual
historians as well.

Wilhelm Furtwängler

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Wilhelm Furtwängler rehearsing the Berlin Philharmonic
Orchestra in London, November 1948

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Wilhelm Furtwängler


the boydell press

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© Roger Allen 2018
All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under current legislation
no part of this work may be photocopied, stored in a retrieval system,
published, performed in public, adapted, broadcast,
transmitted, recorded or reproduced in any form or by any means,
without the prior permission of the copyright owner

The right of Roger Allen to be identified as
the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with
sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

First published 2018
The Boydell Press, Woodbridge

ISBN 978 1 78327 283 9

The Boydell Press is an imprint of Boydell & Brewer Ltd
PO Box 9, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 3DF, UK
and of Boydell & Brewer Inc.
668 Mt Hope Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620–2731, USA
website: www.boydellandbrewer.com

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available
from the British Library
The publisher has no responsibility for the continued existence or accuracy of URLs
for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this book, and does not
guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate
This publication is printed on acid-free paper
Designed and typeset by BBR Design, Sheffield

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For Pamela

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List of Illustrations 
List of Abbreviations 
Note on Translations 

Wilhelm Furtwängler: The Historical, Cultural and Intellectual



Childhood and Youth (1886–1911) 



Lübeck and Mannheim (1911–20) 



Furtwängler in the Weimar Republic (1919–33) 



Furtwängler and the Nazi State I (1933–35) 



Furtwängler and the Nazi State II (1935–45) 



Reflection and Reaction: Furtwängler in the Immediate
Post-War Period (1945–50) 



Furtwängler as Symphonist 



‘All Greatness is Simplicity’ (1951–54) 


10. Afterword 


Appendix 1. Two Furtwängler Essays 
Appendix 2. Thomas Mann, ‘Germany and the Germans’ (1945) 
Appendix 3. Audio and Visual Sources 




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Frontispiece Wilhelm Furtwängler rehearsing the Berlin Philharmonic
Orchestra in London, November 1948 (photo dpa, Hamburg)

Wilhelm Furtwängler aged thirteen 


Furtwängler in 1902 aged sixteen (Interfoto/Alamy stock photo)  42


Title page of Friedrich Huch’s Enzio, inscribed by Walter
Riezler (Zentralbibliothek Zürich, reproduced by kind



Furtwängler in Mannheim, 1915–20 



Furtwängler at Tanneck, c.1920 



Furtwängler, Goebbels and Richard Strauss. Caricature by
Gregor Rabinovitch (1889–1953), undated, probably late 1934
(Zentralbibliothek Zürich, reproduced by kind permission of
Silver Hesse) 



Furtwängler in Potsdam, 1934 (photo Wolfgang Kiepenheuer) 



Furtwängler in London outside Covent Garden Opera House,
1937 (photo Hannes Kilian, Stuttgart) 


Furtwängler skiing in the Arlberg, March 1941 (photo Lothar
Rübelt, Wien) 




10 Furtwängler in Berlin, 1947 (photo Keßler) 




Furtwängler in 1954 

The author and publishers are grateful to all the institutions and individuals listed
for permission to reproduce the materials in which they hold copyright. Every
effort has been made to trace the copyright holders; apologies are offered for any
omission, and the publishers will be pleased to add any necessary acknowledgement
in subsequent editions.

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Full citations are given in the bibliography

Wilhelm Furtwängler, Aufzeichnungen


Wilhelm Furtwängler, Concerning Music (English translation of
Gespräche über Musik)


Furtwängler on Music, Essays and Addresses translated and edited
by Ronald Taylor


Wilhelm Furtwängler, Gespräche über Musik


Richard Wagner, Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen, 10 vols


Wilhelm Furtwängler, Notebooks (English translation of


Richard Wagner’s Prose Works, translated and edited by W. Ashton
Ellis, 8 vols


Furtwängler Nachlass der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer
Kulturbesitz, Musikabteilung mit Mendelssohn-Archiv


Wilhelm Furtwängler, Ton und Wort


Wilhelm Furtwängler, Vermächtnis

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In February 1948 Wilhelm Furtwängler returned to conduct in England
for the first time since the end of World War II. He appeared with the
London Philharmonic Orchestra in no fewer than ten concerts in London,
Birmingham, Leicester, Watford and Wimbledon. He then travelled to
Argentina, Switzerland and Italy before returning to London in September
of that year for a complete cycle of Beethoven symphonies given with the
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in the Royal Albert Hall.
The most significant of these visits by far was that which he made
in November 1948 with his ‘own’ Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. This
renowned but politically compromised ensemble had earlier been invited to
visit England by an Anglican clergyman, John Collins (1905–82), Chaplain
and Dean of Oriel College in the University of Oxford, until promoted in
1948 by Prime Minister Clement Attlee to a Canonry of St Paul’s Cathedral
in London. Collins was a vigorous social reformer and strong opponent of
nuclear weapons who in the years after the end of hostilities worked tirelessly
for international reconciliation between the former wartime enemies.
In September 1947 he made a two-week-long visit to Germany where,
apparently on an impulse, he invited the Berlin Philharmonic to make a tour
of England under the direction of both the young Sergiu Celibidache and
There were many diplomatic, administrative, organisational and financial
difficulties to be overcome; but these eventually proved surmountable and the
tour arranged for November 1948. The first concert was originally scheduled
for 3 November in the notoriously difficult acoustic of London’s St Paul’s
Cathedral; but at the last minute the cathedral authorities had a change of
heart and the event was relocated to the cavernous Empress Hall in Earl’s
Court. As the commentator of the London-based news agency Visnews Ltd
put it in the breathless newsreel style of the time:


Diana Collins, Partners in Protest: Life with Canon Collins (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd,
1992), p. 160.

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The 103 musicians of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the
renowned Dr Wilhelm Furtwängler rehearse Brahms’ Fourth Symphony
for their concert in the Empress Hall, Earls Court. The Orchestra had been
invited by the Dean of Oriel College, Oxford as gesture of reconciliation.

The programme was exclusively of Austro-German music: J. S. Bach’s
Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D; Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G (Op. 68)
with the English pianist Dame Myra Hess as soloist; and Brahms’ Symphony
No. 4 (Op. 98). The participation of Myra Hess was especially significant.
During the war she had famously organised a series of concerts at London’s
National Gallery as a morale-boosting exercise in support of service
personnel. John Collins had initially approached her with some diffidence, but
as soon as she understood the purpose of the concert she agreed to perform.
Now Myra Hess, symbol of wartime resistance, and Wilhelm Furtwängler,
the public face of German music during the Nazi period, appeared together
as symbols of a spirit of reconciliation between Great Britain and Germany.
The effect of the concert was overpowering. One critic remarked that ‘Dame
Myra Hess’s playing had a touch of crusader’s fire’. Another wrote: ‘Scarcely
anyone in that vast audience can have remained unmoved at the visible
symbol of reconciliation when, after memorable performance, Dame Myra
Hess and Wilhelm Furtwängler stood to receive applause hand in hand.’2
In all Furtwängler gave four concerts of Bach, Beethoven, Schubert,
Brahms and Richard Strauss in London, Liverpool, Birmingham and
Oxford. The orchestra was warmly received wherever it travelled and the tour
was a significant turning point not only in the rehabilitation of the politically compromised Furtwängler but also in the restitution of relationships
between Great Britain and Germany. Sadly, because of a dispute between
the Musicians’ Union and the BBC, the concerts were not broadcast and no
complete recordings are known to exist; but something of the visceral power
of the music-making can be experienced in a surviving newsreel film-clip of
Furtwängler rehearsing the end of the Brahms Symphony in preparation for
the London concert.3
Though much of the focus in this footage is on the orchestra, in the
shots of Furtwängler we see and hear an evident master at work, exercising
absolute control over the players, who were familiar enough with his requirements to need no more than occasional eye contact. The trembling arms and
famously indecisive beat seem to advertise a kind of daemonic ‘possession’
by the music, whose very essence seems visibly matched by his considerable


Ibid., p. 168.
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leYbb5KZYDg> (accessed 10 November 2017).

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height and powerfully modelled head resting upon a long neck. Furtwängler
the master conductor had lost nothing of his power to mesmerise orchestra
and audience alike with the volcanic intensity of his music-making. The spirit
of German music appears to animate and flow through his physical gestures.
Here all the power and ambivalence of German Music as represented by
Wilhelm Furtwängler, officially exonerated from blame yet indelibly
associated in the public imagination with the Third Reich, is strongly
projected. The purpose of what follows will be to probe that ambivalence,
accepting Furtwängler as the master musician he was, while considering the
historical and ideological foundations of that mastery in ways that, rather
than follow the well-trodden path of establishing what he did or did not do
for the Nazi regime, respond to more recent scholarship on the antecedents
and aftermath of the Third Reich.

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The author would like to thank the following for their assistance in the
preparation of this study: the late Frau Elisabeth Furtwängler (1910–2012),
for granting initial access to the material held in the Furtwängler estate,
Zentralbibliothek Zürich, and for permission to translate extracts from
Furtwängler’s writings and photographic material held in the Furtwängler
Nachlass; Prof. Dr Andreas Furtwängler for renewing that permission; Peter
McMullin of Blackwell’s Music Shop, Oxford, for help in obtaining many of
the German scores and texts necessary for this study; Sue Palmer for intensive
coaching in the German language, checking translations and helping to unravel
some of Furtwängler’s more complicated syntax; the late Ronald Taylor for
permission to quote extracts from Furtwängler on Music; similarly to Shaun
Whiteside for permission to quote from his translation of the Furtwängler
Notebooks; James Treadwell, for advice in matters of literary theory; Jean
Christoph Gero, Director of the Musikabteilung, Preußischer Kulturbesitz,
Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, for his assistance both before and during research
visits made to consult the portion of the Furtwängler Nachlass held in Berlin;
the staff of the Musikabteilung, Zentralbibliothek Zürich for prompt assistance
in answering queries and providing material; and to Silver Hesse (Zurich) for
permission to reproduce the caricature of Furtwängler, Goebbels and Richard
Strauss by Gregor Rabinovitch. I am also grateful to my colleagues the Master,
Mark Damazer, and the Fellows of St Peter’s College, Oxford, for granting
me sabbatical leave to bring this project to completion; to my colleagues in
the Faculty of Music, University of Oxford, for their continued interest and
support; and especially to my former student Matthew Thomson for so ably
covering my academic duties during my absence.
My especial thanks go to my former teacher Michael Nicholas, who long ago
when I was a schoolboy in Northampton loaned me his EMI LP recording of
Tristan und Isolde and first made me aware of Wilhelm Furtwängler; to my close
friend and colleague Chris Walton, sometime director of the Musikabteilung,
Zentralbibliothek Zürich, for generous hospitality in Zurich when this research
was in its early stages, for suggesting so many fruitful lines of enquiry and for
consistently keeping up a uniform and gentle pressure when the project was

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displaced by other things and was in danger of disappearing completely below
the horizon. Michael Middeke, Editorial Director of the Boydell Press, provided
the motivation I needed to dust off my original research and return to it after
a fallow period during which I left Furtwängler in abeyance and pursued other
interests. His assistant, Megan Milan, and Boydell’s Production Manager,
Rohais Haughton, promptly answered my many queries and gave constant
support during the publication process. My Oxford friends Margaret Bent, and
Barbara Eichner, Christian Leitmeir and their son Martin, gave me continuous
encouragement along the way. The late Brian Hitch was indefatigable in his
assistance with making sense of Furtwängler’s more abstruse German syntax.
Bojan Bujić suggested readings and answered enquiries concerning the more
obscure corners of the æsthetic and philosophical systems in which Furtwängler
was so deeply embedded. Peter Pulzer helpfully guided my investigations in
the labyrinthine complexities of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century
German political history over tea at All Souls college. Nicholas Attfield gave
expert input from his specialist field, the ‘Conservative Revolution’ in earlytwentieth-century German music. My Germanist colleague and academic
neighbour Kevin Hilliard patiently answered my many questions about Goethe
in particular and subtleties of meaning in German texts in general. Nicholas
Attfield, Hilda Meldrum Brown and Barry Millington kindly read early drafts
of the complete text, gave invaluable input from their respective fields of
expertise and through their enthusiasm for the project encouraged me to keep
going. My former student Peter Hall carefully prepared the music examples
extracted from the full scores. My Oxford mentor Peter Franklin suggested
many of the original critical lines of enquiry and has since its inception taken an
enthusiastic and close personal interest in this work. His scrupulous criticisms,
suggestions and detailed comments on the penultimate draft immeasurably
improved the final version. To them all I express my most grateful thanks. All
mistakes and errors are, of course, my own, for which I take full responsibility.
Lastly, I have to express my warmest thanks to my wife Pamela. Without her
dedicated support and help so unstintingly given over so many years, this study
simply would not have been begun, let alone brought to completion. This book
is dedicated to her.
In addition to the above, the author is grateful to and pleased to
acknowledge the following copyright holders:
• Furtwängler on Music, tr. Ronald Taylor, Copyright 1991, Scolar Press.
Reproduced by permission of Taylor & Francis Books UK.
• Ries & Erler (Berlin) for permission to prepare music examples from
the full scores of Furtwängler’s symphonies.
• Zentralbibliothek Zürich for permission to reproduce material held in
the Furtwängler Nachlass.

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Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886–1954) is both a monument to a grand tradition
and an example of how the phenomenon of the Great Man can distort the
perception of history. The aim of what follows is therefore to penetrate the
aura that presently surrounds the icon of a particular ‘Great Conductor’ and
engage with the phenomenon he represented: that of an artist driven by an
ideological world-view which determined everything he did and which drove
him to extremes of both perversity and greatness.
Furtwängler has entered the historical memory primarily as a supreme
interpreter of the central repertoire of the Austro-German canon of musical
masterworks. His extensive legacy of sound recordings, whether captured
live through radio broadcasts or made in the studio, are the main routes of
access to his art. They are now almost universally available and are regularly
remastered and reissued in various formats. As a body of work these
recordings are freighted with historical meaning: for the historian of performance they are a direct record of past orchestral and operatic practice; for
the cultural historian, the live recordings in particular document significant
historical events, for example the 1936 Bayreuth Festival, concerts given
during the war years (such as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony given in Berlin
on 22 March 1942), or those from the period after the defeat of Germany in
1945 when Furtwängler was permitted to resume his conducting activities
following the conclusion of de-Nazification proceedings. The catalogue is far
too extensive for even a cursory treatment to be remotely comprehensive.
Representative examples taken from the relevant period will nevertheless
here be examined as primary historical evidence.
Film sources of Furtwängler are limited but also of considerable value.
The image showing the conductor shaking hands with Goebbels following
the conclusion of the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on
the eve of Hitler’s birthday on 19 April 1942 is a powerful reminder of how
the Nazis made propaganda out of art. Furtwängler conducting Wagner’s
Meistersinger overture as part of a 1942 Strength through Joy (Kraft durch
Freude) film before a rapt audience of seemingly absorbed industrial workers
brought Wagner out of the opera house and onto the factory floor as a means

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of cultural morale-boosting.1 The clip already mentioned of a rehearsal of the
last movement of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony in London (2 or 3 November
1948) made during the first tour abroad of the Berlin Philharmonic together
with film of a complete performance of Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel (extracted
from a film entitled Der Botschafter der Musik produced in 1951) are reminders
of the rehabilitation process of German musical culture and of Furtwängler
himself in the post-war period. If, as the saying has it, a picture is worth a
thousand words, then these images have much to tell.
Furtwängler’s reputation as a conductor and interpreter of the works of
others is so embedded in the historical memory that his output as a composer
is often overlooked. In this respect he was not so much a lion of the podium
following the model of his predecessor Arthur Nikisch but part of a much
older Kapellmeister tradition, stretching back to Wagner and Mendelssohn,
of composers who conducted their own works and the works of others.
Furtwängler’s claim that he considered himself a composer first and a
conductor second does not entirely stand up to scrutiny. As Chris Walton has
observed, Furtwängler’s bursts of intense compositional activity coincided
with periods when his conducting activity was constrained either by circumstance or design.2 This is certainly true of his three quasi-Brucknerian
symphonies, especially No. 2 in E minor, begun in the final stages of the
war and completed during the early part of his post-war exile in Switzerland
(1944–45), and the Third Symphony in C sharp minor. (Furtwängler was
still engaged on revising the finale to this equally large-scale work when
he died in 1954.) Furtwängler’s symphonies are today very seldom played;
and even if they are given occasional outings it is only as curiosities and
because they are by a famous conductor rather than as part of any ongoing
repertoire. The First Symphony was never performed in Furtwängler’s
lifetime and, as we shall see in Chapter 8, there is evidence to suggest that
he never regarded it as finished. Furtwängler himself made a commercial
recording of the Second Symphony and there are live performances, though
in inferior sound, captured in Vienna (22 February 1953) and Stuttgart (30
March 1954). Even a Furtwängler champion of the international standing of
Daniel Barenboim could not succeed in bringing Furtwängler the composer
into the mainstream repertoire. His commercial recording with the Chicago
Symphony Orchestra (12–15 December 2001) of the Second Symphony is
the best extant recording of any Furtwängler work, but remains sui generis:
a curiosity rather than an important rediscovery of an unjustly neglected


All film sources are fully referenced in Appendix 3.
See Chris Walton, ‘Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Return of the Muse’, in Lies and
Epiphanies (New York: University of Rochester Press, 2014), pp. 94–109, here pp. 95–7.

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masterpiece. It is ironic that it was the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under
a conductor of Jewish origin who made this recording: in 1948 Furtwängler
withdrew his acceptance of an invitation to conduct a series of concerts in
Chicago on account of the hostility of a group of musicians that included the
pianists Vladimir Horowitz and Artur Rubinstein.
Yet Furtwängler’s music, and the Second and Third Symphonies in
particular, should not be dismissed out of hand as symphonic dinosaurs:
they are significant cultural statements with a good deal to tell. First, in
spite of their prolixity and unwieldy structure, they both contain music
of great expressive beauty. The slow movement of No. 3 (the concluding
movement if it is performed without the unrevised finale in the manner of
the incomplete Bruckner Ninth) is a threnody that inhabits the same world
as Strauss’ Metamorphosen (1945), a work Furtwängler conducted infrequently but memorably in the post-war years. Secondly the question must
be asked why Furtwängler composed three symphonies in a self-consciously
Romantic idiom broadly following a Brucknerian model at this point in time.
Even by the conventions of fifty years earlier they are conservative in style.
There is no attempt to engage with the chromatic idioms of later Wagner or
Bruckner. The harmonic language is steeped in the tonally more secure world
of Schumann and Brahms. A relevant compositional voice seems to be that
of Hans Pfitzner who, as we know from Furtwängler’s letters, occupied his
thoughts a good deal during the period in which these works were composed.
To what extent were the Second and Third Symphonies in particular cultural
memories in dialogue with the grand Austro-German symphonic tradition as
Furtwängler perceived it, in the context of Europe after World War II?
What is less well known, particularly in the English-speaking world,
is that Furtwängler wrote extensively on music and associated matters.
The principal published sources of his formally composed writings are
two anthologies. The first and most extensive is Ton und Wort: Aufsätze
und Vorträge 1918–1954 (Sound and Word: Essays and Addresses 1918–1954).
This publication was authorised by Furtwängler during his lifetime and
consists of a collection of essays, articles and lectures arranged in chronological order that encompasses almost the entire span of his professional
and creative life. It contains the majority of his extended essays and is the
principal resource for the study of his writings. Included are studies of
Bach, Beethoven, Bruckner, Brahms, the music theorist Heinrich Schenker,
and his most extensive essay ‘The Case of Wagner, freely after Nietzsche’
(‘Der Fall Wagner, frei nach Nietzsche’, 1941). The second anthology is the
posthumously published Vermächtnis: Nachgelassene Schriften (1956). The
title, roughly translated as Legacy: Posthumous Writings, is a clear reference
to the eponymous poem by Goethe with its closing reference to ‘devising

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patterns for noble souls as the highest calling’: it consists of a collection of
diary jottings arranged chronologically followed by a series of fragmentary
writings and more substantial essays.3 The third important collection of
Furtwängler’s writings, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Aufzeichnungen 1924–1954
(1980), was edited by Elisabeth Furtwängler and Günter Birkner; English
translation by Shaun Whiteside, edited and with an introduction by Michael
Tanner, Wilhelm Furtwängler: Notebooks 1924–1954 (1989).4 Throughout his
life Furtwängler carried a notebook in which he recorded his thoughts (in
what for him was an aphoristic style) on artistic, philosophical and musical
matters. These personal jottings were never intended for the public eye: as
such they are a cultural document of the first importance and of incalculable value to the historian. However, in the form in which they are presently
available they are highly problematic for the published edition represents no
more than a selection from Furtwängler’s complete diaries. For the purposes
of the present study careful comparisons have therefore been made between
the entry in question and the manuscript sources.
The same critical difficulties apply to the volume edited by Frank Thiess,
Wilhelm Furtwängler: Briefe (1964; Vierte Auflage, 1980), for this again
represents only a selection of Furtwängler’s correspondence, held in the
Berlin State Library (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin). The collection by Thiess
is useful as far as it goes, for it contains the early exchanges between the
young Furtwängler and Bertel von Hildebrand; these letters are the principal
source for a study of the origins of the world-view which was to infuse his
writings and, with the important exception of the change in his attitude
towards Wagner, predominate in his thinking for the remainder of his life.5
A further publication to appear under Furtwängler’s own name is Gespräche
über Musik (1948), translated into English as Conversations about Music by
L. J. Lawrence (1953). This consists of a series of transcripts of seven conversations on predetermined musical subjects which took place in 1937 between
Furtwängler and Walter Abendroth. In 1947 Furtwängler added a further
chapter in which he considers the problems of modern music. This book is
the most concentrated source of his musical æsthetic and is described by the
author Hans-Hubert Schönzeler as ‘Furtwängler’s musical Credo’.6
The Furtwängler Nachlass is divided between the Zentralbibliothek
Zürich and the Staatsbibliothek Berlin. Manuscripts and typescripts of most,

See Goethe, Vermächtnis, in translation by David Luke in Goethe: The Penguin Poets
(Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1964), pp. 276–8.
For a review of Aufzeichnungen by Carl Dahlhaus, see Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 6
December 1980.
For a review of Briefe, see Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 28 November 1964.
Hans-Hubert Schönzeler, Furtwängler (London: Duckworth, 1990), p. 163.

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though not all, of Furtwängler’s published articles and essays are contained
in the portion of the Nachlass held in Zurich. In some cases these articles
exist in several different versions; as will become clear in the course of this
study, comparison between the various versions can be revealing. The Zurich
material was deposited together with the musical manuscripts in 1970 by
Elisabeth Furtwängler, who rather ruefully comments in her memoir of
her husband: ‘I would have preferred it if this material could have gone to
a German library, but only Zurich expressed interest.’7 In addition to the
primary source material for Furtwängler’s compositions, published articles
and essays, there is a comprehensive collection of newspaper articles and
reviews relating to Furtwängler’s career; an invaluable resource which saves
the historian endless archival research in newspaper offices and archives. A
full list of Furtwängler’s extant compositions and writings can be found in
Wilhelm Furtwängler in Diskussion, edited by Chris Walton, Jürg Stenzl et al.
(1996), pp. 85–132. The portion of the Nachlass containing Furtwängler’s
extensive correspondence, together with further copies of the formally
composed writings etc. is held in Musikabteilung mit Mendelssohn-Archiv,
Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Staatsbibliothek Berlin. The Furtwängler literary
estate has been extensively consulted during the course of this study; in
addition to the unpublished material, the published articles and essays to be
found in Ton und Wort and Vermächtnis, many of which are not yet translated
and are therefore not available to the English reader, have received careful
critical attention. Representative translations of two published articles
on Heinrich Schenker (1947) and Hans Pfitzner (1948) are included in
Appendix 1.
The bibliography of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century German
political and cultural history is of course extensive. I mention a few studies
that have left a particularly strong impression. Golo Mann’s History of
Germany in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (1958) is a classic and stands
alone. Of more recent books Erik Levi’s Music in the Third Reich (1994) is
indispensable, as are groundbreaking studies such as Michael Kater’s The
Twisted Muse (1997) and Pamela Potter’s Most German of the Arts: Musicology
and Society from the Weimar Republic to the End of Hitler’s Reich (1998).
Richard Evans’ authoritative writings on the Third Reich, in particular his
assessment of Hitler’s Cultural Revolution in The Coming of the Third Reich
(2003), are invaluable; Peter Pulzer’s concise Germany 1870–1945 (1997) is a
model of clarity and precision in the treatment of complex historical issues;
Saul Friedländer’s Nazi Germany and the Jews: The Years of Persecution 1933–39
(1997) is a model of disinterest and balanced historical judgement. New

Elisabeth Furtwängler, Über Wilhelm Furtwängler (Wiesbaden: Brockhaus, 1979), p. 25.

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perspectives and lines of enquiry suggested by Nicholas Cook’s The Schenker
Project (2007), Alexander Rehding’s Music and Monumentality (2009) and
meta-discussions of absolute music such as Mark Evan Bonds’ Absolute
Music: The History of an Idea (2014) provided a particularly strong impulse to
return to work on Furtwängler. There is a general bibliography of all works
consulted at the end of the volume.
The intention in what follows is to approach a critical, intellectual
biography by tracing the progress and development of Furtwängler’s thought
from its foundation in late-nineteenth-century traditions of Bildung through
the cultural and moral dilemmas of the Nazi period to the post-war years
in which the beleaguered idealist found himself adrift in an alien cultural
environment. Chapter 1 therefore investigates the historical and cultural
background to Furtwängler’s privileged upbringing in the traditions of
Bildung. In Chapters 2 and 3 Furtwängler’s early reception of Beethoven is
considered together with the catalytic effect of his initial acquaintance with
the work of the theorist Heinrich Schenker and his empathy with Schenker’s
organicist methodology. Chapter 4 investigates how these ideas shaped
Furtwängler’s approach to musical performance and also how the inherent
ideological subtexts in much closely related contemporary theory shared
the intellectual premises that shaped developing nationalistic ideologies.
Chapters 5 and 6 examine how this performance æsthetic, with its almost
obsessive concern with the idea of organic cohesion, coincided with much
of the artistic and political ideology of Nazism, how such ideology intersected with the kind of artistic experience Furtwängler strove to achieve in
performance and how this in itself helped support the Nazi state and gave
it cultural credibility. Chapter 7 investigates Furtwängler’s intellectual and
artistic position in the period immediately following the collapse of the Third
Reich; in his writings he called for a return to the ideology of the Wilhelmine
period as the only way of restoring true cultural values. Chapter 8 investigates why after a long gap Furtwängler returned to composition and in the
last years of his life produced three large-scale symphonies in a tendentiously
Romantic idiom. Finally, Chapter 9 examines the two most important essays
from the last year of his life, which show how, in essence, his world-view
remained unchanged from that which was so firmly established in his
formative years. Each chapter begins with a brief sketch of relevant historical
and biographical details sustaining a necessary narrative thread and creating
a framework in which the relevant writings may be appropriately contextualised. A chronology showing dates of significant events, articles and compositions is included on pp. xxiii-xxxi.

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In the case of Furtwängler the study of primary source material, whether
published or archival, is beset with difficulties. Equally daunting are the
problems encountered by the non-native German speaker in attempting to
penetrate and understand Furtwängler’s thought patterns: his world-view is
thoroughly Germanic and rooted in the linguistic patterns and syntactical
traditions of the nineteenth century. He wrote in the German tradition of
idealistic philosophy as seen at its most complex in the writings of Kant
and Hegel. The problems facing the translator are therefore formidable. It
is fortunate that the late Ronald Taylor, sometime Professor of German in
the University of Sussex, translated a compilation from both Ton und Wort
and Vermächtnis which was subsequently published as an anthology entitled
Furtwängler on Music (1991).1 Taylor has rendered the English reader an
invaluable service. In his brief introduction he draws attention to the
problems encountered in translating Furtwängler’s originals into intelligible
English prose without obscuring some of the textual references. In a letter to
the present author dated 9 February 1998 he wrote: ‘One sometimes feels like
banging one’s head against the wall in the face of his foggy prose. The most
useful tool for dealing with it is sometimes not a torch but a machete, which
in the end does him a service, I think.’ In the present study translations are
either by the author or, where a translation by Taylor of a Furtwängler essay
exists, his helping hand has been gratefully accepted. Nevertheless, careful
line-by-line comparisons with the German originals have been made and in
some cases Taylor’s version has been modified accordingly in order to restore
resonances obscured in the interests of making a readable translation. All such
modifications are identified in footnotes. A similar practice has been followed
with regard to Shaun Whiteside’s translation of the Notebooks. This process
of comparison can reveal thought patterns and allusions that are not always
immediately obvious in translation, an example of which can be found in the
extended notebook entry on Bach’s Matthäus Passion (1939). Furtwängler

For a review of Furtwängler on Music by Chris Walton see Music and Letters, vol. 74,
no. 3 (1993), pp. 466–7.

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writes ‘wer es nicht selbst fühlt, wird es nicht erreichen’ (whoever does not
feel it himself will not achieve it).2 This is a clear reference to Goethe’s Faust,
Part I: ‘wenn ihrs nicht fühlt, ihr werdets nicht erjagen’ (give up pursuing
eloquence, unless you can speak as you feel).3 To Furtwängler, as to most
educated Germans of his generation and cultural background, Faust was the
foundation of his literary heritage. His writings are infused with Faustian
references which, though a natural part of his expressive language, are not
always immediately obvious in translation.
Furtwängler’s thought does not lend itself to easy summary: for this reason
direct quotation, sometimes at length, has proved a necessary tool. It has
not, however, been the intention simply to provide an anthology of extracts
from the writings: the primary purpose here is to place the major published
essays and articles in historical context in such a way that a developing
critical exegesis becomes possible. It is hoped that what can appear to be
rather empty and prolix passages of æsthetic theorising will here be readable
as cogent indicators of an evolving intellectual biography of some historical
significance. Where there is a possibility of ambiguity, key German words,
and in some cases entire phrases, have of necessity been included. It must,
however, be said that ambiguity of expression, or sometimes just sheer
verbosity, is a recurring problem when examining Furtwängler’s writings. In
all cases the whereabouts of the original German text is specified.


AZN, p. 176; NBKS, p. 108.
Goethe, Faust, Part 1, line 534, tr. David Luke (Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics, 1987).

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Wilhelm Furtwängler
Life and Works

30 June

Adolf Furtwängler (father)
born in Freiburg

14 September

Adelheid Wendt (mother) born
in Karlsruhe

Significant Historical,
Cultural and
Literary Events

11 June

Richard Strauss born in

19 June

Heinrich Schenker born in
Wisniowczyki, Austrian Galicia

5 May

Hans Pfitzner born in Moscow

18 January

Proclamation of the German
Empire at Versailles

6 June

Thomas Mann born in Lübeck


First Bayreuth Festival

13 February

Death of Richard Wagner in

25 January

Wilhelm Furtwängler born
in Berlin


Ferdinand Tönnies,
Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft

9 March

Death of Kaiser
Wilhelm I; succeeded briefly by
Friedrich III then by Wilhelm II

20 April

Adolf Hitler born in Braunau
am Inn, Austria

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Wilhelm Furtwängler
Life and Works


Appointment of Adolf
Furtwängler to Munich
University. Family moves to

Significant Historical,
Cultural and
Literary Events


Death of Anton Bruckner in


Death of Johannes Brahms in


H. S. Chamberlain, Foundations
of the Nineteenth Century


Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks


Visits Florence with Ludwig
Curtius and the Hildebrand


H. S. Chamberlain, Kant

19 February

Conducts first orchestral
concert with Kaim Orchestra of



10 October

Death of Adolf Furtwängler in


Munich Court Opera with
Felix Mottl


Strasbourg Opera with Hans


Friedrich Huch, Enzio


Lübeck: Chief conductor of
Verein der Musikfreunde


Reads Heinrich Schenker’s
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony


H. S. Chamberlain, Goethe;
Heinrich Schenker, Beethoven’s
Ninth Symphony

28 July

Austro-Hungary declares war
on Serbia. Outbreak of World
War I

3–4 August

Germany declares war on
France Britain declares war on

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Wilhelm Furtwängler
Life and Works


Essay: ‘Timely Reflections
of a Musician’ by Wilhelm
Furtwängler (Lübeck)

Significant Historical,
Cultural and
Literary Events

Chamberlain, Politische Ideale

Mannheim: Hofkapellmeister

12 June

Pfitzner: Palestrina, premiere in
Munich conducted by Bruno

6 November

Conducts Bruckner’s Eighth
Article: Anton Bruckner’s
Eighth Symphony

14 December

First appearance with Berlin
Philharmonic Orchestra


Thomas Mann, Reflections of a
Non-Political Man
Essay: ‘Remarks on Beethoven’s
Oswald Spengler, Decline of the
West, vol. 1

9 November

Abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II

11 November

Armistice between hostile
powers. ‘Stab in the back’
legend attributes German
defeat to betrayal by


Conductor of Vienna
Tonkünstler Orchestra concerts
Hans Pfitzner, New Aesthetic of
Musical Impotence
Essay: ‘Remarks on
Wagner’s Ring’

3 May

First meeting with Heinrich

28 June

Treaty of Versailles imposes
severe reparations on Germany

11 August

Weimar Republic constitution
adopted (to 1933)

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Wilhelm Furtwängler
Life and Works


Conductor of Frankfurt
Museumskonzerte in
succession to Willem
Mengelberg. Relinquishes
position in Mannheim


First appearances with Leipzig
Gewandhaus Orchestra

23 January

Oswald Spengler, Decline of the
West, vol. 2
Subsequently succeeds Nikisch
as Conductor of the Leipzig
Gewandhaus (until 1928) and
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras

Death of Arthur Nikisch

Pfitzner, Von Deutscher Seele
(Op. 28), premiere in Berlin

27 January
25 March

Significant Historical,
Cultural and
Literary Events

First appearance with Vienna
Philharmonic Orchestra


Thomas Mann, The Magic


Reopening of Bayreuth Festival

1925 (1927)

Adolf Hitler: Mein Kampf


Hans Pfitzner, Das dunkle Reich
(Op. 38)

27 and 28 May

Toscanini conducts New York
Philharmonic Orchestra in
Notebook entry: ‘Toscanini
in Germany: An article on
the true situation of German
music-making in 1930’


Bayreuth Festival: Toscanini
conducts Tannhäuser and


Essay: ‘Interpretation: a
Question of Musical Destiny’


Appointed Musical Director of
Bayreuth Festival

23 July

Festival debut conducting
Tristan und Isolde

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Wilhelm Furtwängler
Life and Works

Significant Historical,
Cultural and
Literary Events

19 April

Address: ‘Classical Music in

Fiftieth anniversary of the
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

28 June

Essay: ‘Um Bayreuths Zukunft’,
article giving reasons for
resignation as Music Director
of the Bayreuth Festival


Posthumous publication of
Wilhelm Dilthey’s On German
Poetry and Music

30 January

Hitler comes to power

13 February

Thomas Mann, Address: ‘The
Sufferings and Greatness of
Richard Wagner’

21 March

Day of Potsdam: conducts
Die Meistersinger at Berlin

11 April

Publication of open letter to
Goebbels in defence of Jewish
artists forced to leave Germany

16 May

Address: ‘Johannes Brahms:
Address for the Johannes
Brahms Festival in Vienna,
16–21 May’

11–12 March

Conducts Hindemith’s
Symphonic Suite, Mathis der

25 November

Article: ‘The Case of

4 December

Resigns all official posts

17 December

Essay: ‘German Music


Compromise reached with


Resumes conducting.
Memorandum: ‘When I wrote
my article about Hindemith’

19 July

Bayreuth Festival: Lohengrin

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Wilhelm Furtwängler
Life and Works

1–16 August

Eleventh Olympiad held in

September to
February 1937

Sabbatical from conducting.
Resumes composition


Conversations about Music with
Walther Abendroth

4 March

First Performance of Violin
Sonata No. 1
In Leipzig


Conducts two cycles of the
Ring in London (Covent
Garden Coronation Season)

6 June

26 October

Significant Historical,
Cultural and
Literary Events

London: Coronation of King
George VI
Regensburg Valhalla: Hitler
unveils bust of Bruckner.
Speech by Goebbels

First Performance of
Symphonic Concerto for Piano
and Orchestra in Munich with
Edwin Fischer

13 March

Hitler annexes Austria


Last appearances at Covent
Garden: two cycles of the Ring

27 December

Last appearance at Paris Opera:

5 July

Address to the German
Bruckner Society

1 September

Hitler invades Poland

3 September

Britain declares war on


Hans Pfitzner, Symphony in C
(Op. 46)

19 Feb

Symphony No. 1. First
Performance of Violin Sonata
No. 2 in Munich


Essay: ‘The Case of Wagner,
freely after Nietzsche’

26 June

Marries Elisabeth Ackermann,
neé Albert

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Wilhelm Furtwängler
Life and Works


Conducts Die Meistersinger in

16 March

Concert in Prague with the
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra


Conducts Die Meistersinger at

Significant Historical,
Cultural and
Literary Events

Begins composition of
Symphony No. 2 in E minor
23 January

Last concert with the Berlin
Philharmonic Orchestra
until 1947

29 January

Last concert with Vienna
Philharmonic Orchestra
until 1947

7 February

Escapes to Switzerland

12 April

Richard Strauss completes

30 April

Death of Adolf Hitler in Berlin

8 May

End of the war in Europe

29 May

Thomas Mann Lecture:
‘Germany and the Germans’,
Library of Congress,

18 October

Completes composition of
Symphony No. 2


Address: ‘On the Centenary of
Mendelssohn’s Death’
Essay: ‘Heinrich Schenker: A
Contemporary Problem’
Additional chapter added to
Conversations about Music
Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus

27 April

Ratification of de-Nazification
proceedings. Cleared of all
charges of collaboration

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Wilhelm Furtwängler
Life and Works

25 May

First Concert with the Berlin
Philharmonic Orchestra in
Berlin since the defeat of


Significant Historical,
Cultural and
Literary Events

Hans Pfitzner, Composition
of Urworte, Orphisch, Op. 57


Essay: ‘On the Works of Hans

22 February

First Performance of
Symphony No. 2 in E minor in

3–7 November

Concerts in Great Britain with
Berlin Philharmonic

22 May

Death of Hans Pfitzner in

8 September

Death of Richard Strauss in

22 May

Conducts premiere of Richard
Strauss’ Four Last Songs in
London with Kirsten Flagstad


Essay: ‘Bach’

29 July

Conducts Beethoven’s Ninth
Symphony at the reopening of

20 August

Salzburg Mozarteum, Address:
‘Beethoven and Us’


Records Tristan und Isolde
in London with Kirsten
Flagstad, Ludwig Suthaus and
Philharmonia Orchestra


Essay: ‘Form and Chaos’
(originally, ‘The Musician and
his Public’)

July and

Salzburg Festival: Don Giovanni
and Der Freischütz

22 August

Lucerne Festival: Beethoven’s
Ninth Symphony

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Reopening of Bayreuth Festival
under the direction of Wieland
and Wolfgang Wagner

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Wilhelm Furtwängler
Life and Works

6 October

Completes recording of Die
Walküre in Vienna

15 November

Essay: ‘All Greatness is

30 November

Death of Wilhelm
Furtwängler, Clinic
Ebersteinberg, near BadenBaden

4 December

Funeral Service at the Church
of the Holy Spirit, Heidelberg,
followed by burial in the

Significant Historical,
Cultural and
Literary Events

12 August

Death of Thomas Mann in

26 January

First Performance of
Symphony No. 3 (movements
1–3), conducted by Joseph

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2311 (Boydell - Wilhelm Furtwängler).indd 32

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In me there are two souls, alas, and their
Division tears my life in two.
One loves the world, it clutches her, it binds
Itself to her, clinging with furious lust;
The other longs to soar beyond the dust
Into the realm of high ancestral minds.1

The life of Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886–1954) spans three failed attempts
to create a German national state. The young Furtwängler spent his
journeyman years and began his professional career during the final years of
the Wilhelmine Empire (1871–1918), that overweening political construct of
Chancellor Otto von Bismarck – so sharply caricatured by Heinrich Mann
in his novel Man of Straw (Der Untertan) – which came to an inglorious
end in the cataclysmic upheavals of World War I and the aftermath of the
shock defeat of 1918.2 The older Furtwängler rose to prominence in the
experimental years of the Weimar Republic (1919–33), a brave but ultimately
unsuccessful attempt to found a modern democratic state that imploded and
opened the door for the rise of Nazism. His most notable achievements as
a performing artist were as a high-profile representative of the totalitarian
Third Reich (1933–45), during which years he gave performances of works
from the central Austro-German canon of musical masterworks that helped
give a carapace of cultural authority to a barbaric regime. The final nine years
of his life were passed in attempting to come to terms with the very different
context of post-war Europe, and through performances, recordings and the
composition of large-scale symphonies rehabilitate the politically compromised culture of which he had been so prominent a representative.
It is clear from the above brief outline that the life of Wilhelm Furtwängler
brings us very close to great historical themes of the age. Unsurprisingly,


Goethe, Faust, Part 1, lines 1112–17, tr. David Luke.
Heinrich Mann, Der Untertan (Leipzig: Kurt Wolff Verlag, 1918); Eng. edn, Man of
Straw (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1946).

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W i lhelm  F urtwä ngler

therefore, the question that casts a long shadow over his reputation is that of
his relationship with the Third Reich. Furtwängler always claimed that art,
and by association he himself as an artist, was above politics; yet as historian
Richard Evans has pointed out
of all the myths of German history that have been mobilised to account for
the coming of the Third Reich in 1933, none is less convincing than that
of the ‘unpolitical German’. Largely the creation of the novelist Thomas
Mann during the First World War, this concept subsequently became an
alibi for the educated middle class in Germany which could absolve itself
of the blame for supporting Nazism by accepting criticism for the far less
serious offence of failing to oppose it.3

As Thomas Mann writes in Reflections of a Non-Political Man (Betrachtungen
eines Unpolitischen, 1918): ‘German culture resists being politicised. The
political element is lacking in the German concept of culture.’4 Or, as
Nicholas Attfield more succinctly puts it, that culture which gave rise to
‘conservative politics masquerading as a-politics’.5 In one sense the notion
of ‘art above politics’ reverted to a form of pre-Romantic artistic absolutism
stemming from the Weimar classicism of Schiller.6 In the case of musicians
of a conservative cast of mind, this took the form of resistance to any moves
that would threaten the autonomy of music as a special art. In any event, the
conservative-nationalist ‘non-political’ German of the Weimar period tended
towards an ‘illiberal’ anti-modernism rooted in the Romantic traditions of
the previous century rather than the values of Western liberal democracy.
The historian Fritz Stern has described the character of the Imperial
Germany in which Wilhelm Furtwängler was nurtured as ‘illiberal’. ‘By
illiberalism I mean not only the structure of the political regime, suffrage
restrictions or class chicanery, but a state of mind.’7 Characteristic of this
state of mind among the educated middle classes was a veneration of culture
(Bildung) rooted in the traditions of German idealism; it was this admiration

Richard Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich (London: Allen Lane, 2003), p. xxv.
Thomas Mann, Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen (Berlin: S. Fischer Verlag, 1918), p. 79;
Eng. edn, Reflections of a Non-Political Man, tr. Walter D. Morris (New York: Frederick
Ungar, 1983), p. 78.
Nicholas Attfield, Challenging the Modern: Conservative Revolution in German Music
1918–1933 (Oxford: OUP, 2017).
Friedrich Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man, tr. Reginald Snell (Bristol:
Thoemmes Press, 1994). Also James Garratt, Music Culture and Social Reform
(Cambridge: CUP, 2010), p. 52.
Fritz Stern, The Failure of Illiberalism: Essays on the Political Culture of Modern Germany
(New York and Oxford: Columbia UP, 1955; republished with a new preface, 1992),
p. xxvi.

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of culture as something apart that ‘became the rhetoric with which the
unpolitical German denounced the mass society, democracy, liberalism and
modernity of the Weimar Republic’.8 As the Nazis tightened their grip on all
aspects of cultural life through the process of co-ordination (Gleichschaltung),
Furtwängler became inextricably caught in the tangled web of interconnecting threads that bound the grand Austro-German musical tradition
to conservative cultural ideology; by consistently claiming that art was
‘non-political’ and above politics, he effectively politicised art. As we shall
see, despite undisputed acts of heroism regarding the Third Reich, often at
no small risk to himself, any claim that he was some kind of Parsifal-like
innocent abroad, caught dangling in the cross-winds of history, does not
stand up to scrutiny.9 His retreat into diffuse speculation and the suprarational elevation of experience over thought links him to a culture that,
although ostensibly non-political, needs a ‘carapace of power to shelter it
from politics’.10 This protection was provided not by democracy but by an
‘illiberal’ authoritarianism that was to find its most extreme form in Nazi
Germany. Yet just as it is tempting to dismiss the claim of Furtwängler the
‘unpolitical’ as unsupportable, it is equally too easy to categorise him as one
of the educated ‘illiberal’ Germans who was by inclination anti-democratic
and therefore helped to create the political climate in which Nazism established itself. No single template fits so complex and self-contradictory an
individual; hence the importance of a study that neither takes, nor attempts
to take, uncritical admiration or, worse still, moral censure as a frame of
The period between the proclamation of the empire in 1871 and the turn
of the century saw profound shifts in the social and economic structures of
the emerging German nation state.11 Wilhelmine society was highly complex
and is not easily understood in terms of pre-constructed historical models
retrospectively applied. In any case, Wilhelm Furtwängler was exceptional
in that he was possessed of creative ability of an high order; to that extent
he stands apart and resists definition. It can be tendentious, not to say
misleading, to apply a conceptual template where convenient as a means of
identifying conservative-nationalist ideologies that led inexorably towards
the rise of Nazism. In the case of a figure such as Furtwängler there is the
additional temptation of allowing his high-profile position in the Third Reich
Ibid., p. 18. See also Richard Evans, ed., Society and Politics in Wilhelmine Germany
(London: Croom Helm Ltd, 1978), p. 115.
9 See e.g. Hans-Hubert Schönzeler, Furtwängler (London: Duckworth, 1990), p. 69.
10 Roy Pascal, From Naturalism to Expressionism: German Literature and Society 1880–1918
(London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1973), p. 115.
11 See Evans, ed., Society and Politics in Wilhelmine Germany, esp. Introduction and Ch. 5.

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W i lhelm  F urtwä ngler

to shape the historiography of the study. The reality, as we shall see, was
much more complicated.
As the writer Alan Bennett has observed, ‘there is no period so remote as
the recent past’; yet it is on these constantly shifting historical sands of the
recent past that we have to attempt to understand Furtwängler.12 Anything to
do with Furtwängler defies simple answers; his contradictions and ambiguities reflect the dark labyrinth of a complex epoch in European history that
is as yet imperfectly understood. It is enormously difficult to revisit the
Germany of the late Wilhelmine Empire and the Weimar Republic from the
standpoint of the early twenty-first century, since everything is refracted
through the prism of 1933–45 and weighted with a sense of post-Holocaust
unease. This can all too easily result in a skewed historiography that distorts
figures such as Furtwängler. As with his close contemporary Richard Strauss,
so much critical discussion of Furtwängler has been, and in many respects
still is, dominated by the blunt question of to what extent he was or was not
a Nazi sympathiser.13
The challenge facing the writer on Furtwängler is above all to aid understanding. To cite Richard Evans once again: ‘If the experience of the Third
Reich teaches us anything, it is that a love of great music, art and literature
does not provide immunisation against violence, atrocity or subservience to
dictatorship.’14 What follows will therefore consider Wilhelm Furtwängler
within the historical context of the times in which he lived and worked. It
is essentially a study of his thought and practice through examination of
primary sources rather than a life and times narrative; it will give only as
much biographical information as is necessary to track his career as one of
the most significant and influential executive musicians of his own or any
other day. It is essentially a study of the politics of the unpolitical: how the
avowedly apolitical artist, who unquestionably did a great deal to resist the
more blatant excesses of the Nazis, was in his public and private utterances
a protagonist of the strongly conservative, anti-democratic, supra-rational
world-view which in its most extreme and perverted form was so intertwined
with and inseparable from the official ideology of a totalitarian regime.15
12 See Alan Bennett, The History Boys (London: Faber & Faber, 2004), p. 74.
13 See Pamela Potter, ‘Strauss and the National Socialists: The Debate and its Relevance’,
in Bryan Gilliam, ed., Richard Strauss: New Perspectives on the Composer and his Work
(Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1992), pp. 93–113.
14 Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich, p. xxiii.
15 The term supra-rational is used here and throughout in the sense of a world-view
that transcends or achieves a higher rationality rather than ideas of the non-rational
or irrational. In Doktor Faustus Thomas Mann writes of the ‘Sphäre das Dämonische
und Widervernünftige’ (Stockholm: Fischer Verlag, 1947, p. 9). ‘Widervernünftige’
is especially difficult to translate into English. H. T. Lowe-Porter (Doctor Faustus

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Furtwängler’s significance is that he was a meeting point for so many strands
in German culture. Therefore the present study is offered in the hope that it
may go some way towards establishing him as a historical figure that, like the
fictitious Adrian Leverkühn in Thomas Mann’s novel Doctor Faustus, may be
studied not simply as a Nazi or a non-Nazi but as a representative educated
German. The reference in the title to Thomas Mann’s early Reflections of a
Non-Political Man (Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen) is intentional.16 At the
time of World War I Mann and Furtwängler shared a good deal of common
intellectual ground; however, when the Nazis came to power in 1933, as a
comparison between their respective public addresses on Brahms and
Wagner shows, they were beginning to diverge. In the post-World War II years
Furtwängler’s formal and private utterances are full of pleas for a return to the
Wilhelmine culture and artistic values of nineteenth-century Bildung, while
Mann, in Doctor Faustus, provides an all-too-clear analysis of the destructive
forces latent in that very culture for which Furtwängler was such an impassioned and persuasive advocate. We might ask, as did the writer Neville
Cardus, to what extent is it true to describe Wilhelm Furtwängler as a ‘Faust
who lacked the ironic corrective of a Mephistopheles’?;17 or as Mephisto puts
it in his ironic description of himself in Goethe’s Faust, Part I: ‘Part of the
Power which would constantly do evil, and constantly does good.’18

(London: Martin Secker & Warburg, 1949), p. 4) renders it as ‘irrational’, but there’s
a suggestion in the ‘wider’ of willed perversity, of gloating defiance, that neither
‘irrational’, ‘non-rational’ or ‘supra-rational’ can quite capture. I am grateful to Kevin
Hilliard for clarification of this point.
16 Thomas Mann, Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen (1918); Eng. edn, Reflections of a
Nonpolitical Man.
17 Neville Cardus, Full Score (Cassell: London, 1970), p. 141.
18 Goethe, Faust, Part I, lines 1335–6. This is in itself an ironic reference to Romans Ch.
VII, v. 21 ‘when I would do good, evil is present within me’ (King James Bible, 1611).

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Chapter  1

‘The Germans’, said the new undergraduate, a grass blade in his mouth,
‘have a two-track mind and an inexcusable habit of combination; they
always want one thing and the other, they want to have it both ways. They
are capable of turning out great personalities with antithetic principles of
thought and life. But then they muddle them, using the coinage of the one
in the sense of the other; mixing everything all up and thinking they can
put freedom and aristocracy, idealism and natural childlikeness under one
hat. But that probably does not do.’1

The Historical Background
At the time of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s birth on 25 January 1886 the newly
founded Second German Reich was in the process of consolidating its
national identity and sense of purpose under the leadership of Kaiser
Wilhelm I and Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The increasing wealth and
power of the capitalist state was a result of rapid industrialisation and internal
expansion that in turn encouraged a corresponding increase in the domestic
population and a growth in the size of important urban centres. In this
Gründerzeit (the period which saw the foundation and growth of the German
state following the proclamation of the empire in 1871) the complementary
spheres of finance and industry merged and the state became the central
organ of the economy. Capitalists, financiers and merchants determined the
economic life of the nation, but as yet the business of government remained
in the hands of the pre-capitalist and economically declining aristocracy,
the Prussian ‘Junkers’, or land-owning nobility who maintained an almost

Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus, p. 84.

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feudal system of management of large estates in the north-eastern provinces.
The commercially minded middle class had gained in influence as a result
of growth and expansion, but within this social and economic group the
educated and intellectually gifted, or Bildungsbürger, occupied a privileged
position: in spite of the prevailing materialistic outlook the tradition of
respect for the scholar which resonated from Germany’s pre-industrial past,
the age of Kant, Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt, and Hegel, lived on.
Wilhelm Furtwängler belonged to what might broadly be termed the
Bildungsbürger, or educated upper middle classes of Wilhelmine Germany.
In order to understand the culture that formed him, it is important to
draw a distinction between the Bildungsbürger and the catch-all generic
term most commonly used to describe the middle classes: the bourgeoisie.
According to Marxist thought, the bourgeoisie was a nineteenth-century
social phenomenon that came to prominence as a result of the rapid industrialisation and commercial expansion of post-unification Germany. As a
social grouping the bourgeoisie was primarily concerned with commercialism, property and industrial production as a means of generating
wealth. In contrast the predominantly Protestant Bildungsbürger were of
earlier, pre-industrial origin and defined more by education and culture
than economic status.2 The idea that individual potential was best realised
through a classical education, or Bildung, was derived from Enlightenment
thought. As Klaus Vondung puts it, ‘to the Bildungsbürger, Bildung ultimately
appeared to be the immortal gift of Kant, Humboldt, Fichte, Schelling,
Hegel, of Goethe and Schiller, in order that the concept of the perfectibility
of mankind might be made apparent’.3 Education was an organic process
in the sense that the individual is in a state of continuous development.
By the time of the Wilhelmine era characteristics that could be associated
with Bildungsbürgertum included an academic education, social exclusivity
and a quasi-aristocratic thinking that generated a sense of cultural elitism.
The Bildungsbürger were well represented in academic life. As will become
apparent, Professor Adolf Furtwängler’s eminence in the field of classical
archaeology and his decision to educate his son Wilhelm apart from others in



There is no satisfactory English equivalent of the German terms Bildung and
Bildungsbürger. They have much deeper cultural resonances than can be rendered by
the terms ‘education’ and ‘educated middle classes’. The terms have therefore been left
Klaus Vondung, ed., Das wilhelminische Bildungsbürgertum: Zur Sozialgeschichte seiner
Ideen (Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 1918), p. 36. See especially Michael
Naumann, ‘Bildung und Gehorsam: Zur ästhetischen Ideologie des Bildungsbürgertums’, pp. 34–52.

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order to enhance his sense of intellectual superiority, not to say exclusivity, is
strongly Bildungsbürgerlich in intent.
The importance of this cultural background and tradition of education
in nurturing Wilhelm Furtwängler cannot be overestimated; the rich
tradition of Bildung provided him with the mental furnishings that were to
shape his thought and nourish his artistic achievements. Goethe, Schiller
and the traditions of Weimar Classicism were as central to his existence
as Bach and Beethoven: Goethe’s Faust was as deeply embedded in his
world-view as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Literature contemporary with
Furtwängler also provides instructive additional perspectives on his origin
and background. One of the themes running through the later chapters of
Thomas Mann’s early novel Buddenbrooks (1901), subtitled The Decline of a
Family, is the growing tension between the mercantile class of the bourgeoisie
and pre-industrial Bildungsbürgerlich values. Mann describes the eponymous
Thomas Buddenbrook as ‘a merchant, not a scholar. He had not completed
a classical Gymnasium course, he was not a lawyer and above all had not
received an academic education.’4 In the case of the Buddenbrook family,
the materialism of the commercially minded haute bourgeoisie is gradually
challenged by the traditions of the Bildungsbürger introduced through Senator
Thomas Buddenbrook’s marriage to the cultivated and musical Gerda. In
contrast to the scholarly Professor Adolf Furtwängler, the patrician Senator
Thomas Buddenbrook is determined that commercial values should prevail.
It was his intention that his musically inclined and rather delicate son Hanno,
heir to the business, was to be a merchant: Hanno does not therefore receive a
classical education at the Gymnasium; his father ‘was convinced he was doing
the boy a kindness in relieving him of the unnecessary Greek’.5 Another way
of understanding this distinction between the traditions of Bildung and the
commercialism of the bourgeoisie is through the differentiation made in
contemporaneous political thought between community and civil society, or
Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. Gemeinschaft is a community formed through
an organic process deeply rooted in culture and tradition; Gesellschaft is
civil society based on materialism and commerce. As the political theorist
Ferdinand Tönnies puts it in Book 1 of his influential treatise Gemeinschaft
und Gesellschaft, first published in 1887, a year after Wilhelm Furtwängler’s
birth, ‘Gemeinschaft must be understood as a living organism in its own right,
while Gesellschaft is a mechanical aggregate and artefact.’6

Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks, Eng. tr. by H. T. Lowe-Porter (London: Secker &
Warburg, 1924), p. 494 (translation modified).
Ibid., p. 500.
Ferdinand Tönnies, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft; Eng. edn, Community and Civil
Society, tr. and ed. Jose Harris and Margaret Hollis (Cambridge: CUP, 2001), p. 19.

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On 9 March 1888 the venerable figurehead of German unification,
Kaiser Wilhelm I, died, to be succeeded briefly by his son, the terminally
ill Friedrich III. Friedrich’s death on 16 June of the same year made way
for the young, egotistical and impulsive Wilhelm II. Wilhelm’s subsequent
dismissal of Bismarck in 1890 resulted in a change of mood among many of
the educated middle classes: the architect of the German Empire was gone;
the sense of pride in the achievements of the 1870s in creating a unified state
gave way to growing dissatisfaction at what was regarded as an accelerating
cultural decline resulting from economic expansion. In 1893 the sociologist
Max Weber gave his inaugural address at the University of Heidelberg in
which he offered a penetrating analysis of the state of German society of
the time: ‘It is not peace and human happiness that we have to bequeath to
our descendants but the preservation and cultivation of our national peculiarity … the social unification of our nation that modern economic development has blasted asunder.’7 But Weber considered the middle classes as
yet unready to lead the state: they were politically immature, having been
kept too long in waiting during the long years of Bismarck’s rule. Two years
later in 1895, now newly appointed Professor of Sociology at the University
of Freiburg, Weber again wrote:
Part of the upper middle class longs only too obviously for the appearance
of a new Cæsar who will protect it against the emergence of classes from
below, and from above against social and political impulses of which they
suspect the German dynasties.8

Economic expansion also had a lasting effect on late-nineteenth-century
musical culture. The development of the commercial aspects of music, as
exemplified by the rise of the publishing industry, played a leading role in
transforming not only the economic foundation of musical life but also the
nature of musical taste. By the mid nineteenth century the growing distrust
of the cult of virtuosity and anything resembling mode or fashion had fully
transformed music into a ‘high’ art. Influenced both by the Beethoven
paradigm and the increasing use of the organic metaphor as a measure of
artistic worth, this tendentious form of romantic idealism venerated the
pantheon of Austro-German composers from Bach to Beethoven, against
whose music all new works should be judged.

Quoted in Peter Pulzer, Germany, 1870–1945: Politics, State Formation and War (Oxford:
OUP, 1997), pp. 50–1.
See Golo Mann, Deutsche Geschichte des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts (1958); Eng. edn, The
History of Germany Since 1789, tr. Marian Jackson (London: Chatto & Windus, 1968;
pbk reprint, 1996), pp. 208–9.

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W i lhelm  F urtwä ngler

The Austro-German Canon
The emergence of the canon of Austro-German musical masterworks in the
early years of the nineteenth century was to some extent a result of a process
of dislocation implying the gradual disappearance of the social contexts
in which the canonical ‘works’ had been created.9 Music thus became a
non-social, metaphysical phenomenon, its ‘meaning’ transferred from a
specifically representational external to a non-representational internal
function. This idea, described by Carl Dahlhaus as the ‘Metaphysic of
Instrumental Music’ and Lydia Goehr as the ‘Separability Principle’, shaped
the perception and reception of the canon for much of the nineteenth and
the early part of the twentieth century.10 Wilhelm Furtwängler was to be one
of its most persuasive protagonists.
One of the earliest works to hold an undisputed place in the canon was to be
of central importance to Furtwängler: J. S. Bach’s Matthäus Passion, famously
‘rediscovered’ by Mendelssohn in 1829 and relocated from a liturgical to a
secular context. Such dislocations intensified the process by which musical
artworks began to acquire iconic properties. However, this lofty example of
Lutheran theology, realised in a large-scale musical design of complex instrumental textures and grand chorale fantasias, was something of an exception: the
genre which most naturally served as the gravitational centre of the canon was
that of the instrumental symphony and of chamber and solo works governed by
the dialectic of the sonata principle. The emergence of the canon was paralleled
by a corresponding shift in educated æsthetic perception away from the desire
for artistic experience as a ‘reflection of inner emotion’ to the concept of the
autonomous musical object as a phenomenon which existed entirely by virtue
of its own internal musical logic; the musical object as a paradigm of Kant’s
‘thing-in-itself’, yet knowable through experience a posteriori. The elevation
of the musical object to the status of a work of fine art further increased its
standing. In Hegel’s view a work of fine art ‘cuts itself free from any servitude in
order to raise itself to the truth which it fulfils independently and conformably
with its own ends alone. In this freedom is fine art truly art.’11 Thus the concept


For a fuller discussion of this point, see Susan McClary, ‘The Blasphemy of Talking
Politics in the Bach Year’, in Richard Leppert and Susan McClary, eds, Music and
Society (Cambridge: CUP, 1987), pp. 13–62.
10 Carl Dahlhaus, Die Musik des 19. Jahrhunderts (1980); Eng. edn, Nineteenth-Century
Music, tr. J. Bradford Robinson (Berkeley; London: University of California Press,
1989), pp. 88–96.
11 Quoted in Lydia Goehr, The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1992), p. 158; citing Hegel, Æsthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, tr. T. M. Knox (Oxford:
OUP, 1975), vol. 1, p. 7.

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of the autonomous musical process came into being, the essence of which was
to be found in absolute instrumental music, divorced from text and existing
for its own sake and on its own terms. This stage in the development of the
æsthetic perception of the artwork is cogently summarised by Carl Dahlhaus:
‘In highbrow æsthetics – which thereby moved away from popular æsthetics –
sensibility and the search for feeling gave way to a metaphysic based on Edmund
Burke’s and Immanuel Kant’s theory of the Sublime in order to do justice to
absolute instrumental music and to capture in words the æsthetic experience
of the listener.’12 As E. T. A. Hoffmann wrote in his essay on ‘Beethoven’s
Instrumental Music’ (1813), music ‘is the most romantic of all the arts – one
might almost say, the only genuinely romantic one – for its sole subject is the
Hoffmann’s central claim is that music belongs in the domain of the
infinite; the autonomous musical artwork is therefore capable of transcending
the commonplace and penetrating the realm of the ideal. This supra-rational
quality of transcendence attributed to the musical work of fine art enabled
it to go beyond the worldly and particular to the spiritual and universal.14
Theoretically, the domain of the infinite, to which music gave access, had
nothing in common with the external world of the senses. It therefore
followed that the significance of the musical artwork lay not so much in its
capacity to evoke an emotional response or represent worldly phenomena but
rather in its ability to explore and reveal a higher world. Instrumental music,
with its lack of particularised content, assumed the mantle of the genre best
suited to transcend the particular and specific.
At the same time the elevation of the musical object from contextualised commodity to the status of a fine art engendered a parallel shift in the
perception of the creative artist. The musical artwork capable of penetrating
the domain of the infinite could only come into being through the operation
of a more powerful agency than the activities of a self-contained human agent.
The creator of the fine artwork became an idealised figure whose creations
mirrored divinely inspired order and truth. A starting point for this process
is arguably the publication in 1802 of Johann Nikolaus Forkel’s biography of
J. S. Bach. In his exordium to his work he wrote:
Bach united with his great and lofty style the most refined elegance and
the greatest precision in the single parts that compose the great whole. He
12 Dahlhaus, Nineteenth-Century Music, p. 89.
13 Oliver Strunk, Source Readings in Music History (New York; London: W. Norton, 1998),
p. 755.
14 For an exegesis of the concept of musical transcendence, see Dahlhaus, NineteenthCentury Music, pp. 88–96.

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W i lhelm  F urtwä ngler
thought the whole could not be perfect if anything were wanting to the
perfect precision of the single parts; and this man, the greatest musical poet
and the greatest musical orator that ever existed, and probably ever will
exist, was a German. Let his country be proud of him; let it be proud but at
the same time, worthy of him!15

The historical and ideological reception of Bach in the nineteenth century
is described by Carl Dahlhaus as ‘one of the central processes in the history
of nineteenth-century music’.16 In 1850 the Bach Gesellschaft had been
founded with the objective of publishing a complete critical edition of the
works of J. S. Bach (Vollständige kritische Ausgabe aller Werke Johann Sebastian
Bachs) in commemoration of the first centenary of the composer’s death.
In 1880, six years before Furtwängler’s birth, the musicologist Philip Spitta
published the final volume of his Bach biography, and during the Wilhelmine
and Weimar years interest in Bach intensified as part of the newly unified
Germany’s search for a cohesive cultural identity.
The canonisation of Bach by Forkel and his successors and the elevation
of the Beethoven symphony into the opus metaphysicum of high art represent
two of the cornerstones of the emergent canon. As the century progressed this
association of ideas became increasingly volatile and the concept of musical
autonomy, with its associated qualities of metaphysical transcendence,
diverged into two broadly parallel streams. On the one hand the formalists
rejected the idea that music encoded and referred to things outside itself. The
content of a musical work consisted purely of a series of tonally moving forms
(tönend bewegte Formen). The æsthetic object (form) became apparent
through the operation of the musical process (content). Such was the position
defined by Eduard Hanslick in On the Musically Beautiful (Vom MusikalischSchönen, 1854).17 On the other hand there was the Schopenhauerian idea that
music symbolised or even expressed the Will whose ceaseless Becoming had
ultimately to be overcome. Schopenhauer’s ‘ideal’ is the ultimate denial of
the Will. This concept permeates Wagner’s later works, most notably Tristan

15 J. N. Forkel, ‘On Johann Sebastian Bach’s Life, Genius and Works’, The Bach Reader,
ed. Hans T. David and Arthur Mendel (New York: W. Norton, 1945), pp. 352–3. See
also Bernd Sponheur, ‘Reconstructing Ideal Types of the “German” in Music’, in
Celia Applegate and Pamela Potter, eds, Music and German National Identity (Chicago
and London: University of Chicago Press, 2003), pp. 36–58, here pp. 48–52.
16 Dahlhaus, Nineteenth-Century Music, pp. 30–1.
17 ‘Tonally moving forms’ is the English translation of Hanslick’s phrase in common use:
see Eduard Hanslick, On the Musically Beautiful, tr. Geoffrey Payzant (Indianapolis:
Hackett Publishing Company, 1986), p. 29. An alternative is ‘forms moving through
sound’, which is perhaps closer to Hanslick’s meaning. See Bojan Bujić, ed., Music in
European Thought (Cambridge: CUP, 1988), pp. 11–39.

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und Isolde (1859), and was to find its most articulate and persuasive literary
protagonist in the young Friedrich Nietzsche who in The Birth of Tragedy (Die
Geburt der Tragödie, 1872) defined the polarity of the Apolline and Dionysian
as an allegory of the tension of form and content.

Wagnerian Thought and Practice
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century the increasing influence of
Wagnerian thought and practice became ever more apparent. Wagner’s ideas
on the art of symphonic and operatic performance profoundly influenced
the practice of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1865
he submitted a report to Ludwig II of Bavaria outlining his proposals for
the establishment of a music school in Munich in which he expressed his
thoughts on the current state of musical education and performance in
We possess classical works but we are not in possession of a classical style
for the execution of these works. Does Germany possess a school at which
the proper execution of Mozart’s music is taught? Or do our orchestras and
their conductors manage to play Mozart in accordance with some occult
know­ledge of their own? If so whence do they derive such know­ledge? Who
taught them it?18

The establishment of such an institution would have given Wagner an
ideal medium through which to disseminate his ideals of performance. In
his essay ‘The Case of Wagner, freely after Nietzsche’ (‘Der Fall Wagner, frei
nach Nietzsche’, 1941), Furtwängler laments the fact that the project never
came to fruition. ‘It never became possible to found a conservatoire under
his directorship – an undertaking which would have made no great demands
on state funds and would have brought incalculable benefits to the musical
life of Germany.’19 In the essay ‘On Conducting’ (Über das Dirigiren, 1869)
Furtwängler believed that Wagner had laid down the principles of the art of
interpretation; in particular the comprehension of ‘melos’ by the conductor
is the sole guide to the correct tempo:

18 Richard Wagner, ‘Bericht an Seine Majestät den König Ludwig II von Bayern über eine
in München zu errichtende deutsche Musikschule’, in GSD, vol. 8, pp. 125–76; Eng.
edn, ‘A Music School for Munich’, PW, vol. 4, pp. 171–224. See also ‘On Conducting’,
tr. Edward Dannreuther (London: William Reeves, 1887), Appendix A, p. 109.
19 See Furtwängler, TW, pp. 123–4; Eng. edn, FM, p. 67.

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The right comprehension of the melos is the sole guide to the right tempo;
these two things are inseparable: the one implies and qualifies the other […].
The whole duty of a conductor is comprised in his ability always to indicate
the right tempo. His choice of tempo will show whether he understands
the piece or not. With good players, again, the true tempo induces correct
phrasing and expression, and conversely, with a conductor the idea of appropriate phrasing and expression will induce the conception of the true tempo.20

Foremost among the artists who were initially responsible for the promulgation of Wagner’s ideas on matters of performance practice, and in particular
the reception of the musical artwork, was Hans von Bülow (1830–94).21
Bülow, who conducted the first performances of Tristan und Isolde (1865) and
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1868), eventually broke with Wagner following
the composer’s well-publicised affair with and subsequent marriage to his
wife Cosima; but he continued to exert a pioneering influence as one of the
foremost executive musicians of his time. Between 1880 and 1885 he transformed the provincial Meiningen orchestra into a world-renowned ensemble;
on 21 October 1887 he gave the first of a series of concerts with the recently
formed Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra that was to establish this fledgling
ensemble as the ‘benchmark orchestra of the greater Germany’.22 In his book
Das Berliner Philharmonische Orchester the historian Werner Oehlmann writes:
With the first Philharmonic concert of the 1887/88 season, which took
place on Friday 21 October 1887 and included Haydn’s Symphony No. 102
in B flat, Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Eroica Symphonies, it was clear
that a new epoch, not only for the Philharmonic Orchestra but for Berlin’s
concert life in particular and [the art of] symphonic interpretation in
general, had begun.23

As a result of his estrangement from Wagner and his circle Bülow played no
part in bringing the later operas before the public; his activities in Meiningen
and Berlin were principally concerned with symphonic music and he became
a fervent champion of Brahms. Nevertheless, there were others who were
only too willing to carry the Wagnerian banner; the composer’s ideas on

20 Richard Wagner, ‘Über das Dirigiren’, in GSD, vol. 8, pp. 274–5; Eng. edn, ‘On
Conducting’, in PW, vol. 4, pp. 303–4. Cited here from ‘On Conducting’, tr.
E. Dannreuther (London: William Reeves, 1887), p. 20.
21 See Alan Walker, Hans von Bülow: A Life and Times (New York: OUP, 2010); Kenneth
Birkin, Hans von Bülow: A Life for Music (Cambridge: CUP, 2011).
22 See Norman Lebrecht, When the Music Stops (London: Simon & Schuster, 1996), p. 63.
23 Werner Oehlmann, Das Berliner Philharmonische Orchester (Kassel: Bärenreiter Verlag,
1974), p. 28.

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performance practice and the presentation of classical music were further
disseminated by the school of executant musicians which emerged from the
musical powerhouse created by the foundation of Bayreuth and influenced by
principles of interpretation outlined by Wagner in ‘On Conducting’, such as
fluctuating tempo, expressive rubato and a creative approach to the printed
score. Hans Richter (1843–1916), Anton Seidl (1850–98) and Felix Mottl
(1856–1911) were among those who formed the ‘Nibelungen Chancellery’
(‘Nibelungen Kanzlei’), the collective name given to the group of musicians
who assisted Wagner at the festivals of 1876 and 1882.
The first important musical gathering at Bayreuth had taken place on 22 May
1872 when Wagner marked the occasion of the laying of the foundation stone of
his Festival Theatre (Festspielhaus) by personally conducting a performance of
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony given by the elite of Germany’s musicians. Among
the orchestral violinists on this occasion was the young Arthur Nikisch (1855–
1922), the charismatic figure who was to become the first ‘star’ conductor in
the modern sense of the term and to whose position as undisputed leader of the
German musical establishment Wilhelm Furtwängler was to succeed in 1922.
Nikisch toured with the impresario Angelo Neumann and took part in the early
performances of Wagner’s Ring in important European cultural centres. After
a period as director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1889 to 1893 he
returned to Europe as director of the Budapest Opera (1893–95) in succession
to his younger colleague Gustav Mahler, and in 1895 he became director of the
Leipzig Gewandhaus concerts, a post which he held in conjunction with that of
chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra until his death in 1922.
Furtwängler heard Nikisch conduct in Hamburg in 1912 and from that point
on became a member of the Nikisch circle, regularly attending his after-concert
suppers. He revered him as his artistic mentor and greatly admired his powers
of musical expression and control over an orchestra. In the essay ‘The Tools of
the Conductor’s Trade’ (1937) he wrote:
I was able to observe at first hand the secret of the power of Arthur Nikisch.
He could make an orchestra sing – an extremely rare gift. This quality was not
confined to comparatively straightforward contexts where the music consisted
of broad, sweeping melodies. In classical music it also permeated the infinite
variety of phrases where the unbroken vocal line – the ‘melos’, as Wagner
called it, – constantly changed its position and its pitch, moving from one
orchestral part to another, often within one and the same bar. The ‘melos’
remains as important as ever for grasping the meaning of the work in question
but its thousand different disguises make it the more difficult to recognise.24
24 ‘Vom Handwerkszeug des Dirigenten’, VMS, pp. 97–106; Eng. edn, ‘The Tools of the
Conductor’s Trade’, FM, pp. 16–22.

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W i lhelm  F urtwä ngler

When Furtwängler became Chief Conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic
Orchestra he inherited the artistic mantle of both Nikisch and Bülow: he
thus became the legatee of an artistic tradition which originated with Wagner
himself and was closely associated with the practices and influence of
Wagner’s ideas were also to have a profound and long-lasting effect in the
political sphere in which Furtwängler moved and worked. By the early 1870s
the original idea of a democratic festival, conceived in the aftermath of the
failed revolutions of 1848–49, had become an impossibility in the changed
political and economic circumstances of Bismarck’s post-unification
German Reich. Wagner’s dream of an ideal, non-political German art, the
‘heil’ge deutsche Kunst’ of Die Meistersinger, that transcended politics, was a
powerful boost to the notion of a German Sonderweg, or special path, rooted
in the supra-rational ideology of romanticism and nourished by the growing
tide of conservative anti-modernity.25 Wagner’s voluminous and abstruse
political writings were a compendious source of völkisch or Gemeinschaft
ideologies that were considered particularly German.26 From the first festival
in 1876 and the continuation from 1882 onwards Bayreuth became not only
an artistic magnet but also an ideologically charged summer meeting place
for the old ruling elites. After Wagner’s death the cultural conservatism of
Bayreuth hardened inexorably into a strongly anti-democratic, reactionary
ideology promulgated largely by the group that gathered around Wagner’s
widow. Prominent among this ‘Bayreuth Circle’ were two of Cosima Wagner’s
sons-in-law, the art historian Henry Thode, who married Daniela von
Bülow, and the English-born author and Germanophile Houston Stewart
Chamberlain (1855–1927), husband of Eva Wagner. Chamberlain’s writings
in particular were to prove a powerful means of disseminating conservativenationalist ideologies.27

25 For more on the idea of Sonderweg, see Bernd Sponheur in Music and German National
Identity, pp. 52–6.
26 See Ernst Hanisch, ‘The Political Influence and Appropriation of Wagner’, in Ulrich
Müller, Peter Wapnewski and John Deathridge, eds, The Wagner Handbook (London
and Cambridge MA: Harvard UP, 1992), pp. 186–201, here p. 191.
27 See Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Politische Ideale (München: F. Bruckmann, 1915).
Also Saul Friedländer, Nazi Germany and the Jews: The Years of Persecution 1933–39
(London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1997), pp. 89–90; Roger Allen, entries on The
Bayreuth Circle (pp. 34–5) and Houston Stewart Chamberlain (pp. 78–80) in Nicholas
Vazsonyi, ed., The Cambridge Wagner Encyclopedia (Cambridge: CUP, 2013).

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The Organic Metaphor and the Idea of the ‘Whole’
Then they have the parts and they’ve lost the whole,
For the link that’s missing was the living soul.28

As with Furtwängler, Chamberlain’s world-view was increasingly expressed
in organic terms. This construct, based on notions of organic growth, was
an important metaphor for the philosophy of history and the nature of
society in nineteenth-century Germany. Moreover, as the century progressed
the ‘organic’ and the idea of the ‘whole’ increasingly became ideologically
charged expressions in what Nicholas Cook succinctly describes as the
‘classic idiom of cultural conservatism’.29 In its nineteenth-century guise it
developed from the ideas first articulated by Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–
1803) and continued by Goethe and Hegel. Herder expressed his ‘organic’
vision of history and society in metaphors of the natural world, which in turn
exercised a strong influence on Goethe in the development of his scientific
theory.30 The organic world-view perceives society and its characteristic
products ‘in terms of the biological metaphor of a living organism’.31 The
process of growth takes place through time; the component parts of the
organism depend upon one another; the individual parts are therefore interdependent and functionally interrelated. In Hegel’s view the organic unity
of a musical work is a measure of value and artistic worth. In his influential
Lectures on Aesthetics he writes:
If the work is a genuine work of art, the more exact the detail [and]
the greater the unity of the whole. […] Inner organization and overall
coherence are equally essential in music, because each part depends on the
existence of others.32

28 Goethe, Faust, Part I, lines 1938–9, tr. David Luke.
29 Nicholas Cook, The Schenker Project (New York: OUP 2007), p. 187.
30 See David L. Montgomery, ‘The Myth of Organicism: From Bad Science to Great Art’,
in The Musical Quarterly, vol. 76 (1992), pp. 17–66. See also G. W. F. Hegel, Grundlinien
der Philosophie des Rechts (1821); Eng. edn, Philosophy of Right, tr. S. W. Dyde (London:
G. Bell, 1896; pbk reprint, New York, 1996), pp. 240–350. In Hegel’s complex view
of history, organic society, or Volksgeist, is thought to have a life of its own. ‘In that
direction lies totalitarianism and racism’: R. S. Downey in Ted Honderich, ed., The
Oxford Companion to Philosophy (Oxford: OUP, 1995), p. 636; also Peter Singer, Hegel
(Oxford: OUP Past Masters, 1983), pp. 42–3.
31 Oxford Companion to Philosophy, p. 636.
32 Cited in Le Huray and Day, Music Aesthetics in the Eighteenth and Early-Nineteenth
Centuries (Cambridge: CUP, 1981), p. 227.

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W i lhelm  F urtwä ngler

The idea of the ‘whole’ entered political discourse in the Addresses to the
German Nation delivered between 1807 and 1808 at the newly founded
university of Berlin by Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814). Fichte’s rhetoric
was influential in the growth of a sense of national identity as a response
to the Napoleonic occupation of German lands. In the thirteenth address
he declared that: ‘Those who speak the same language are linked together
[…]; they understand each other and are capable of communicating more
and more closely with one another, they belong together, they are by nature
one indivisible whole.’33 Hegel expanded this theoretical metaphor into an
applied political philosophy where the microcosm of the individual functions
as a component part of the macrocosm of the state. In The Philosophy of Right
(Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts, 1821) he writes: ‘This substantive
unity is its own motive and absolute end. In this end freedom attains its
highest right. This end has the highest right over the individual, whose
highest duty in turn is to be a member of the State.’34 At the other end of the
century, in the seminal work of political thought, Community and Civil Society
(Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, 1887), Ferdinand Tönnies describes ‘the whole
as not merely the sum of its parts; on the contrary the parts are dependent
on and conditioned by the whole, so that the whole possesses intrinsic reality
and substance’.35
The idea of the ‘whole’ and of organic growth was central to Wagner’s
conception of drama, and especially that of the Ring. In the third part of
the treatise Opera and Drama (1851) he describes the genuine drama as ‘an
organic Being [organisch Seiendes] and Becoming [Werdendes], evolving
and shaping itself from inner necessity’.36 In the justly famous letter to Liszt
of 20 November 1851, in which he outlines the development of the entire
Ring from its initial conception in 1848 to the eventual formulation of the
four-opera design, Wagner writes ‘every unbiased human feeling must be
able to grasp the whole through its faculties of artistic perception, because
only then can it properly absorb the least detail’.37 In Furtwängler’s thought,
his organic world-view was literary in origin and most immediately derived
from Goethe’s natural science as poetically expressed in the poems The
Metamorphosis of Plants (Metamorphose der Pflanzen, 1798), The Metamorphosis

33 J. G. Fichte, Sämmtliche Werke (Berlin: Veit und Comp., 1845–46), vol. 7, p. 459. See
also H. S. Reiss, Political Thought of the German Romantics 1793–1815 (Oxford: Basil
Blackwell, 1955), here p. 102.
34 Hegel, Philosophy of Right, p. 240.
35 Tönnies, Community and Civil Society, p. 21.
36 GSD, vol 4, p. 204; PW, vol. 2, p. 350.
37 Selected Letters of Richard Wagner, tr. Stewart Spencer, ed. Barry Millington (London:
J. M. Dent, 1987), p. 237.

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of Animals (Metamorphose der Tiere, 1798) and in the oracular and well-nigh
untranslatable First and Last Words: Orphic (Urworte, Orphisch, 1817): ‘Und
keine Zeit und keine Macht zerstückelt / Geprägte Form die Lebend sich
entwickelt’, roughly paraphrased in translation as ‘and no time nor power
can destroy the form that has been impressed on evolving life’.38 For Goethe
the human being was a single whole involving both mind and body; nature
was a continuously evolving chain of being. In the conversation between
Goethe and Eckermann, recorded as having taken place on 20 June 1831,
Goethe speaks of a musical work, in this case Mozart’s Don Giovanni, as:
a spiritual creation, in which the details as well as the whole, are pervaded
by one spirit, and by the