Michael Morley reviews 'The Political Orchestra: the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics during the Third Reich' by Fritz Trümpi, translated by Kenneth Kronenberg

This study, which first appeared in German in 2011, was hailed at the time as definitive: properly so, as it incorporates so many aspects from so many areas of research. It marks a significant contribution to such fields as musicology, cultural history, the relationship between art and politics – not just in the Nazi era, but the periods preceding that, which saw the emergence of the two orchestras – and the role of the state and of the audience in shaping repertoire, and the relationship between the orchestra and the media.

The introduction manages the difficult task of summarising the crucial historical issue of ‘two cities, two orchestras’ while also reminding the reader of more contemporary questions such as the ‘German sound’ of the Berlin Philharmonic – which led to what the author describes as a ‘hot debate ... [which] emerged from a polemic against the principal conductor of the orchestra, Simon Rattle’ – versus the Vienna Philharmonic’s approach, which ‘hews neither to the German sound nor even an Austrian one’. These convenient shorthand descriptions are deftly set against each other and analysed, even before the author spells out the work’s primary aim.

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