Posted on 03/02/2011
Erik Levi, Reader in Music and Director of Performance at Royal Holloway, University of London, explores some of the darkest days for music in the 20th century, when the Third Reich promoted Mozart’s music to further the goals of the fascist regime.
In his latest book, Mozart and the Nazis, Mr Levi reveals how the Nazis tried to airbrush the contribution made by Mozart’s Jewish born librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte to prevent the composer from being contaminated through direct creative association with a Jew.
He explains: “The tortuous way in which Da Ponte’s texts were Aryanised is in itself a fascinating story, but as I explored the topic of Mozart reception in greater depth it became apparent that not only Da Ponte but also other aspects of Mozart’s life and work had become grossly manipulated by the Nazis to support their ideological aims.”
Mr Levi goes on to explain how Mozart was declared the greatest German genius by Hitler’s Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. And how somewhat fortuitously the 150th anniversary year of Mozart’s death took place in 1941 at the very height of the Second World War. Given the political circumstances, the Nazis used this occasion to launch a nationwide celebration of the works of Mozart on an unprecedented scale partly to deflect attention away from the war and also to create a sense of well- being on the home front.
The celebrations culminated in a huge week long festival in Vienna to which allied politicians from all over occupied Europe were invited. During this event two prominent Nazi politicians, Goebbels and the former Hitler youth leader, Baldur von Schirach, delivered speeches on Mozart, which are reproduced for the first time in Mr Levi’s book. At the festival’s close Mozart was honoured with a formal Nazi burial ceremony and a memorial flame was erected in front of St Stephen’s Cathedral with wreaths from Hitler, Goering, the SS, the Wehrmacht and others on prominent display.
Mr Levi adds: “I have uncovered several underlying issues that have remained unresolved as a result of Nazi machinations, the most significant being the appropriation of approximately a fifth of Mozart’s entire manuscripts which remain in the hands of the Poles and are unlikely in the foreseeable future to be returned to the Berlin State Library where they were originally housed.”