Defining Deutschtum: Political Ideology, German Identity, and Music-Critical Discourse in Liberal Vienna, David Brodbeck. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. ISBN 9780199362707.


The Political Orchestra: the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics during the Third Reich, Fritz Trümpi; translated by Kenneth Kronenberg. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. ISBN 9780226251424.

Reviewed by Erol Koymen


Each year, classical-music lovers the world over tune into the Vienna Philharmonic’s televised New Year’s Day Concert. With its lush, mellow orchestral sound, the Philharmonic ushers in the new year in traditional fashion with marches and folksy waltzes accompanied by images of the Musikverein, Vienna’s gilded, neo-classical temple to musical art. The other 364 days of the year? Any time, day or night, the Berlin Philharmonic invites listeners into the bold, organic Philharmonie via a subscription to its Digital Concert Hall, where the repertoire ranges from classic to avant-garde. Two orchestras situated at the geographical and political poles of German-speaking lands. Two global brands—the ostentatiously stodgy Vienna Philharmonic and the bold, muscular Berlin Philharmonic—both so successful that they almost seem to exist outside of music history. In The Political Orchestra: the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics during the Third Reich, appearing in 2016 in English translation by Kenneth Kronenberg from University of Chicago Press, Fritz Trümpi disproves this notion, charting the emergence of the “Made in Germany” and “Music City Vienna” brands from their nineteenth-century origins to the varying consequences of their politicization under National Socialism.

Despite their preeminence, the two philharmonics are not without their challengers in contemporary Europe: in Viktor Orban’s “illiberal” Hungary, for example, the state is treating “temples of national culture,” such as the state opera, to massively increased financial support. In Orban’s music history, opera becomes integral to an urgent project of defending the nation from ostensibly unprecedented outside threats [1]. To readers of David Brodbeck’s Defining Deutschtum: Political Ideology, German Identity, and Music-Critical Discourse in Liberal Vienna, however, this story is all too familiar. Through analysis of music critical discourse in Vienna from the Vormaerz to the fin-de-siecle, Brodbeck traces transformations in liberal ideology and a shift “from a conception of Germanness rooted in social class and cultural elitism to one based in blood” (329).

mjor2Both books thus have much to teach us not only about the relationship between music, political ideology, and anti-Semitism in German-speaking lands during the late-nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries, but also about the various uses and abuses of music history in the contemporary moment. Beyond their content, these two books take on an additional role as exemplars of varying approaches to the research and writing of music history. With its focus on prominent institutions, exhaustive archival work, quantitative analysis, and eschewing of hermeneutics, Trümpi’s book exemplifies a social history approach. As a cultural history of nineteenth-century political ideology, on the other hand, Brodbeck’s book reframes canonical debates by foregrounding (somewhat) marginal figures and provides ample space for biographical detail and textual analysis. In short, these two books make valuable and multi-faceted contributions to a growing recent literature on music and politics in German-speaking lands [2].

One of Brodbeck’s principal interventions is to emphasize the mutability of ideology wherein previous music scholars, such as K.M. Knittel and Margaret Notley, had assumed a static ideology of anti-Semitism in nineteenth-century German-speaking lands. The transformation of liberal ideology that Brodbeck traces is likewise reflected in the structure of the book. The first part, “From the Vormaerz to the Liberal Heydey,” examines the emergence of a “German liberal nationalist” ideology according to which Germanness was theoretically accessible to any and all Hapsburg citizens who assimilated themselves into German culture through Bildung. In this section, Brodbeck introduces two of the book’s main characters. The first chapter introduces famed, Prague-born, Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick, an exemplary mid-century liberal who himself was an assimilated Jew. Over the next two chapters, Brodbeck follows Carl Goldmark, an assimilated Jewish composer whose Orientalist compositions prompted charges from Hanslick and his fellow liberal critics that Goldmark was stubbornly maintaining ties to “oriental Judaism” and thus failing to properly assimilate. Crucially, Brodbeck’s goal here is to demonstrate that Hanslick and Speidel’s remonstrations emanate not from a racial anti-Semitism, but rather from liberal views that hold Germanness to be universal and difference to be suspect.

In the book’s second part, “From the Iron Ring to the Fin de Siecle,” Brodbeck traces the rise of an ethnic conception of Germanness stimulated by the federalist policies of Austrian Minister-President Eduard Taaffe, the rise of the Burschenshaften student associations, and the anti-semitic writings of Georg von Schönerer. Here, Brodbeck introduces the book’s third set of characters: the Czech composers Antonin Dvorak and Bedrich Smetana. Over two chapters, Brodbeck draws a contrast between the German liberal Hanslick, who regards Dvorak as an assimilated composer worthy of comparison to Brahms, and a new generation of increasingly German nationalist critics such as Theodor Helm, who see an unbridgable gap between the German Brahms and the Czech Dvorak. Interestingly, by the end of the century, Smetana draws praise from a new generation of German nationalist critics, who admire him both for his Wagnerian influence and for modelling a strong nationalist compositional style. Brodbeck also returns in this section to Carl Goldmark’s Viennese reception. By the end of the nineteenth century, Goldmark has been accepted as a fully assimilated German by liberals such as Hanslick, but a new generation of anti-Semitic Wagner-inspired German nationalists see his music as essentially Jewish and thus hopelessly tainted by superficiality and imitation. Brodbeck concludes with a discussion of German nationalist calls for defense of the Nationalbesitzstand prompted by Mahler’s appointment as Hofoper director and with an effective summing up of the book’s main themes.

There is much to like in Defining Deutschtum. Brodbeck’s argument is clear and engagingly conveyed through rich biographical detail and an evidently deep command of historical context. The book also effectively models the possibilities of a cultural history of music: on the one hand, Brodbeck uses musical analysis to deepen his historical argument; on the other, he demonstrates possibilities for a cultural history of music broadly construed. For instance, in a chapter on the “Billroth Affair,” Brodbeck elucidates the controversy around a book on the “Eastern Question” from physician, amateur musician, and Brahms-Hanslick circle member, Theodor Billroth.

Fritz Trümpi’s The Political Orchestra differs from Defining Deutschtum not only in its approach to music history writing, but also its comparative focus. Whereas Brodbeck explores several threads over the course of his book, Trümpi considers the orchestras’ trajectories comparatively over the course of a historical sweep leading up to the Second World War that unfolds accross the book’s six chapters. In the strong first chapter, “’Innovation’ versus ‘Tradition,’” Trümpi examines the nineteenth-century emergence of the “brands” that will figure throughout the rest of the book. On the one hand, the “innovative” Berlin Philharmonic developed a reputation for playing new music and cultivating broad popular appeal, while on the other the “traditional” Vienna Philharmonic invested in burnishing its aura of exclusivity as keeper of “high culture.” The Berlin Philharmonic also represented Germany abroad through regular international tours while the Vienna Philharmonic’s quintessentially and “organically” Viennese image remained more domestically rooted. I found Trümpi’s analysis of the Berlin Philharmonic’s co-opting of the “made in Germany” label to be particularly effective. This label, attached as a marker of quality to products manufactured in industrial powerhouse Gründerzeit Germany, came also to signify the high quality of the Berlin Philharmonic’s musical products offered abroad.

The rest of the book’s chapters examine the ways in which the “made in Germany” and “music city Vienna” brands become entrenched, reproduced, represented, and mobilized for political gain by influential actors in the post-war German and Austrian Republics (ch. 2), national socialist Germany and Staendestaat Austria (ch. 3), and in the two cities under National Socialism (ch. 4). One of the main themes of the book is the relationship between National Socialism and modernity and the coexistence of different modernities. The Vienna Philharmonic largely maintained its traditional independence as it developed a “völkisch” image rooted in nostalgic notions of Altwien and closely associated with the Strauss family, whose compositions continue to figure prominently in the New Year’s concerts. The Berlin Philharmonic, on the other hand, became a finely-honed tool for Nazi propaganda under Joseph Goebbels. One important intervention that Trümpi makes in his careful analysis of Goebbels’ aggressive stewardship of the orchestra is to foreground crucial administrative reorganizations in 1929 and 1932 that granted increasing control over the orchestra to the municipal and Reich governments. Trümpi thus challenges Pamela Potter’s claim that this transfer of control occurred primarily with the 1934 Gleichschaltung. Another important discussion in these chapters regards debates over the expulsion of Jews from the orchestras, which generally hinged on the ability of the orchestra to continue performing under Nazi control rather than emanating from a concern for the wellbeing of Jewish orchestra members.

In the book’s last two chapters, Trümpi shifts gears away from the previous chronology. In the fifth chapter, focusing on discourse about the two orchestras and their literary and filmic representations, Trümpi effectively draws out the dynamic relationship between the brands, the relationship between these and the politicization of the the orchestras, and their use by individual actors for political ends. The sixth chapter, which examines transformations in the orchestras’ repertoire and programming under national socialism, however, was less successful. The longest chapter of the book by some fifteen pages, it covers topics ranging from statistical analysis of repertoire, radio concerts, workers concerts, and foreign policy. As such, I struggled at times to follow its thread. Generally, there were moments in the book where Trümpi mustered considerable reams of historical evidence without driving home the conceptual point that they were intended to support. For example, in contrast to his analysis of the innovative Berlin Philharmonic and the “made in Germany” label, the link between the Vienna Philharmonic and “tradition” remains somewhat under-historicized throughout the book. Trümpi’s conclusion, however, largely compensates for the occassional morass of data by pithily and effectively recounting the book’s main themes and contributions.

Together, these books give a broad and varied sense of the relationships between political ideology and music in German-speaking lands during the roughly century-long period from the Vormaerz to the decline and fall of National Socialism. Particularly relevant themes cluster around the mutability of ideology: the role of institutions such as orchestras and the media in the construction of ideology and identity; and, of course, the rise of anti-Semitism and its influence, both direct and latent, on musical life. Overall, these books should be of interest to all historians of nineteenth and twentieth-century German-speaking lands. Finally, I have suggested that Defining Deutschtum and The Political Orchestra might specifically engage music historians by providing opportunity to reflect on different approaches to researching and writing music history. As music historians consider the possibilities offered by philosophy, “quirk historicism,” voice and materiality, and other recent paradigms, these two books serve as a reminder that there is much to be gained from more “traditional” approaches, and perhaps even more to be lost by their neglect [3].


[2] See: Celia Applegate, The Necessity of Music: Variations On a German Theme (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017); Pamela Maxine Potter, Art of Suppression: Confronting the Nazi Past in Histories of the Visual and Performing Arts (Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2016).

[3] See: Michael Gallope, Deep Refrains: Music, Philosophy, and the Ineffable (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2017); Nicholas Mathew and Mary Ann Smart, “Elephants in the Music Room: The Future of Quirk Historicism,” Representations 132/1 (2015); Martha Feldman, “Why Voice Now?” Journal of the American Musicological Society 68/3 (2015).


Erol Koymen, University of Chicago