On this 75th anniversary of the Anschluss that annexed Austria into Nazi Germany, the Vienna Philharmonic has published on its website a study led by historian Oliver Rathkolb that details its ties to the Nazi regime. In total, 13 Jewish musicians were driven from the orchestra, and nearly half of its members in 1942 were active Nazis. Even as late as 1966 or 1967, after Baldur von Schirach was released from Spandau prison, the orchestra’s lead trumpeter (a former SS himself) presented the head of the Hitler Youth with a replacement “ring of honor” that von Schirach originally received from the orchestra during World War 2 but had lost in the interim.
Even the orchestra’s famous New Year’s Concerts are tainted:
The Philharmonic is most popularly known for its annual New Year’s Concert, a Strauss waltz extravaganza that is broadcast to an audience of more than 50 million in 80 countries. It now emerges that the concert originated as a propaganda instrument under Nazi rule in 1939.
Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 7 in A, op. 92, II: Allegretto, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Carlos Kleiber, cond.
In this recording, the string parts are played pizzicato all the way to the end of the movement instead of returning to arco for its last few bars as indicated by the score. Compare this to a performance that follows the score’s instructions.
“We are in Vienna,” imagines NPR’s Robert Krulwich. “Leonard Bernstein is on the podium. The Vienna Philharmonic is on the stage, Haydn’s Symphony no.88 is in the air, and our question is: Where are Bernstein’s hands? Why isn’t he using his hands? He’s moving nothing — except his face.”
Replies Ezra Block: “My friend George Steel, Director of the New York City Opera calls this technique ‘eyebrows only,’ though as you can see, his chin is working, his eyes are darting, his mouth is up, down. He’s liking, noticing, saying thank you using only his face muscles. You should let people see this.”
Krulwich: “Ok, ok. Here’s Leonard Bernstein finishing an encore performance of the 4th movement of Haydn’s 88th. Watch the man.”