Several Shades of Grey: Resistance amongst Composers during the Nazi era

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This chapter explores the problematic issue of resistance amongst German composers during the Nazi era. All surviving evidence suggests that no composer that remained in Germany at this time consistently defied the regime, either in stylistic or political terms, and that no composer was a proactive member of a prominent resistance group. Nevertheless, composers took advantage of a certain degree of leeway (or obfuscation) in terms of what new music was deemed either acceptable or unacceptable in official circles, and of course, the prevailing orthodoxy changed over the years as a result of external political pressures and rivalries between leading Nazi politicians vying for control over cultural policies. This resulted in a much more complex and fluid approach to music censorship, enabling some composers to evade criticism even temporarily by pursuing a subtle resistance to the regime- one that manifests itself as amounting to various shades of grey.
To flesh out this argument, I examine potential resistance factors in the work of three composers from this period, Richard Strauss, Karl Amadeus Hartmann and Boris Blacher, all of whom resisted Nazi interference in different ways. Mention is also made of some composers, such as Hugo Distler and Winfried Zillig who were inaccurately martyred as victims of Nazi oppression, either through their own self-mythologising of the past after 1945, and/or through the arguments of certain scholars, who for various reasons, were keen to whitewash their complicity, when all the evidence suggests that their careers largely thrived under the Nazis.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMusic and Resistance from 1900 to the Present
EditorsIgor Contreras-Zubilliga , Helena Martín-Nieva
Place of PublicationTurnhout
Number of pages23
ISBN (Print)978-2-503-60291-2
Publication statusPublished - 12 Dec 2022

Publication series

NameMusic, Criticism & Politics


  • Resistance
  • Nazi Germany

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