Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954) has entered the historical memory as a renowned interpreter of the canon of Austro-German musical masterworks. His extensive legacy of recorded performances of Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner and Wagner is widely regarded as unsurpassed. Yet more than sixty years after his death he remains a controversial figure: the complexities and equivocacy of his high-profile position within the Third Reich still cast a long shadow over his reputation. This book builds an intellectual biography of Furtwängler, probing this ambiguity, through a critical examination of his extensive series of essays, addresses and symphonies. It traces the development of his thought from its foundations in late nineteenth-century traditions of Bildung and associated discourses of conservative-minded nationalism, through the turbulent years of the Weimar Republic and the cultural and moral dilemmas of the Nazi period, to the post-World War II years of Bundesrepublik reconstruction, in which the beleaguered idealist found himself adrift in an alien cultural environment overshadowed by the unfolding narrative of the Nazi holocaust. The book will be of interest not only to music scholars but to cultural and intellectual historians as well.
An innovative approach to this highly controversial conductor whose career flourished under Nazi rule…a very welcome and insightful complement to the extant library of Furtwängler biographies. GERMAN HISTORYR> Roger Allen’s thoroughly researched volume is something subtler and ultimately perhaps more insightful. OPERA An astute essay on the highs and lows of German cultural history, as seen through the eyes and perceived by the actions of the star conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler…Allen enters this terrain equipped with a great sense of fairness rarely found in scholarly studies. WAGNERSPECTRUM Trace(s) the genesis of the belief system that made Furtwängler accept the Nazi regime as an unappetizing but tolerable set-up in which to achieve his cultural aims…Reading Furtwängler’s writings with Allen as a guide illuminates the political undercurrents of his aesthetics. TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT Explored through Furtwängler’s writings and those of relevant contemporaries, is the social, intellectual and cultural hinterland – the ‘Germanness’ – that shaped his being…There is much that is interesting here about the nature of German conservatism and Furtwängler’s relationship to it. GRAMOPHONE This impeccably researched and engagingly written study tackles the emotive subject from a cultural perspective, shedding fresh light on how Furtwängler remained (at least in his mind) apolitical during a period of extreme politicisation. BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE
About the Author
ROGER ALLEN is a Fellow of St Peter’s College, Oxford and author of Richard Wagner’s Beethoven (1870): A New Translation (Boydell Press, 2014)