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The Political Orchestra

The Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics during the Third Reich

The Political Orchestra

The Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics during the Third Reich

This is a groundbreaking study of the prestigious Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics during the Third Reich. Making extensive use of archival material, including some discussed here for the first time, Fritz Trümpi offers new insight into the orchestras’ place in the larger political constellation.

Trümpi looks first at the decades preceding National Socialist rule, when the competing orchestras, whose rivalry mirrored a larger rivalry between Berlin and Vienna, were called on to represent “superior” Austro-German music and were integrated into the administrative and social structures of their respective cities—becoming vulnerable to political manipulation in the process. He then turns to the Nazi period, when the orchestras came to play a major role in cultural policies. As he shows, the philharmonics, in their own unique ways, strengthened National Socialist dominance through their showcasing of Germanic culture in the mass media, performances for troops and the general public, and fictional representations in literature and film. Accompanying these propaganda efforts was an increasing politicization of the orchestras, which ranged from the dismissal of Jewish members to the programming of ideologically appropriate repertory—all in the name of racial and cultural purity.

Richly documented and refreshingly nuanced, The Political Orchestra is a bold exploration of the ties between music and politics under fascism.

344 pages | 9 halftones, 17 line drawings, 5 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2016

History: European History

Music: General Music


“The power of economic and institutional pressures over lives and ideas . . . is richly documented by Fritz Trümpi . . . . It took Trümpi and other scholars years of public lobbying to gain access to the orchestra’s archives. The results are mesmerizing.”

Gundula Kreuzer | Times Literary Supplement

"Not just an enlightening look at the subtleties of past history, but a cautionary tale for our present—and our future."

Washington Times

"Given the heavy and heady nature of the subject matter, The Political Orchestra is far from an easy read, but those willing to invest the requisite time and consideration will find that Trümpi has masterfully shed light on this previously overlooked time in the world of European classical music."

Spectrum Culture

"The Political Orchestra is a product of extensive new research into the hitherto suppressed history of orchestral life in Germany and Austria during the Nazi era, and most importantly, the years leading up to it."

Classical Voice America

"There are lessons here for our own grave times."

Literary Review

"This is the best book on orchestral life under Nazism."

Times Higher Education

“A brilliant survey of the politics that underpin, and differentiate, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic. . . . This extremely valuable and original contribution to the political and musical history of central Europe is must reading. . . . Highly recommended.”


"The author has a fascinating and complex tale to tell, and does so brilliantly, combining a sure overview of historical data with a remarkable command of the often separate, often intersecting narrative strands."

Australian Book Review

“This is a groundbreaking study. Trümpi takes on two of the most iconic musical institutions in Germany and Austria, showing how closely they were integrated into the cultural politics of the Third Reich after the 1938 annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany. His comparative approach and dual focus present a double case study that brilliantly demonstrates how the relationship between music and politics in a totalitarian regime was shaped by specific local circumstances that both favored and resisted total manipulation.”

Berthold Hoeckner, University of Chicago

The Political Orchestra takes an important look at the different ways the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics were politicized before and during the Third Reich. Trümpi, who puts their musical styles and mythologies firmly into historical perspective, has unearthed and published for the first time much archival material, which this welcome English translation now makes available for a wider audience.”

Georgina Prodhan, former Vienna correspondent, Reuters

"The tale that it tells is both compelling and disturbing, especially to anyone who clings to the belief that high art is ennobling to the spirit."

Commentary Magazine

Table of Contents

Two Cities, Two Orchestras: An Introduction
1 “Innovation” versus “Tradition”: The Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics at the End of the Long Nineteenth Century
2 Differing Responses to Increased State Influence: The Orchestras during the Republics (1918–1933)
3 Continuous Radicalization under Austrofascism and National Socialism
4 Dependence and Protection under National Socialism
5 The Orchestras’ Multifaceted Media Presence
6 Repertoire and Politicization: National Socialism and the Politics of Programming
Summary and Conclusion: “A Rivalry Like That between the Berliners and the Viennese Will Always Exist”
Appendix: Repertoire—Graphs and Commentary


Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

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