Book Review: Musicians Survival Under the Nazi Regime

BEETHOVEN IN THE BUNKER: Musicians Under the Nazi Regime

From Flemish author, radio and television presenter, and classical music connoisseur Fred Brouwers comes a compelling survey that examines the remarkable relationship between the Nazis and classical music through the stories of musicians, composers, and conductors across the political spectrum.

BEETHOVEN IN THE BUNKER: Musicians Under the Nazi Regime (Other Press Hardcover Original; On Sale: 4/11/23) recounts an extraordinary chapter of musical history, exposing the dramatic stories of classical musicians—many of whom were either Jewish, had socialist sympathies, made modern atonal music, or opposed fascism in one way or another—and their lives under the Nazi regime. Brouwers highlights these musicians’ often tragic histories during a brutal and devastating time for humanity, and each of their fates.

In May 1945, a Soviet military patrol’s search of Hitler’s secret bunker in Berlin. They find bodies, documents, jewelry, paintings—and also an extensive collection of 78 rpm records. It comes as no surprise that this collection includes work by Beethoven, Wagner, and Bruckner. The same goes for a procession of other giants promoted by the Nazi regime: “It seems as if the Nazis put a steel helmet on Mozart, girded Schubert with a saber, and wrapped barbed wire around Johann Strauss’s neck,” composer Robert Stolz once said. But how is it possible that Hitler’s favorites also included “forbidden” Jewish and Russian composers and performers? How is it that Hilter’s favorites included these blacklisted musicians? BEETHOVEN IN THE BUNKER explores Nazi’s meticulously tracking of the cultural and musical world, signaling how vital music is as a foundation of humanity. Brouwers discusses the remarkable relationship between the Nazis and classical music. While Hitler sat secretly enjoying previously recorded music in his bunker, musicians made of flesh and blood were denied a means of making a living. They died in concentration camps or in other war-related circumstances. They survived but ended up in psychiatric care; they managed to flee just in time; they sided with the regime—out of conviction or coercion—or they joined the resistance. Making this an extraordinarily fascinating chapter in music history.

Being a child of the Sixties, Brouwer has always had an interest in the social aspect of music and musicians. Having produced a memorial concert for the city of Louvain, which was heavily bombed and partly destroyed at the onset of WWI, he began to think about WWII and how to celebrate the end of such a catastrophic time 75 years later. BEETHOVEN IN THE BUNKER is that celebration, illuminating the power of music during one the world’s darkest moments.

Fred Brouwers

About the author: Fred Brouwers is a Flemish radio and television presenter and connoisseur of classical music. For many years he has hosted the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, Belgium, for up-and-coming classical musicians. Beethoven in the Bunker is his first book to appear in English.

About the translator: Eileen J. Stevens earned her MA in linguistics with a specialization in translation from the University of Amsterdam. Her translation credits include Anna Enquist’s The Homecoming and a co-translation (with Anna Asbury) of Connie Palmen’s Your Story, My Story, which was nominated for the Dublin Literary Award. She has also translated numerous essays on classical music and the arts. A graduate of the Hartt School of Music, Stevens played the violin in a Dutch orchestra for twenty-five years before turning her attention to literary translation.

​​​​​​EXCERPT

He had a list of five records that had to be taken with him—at any cost—if he suddenly had to flee, proving that he’d given the matter considerable thought. Included on the list were the Beethoven Piano Sonatas, the Flying Dutchman Overture, the Russian arias with Chaliapin mentioned earlier, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, and last but not least, Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 8 in A minor, performed by—none other than—Artur Schnabel. When referring to the Nazi’s preferred music in general and the choice of Mozart in particular, Robert Stolz, an immensely popular composer of operettas and light classics who had emigrated to the United States, once made a brilliant remark during a radio program: “It seems as if the Nazis put a steel helmet on Mozart, girded Schubert with a saber and wrapped barbed wire around Johann Strauss’s neck.”
Hitler had fallen under the spell of the music and talent of particular performers to such an extent that he forgot that they were the enemy. This has led some historians to suggest that he was not such a bad fellow, really. In this, however, they were overlooking the death toll weighing heavily on his conscience.

BEETHOVEN IN THE BUNKER: Musicians Under the Nazi Regime
By Fred Brouwers, Translated by Eileen J. Stevens
Other Press Hardcover Original • ISBN 978-1-63542-329-7
On Sale Date: April 11, 2023 • Price: $25.99

 

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