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The Devil's Music Master: The Controversial Life and Career of Wilhelm Furtwangler

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From 1922 until his death in 1954, Wilhelm Furtw�ngler was the foremost cultural music figure of the German-speaking world, conductor of both the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic orchestras. But a cloud still hangs over his reputation, despite his undeniable brilliance as a musician, because of a fatal and tragic decision. Wilhelm Furtw�ngler remained in Germany when thousand From 1922 until his death in 1954, Wilhelm Furtw�ngler was the foremost cultural music figure of the German-speaking world, conductor of both the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic orchestras. But a cloud still hangs over his reputation, despite his undeniable brilliance as a musician, because of a fatal and tragic decision. Wilhelm Furtw�ngler remained in Germany when thousands of intellectuals and artists fled after the Nazis seized power in 1933. His decision to stay behind earned him lasting condemnation as a Nazi collaborator--The Devil's Music Master. Decades after his death, Furtw�ngler remains for many not only the greatest but also the most controversial musical personality of our time. In The Devil's Music Master, Sam H. Shirakawa forges the first full-length and comprehensive biography of Furtw�ngler. He surveys Furtw�ngler's formative years as a difficult but brilliant prodigy, his rise to pre-eminence as Germany's leading conductor, and his development as a musician, composer, and thinker. Shirakawa also reviews the rich recorded legacy Furtw�ngler documented throughout his forty-year career--such as the legendary Tristan with Kirsten Flagstad and the famous performances of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in 1942 and 1951. Equally important, Shirakawa goes backstage and behind the lines to explore how the Nazis seized control of the arts and how Furtw�ngler single-handedly tried to prevent evil characters as Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and Luftwaffe Chief Hermann G�ring from annihilating Germany's musical life. He shows how Furtw�ngler, far from being a toady to the Nazis, stood up openly against Hitler and Himmler--at enormous personal risk--to salvage the musical traditions of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. Shirakawa also presents moving and overwhelming evidence of Furtw�ngler's astonishing efforts to save the lives of Jews and other persecuted individuals trapped in Nazi Germany--only to be proscribed at the end of the war and nearly framed as a war criminal. But there was more to Furtw�ngler than his politics, or even his music, and we come to know this extraordinary man as a reluctant composer, a prolific essayist and diary keeper, a loyal friend, a formidable enemy when crossed, and an incorrigible philanderer. Numerous musical luminaries share their memories of Furtw�ngler to round out this vivid portrait. Based on dozens of interviews and research in numerous documents, letters, and diaries, many of them previously unpublished, The Devil's Music Master is an in-depth look at the life and times of a unique personality whose fatal flaw lay in his uncompromising belief that music and art must be kept apart from politics, a conviction that transformed him into a tragic figure.


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From 1922 until his death in 1954, Wilhelm Furtw�ngler was the foremost cultural music figure of the German-speaking world, conductor of both the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic orchestras. But a cloud still hangs over his reputation, despite his undeniable brilliance as a musician, because of a fatal and tragic decision. Wilhelm Furtw�ngler remained in Germany when thousand From 1922 until his death in 1954, Wilhelm Furtw�ngler was the foremost cultural music figure of the German-speaking world, conductor of both the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic orchestras. But a cloud still hangs over his reputation, despite his undeniable brilliance as a musician, because of a fatal and tragic decision. Wilhelm Furtw�ngler remained in Germany when thousands of intellectuals and artists fled after the Nazis seized power in 1933. His decision to stay behind earned him lasting condemnation as a Nazi collaborator--The Devil's Music Master. Decades after his death, Furtw�ngler remains for many not only the greatest but also the most controversial musical personality of our time. In The Devil's Music Master, Sam H. Shirakawa forges the first full-length and comprehensive biography of Furtw�ngler. He surveys Furtw�ngler's formative years as a difficult but brilliant prodigy, his rise to pre-eminence as Germany's leading conductor, and his development as a musician, composer, and thinker. Shirakawa also reviews the rich recorded legacy Furtw�ngler documented throughout his forty-year career--such as the legendary Tristan with Kirsten Flagstad and the famous performances of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in 1942 and 1951. Equally important, Shirakawa goes backstage and behind the lines to explore how the Nazis seized control of the arts and how Furtw�ngler single-handedly tried to prevent evil characters as Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and Luftwaffe Chief Hermann G�ring from annihilating Germany's musical life. He shows how Furtw�ngler, far from being a toady to the Nazis, stood up openly against Hitler and Himmler--at enormous personal risk--to salvage the musical traditions of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. Shirakawa also presents moving and overwhelming evidence of Furtw�ngler's astonishing efforts to save the lives of Jews and other persecuted individuals trapped in Nazi Germany--only to be proscribed at the end of the war and nearly framed as a war criminal. But there was more to Furtw�ngler than his politics, or even his music, and we come to know this extraordinary man as a reluctant composer, a prolific essayist and diary keeper, a loyal friend, a formidable enemy when crossed, and an incorrigible philanderer. Numerous musical luminaries share their memories of Furtw�ngler to round out this vivid portrait. Based on dozens of interviews and research in numerous documents, letters, and diaries, many of them previously unpublished, The Devil's Music Master is an in-depth look at the life and times of a unique personality whose fatal flaw lay in his uncompromising belief that music and art must be kept apart from politics, a conviction that transformed him into a tragic figure.

30 review for The Devil's Music Master: The Controversial Life and Career of Wilhelm Furtwangler

  1. 4 out of 5

    Evan

    "Furtwangler gave me a reason for living during the Third Reich." -(favorable witness at the conductor's "De-Nazification" trial, 1946) Adolf Hitler loved the way Wilhelm Furtwangler made music. In the first half of the 20th century, Furtwangler was arguably the world's greatest conductor of classical orchestral music, a master interpreter of the German composers that Hitler cherished, particularly Richard Wagner and Ludwig Van Beethoven. He elicited from orchestras a unique sound, alternately terr "Furtwangler gave me a reason for living during the Third Reich." -(favorable witness at the conductor's "De-Nazification" trial, 1946) Adolf Hitler loved the way Wilhelm Furtwangler made music. In the first half of the 20th century, Furtwangler was arguably the world's greatest conductor of classical orchestral music, a master interpreter of the German composers that Hitler cherished, particularly Richard Wagner and Ludwig Van Beethoven. He elicited from orchestras a unique sound, alternately terrifying in its force and impetuous in tempo fluctuations and gorgeous in its lyrical sensitivity. Most of his recordings are live concerts captured in poor sound; Furtwangler largely eschewed studio recordings as soulless and controlled, favoring the moment-to-moment interpretive happy accidents that happen in live performance. Ensemble precision was less important to him than inspiration. I have been a fan of his recordings for years and find that the ones he made of the symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms and Bruckner in the 1940s to be the most intense and electrifying I have ever heard. But one must "listen through" the sometimes dim, crackly sound. While many of Germany's top musical artists fled the Nazifying Germany of the '30s, Furtwangler stayed, naively believing that music was above politics, that the classical ideals of art would survive the madness and lend a civilizing influence. He believed it was better to stay and bail water from the sinking ship than jump overboard. Thus, Furtwangler, unwittingly had struck a Faustian bargain, becoming what author Sam Shirikawa in this biography dubs, "The Devil's Music Master." Interestingly, that is also a title that might apply to any biography of Furtwangler's contemporary, the Soviet composer, Dmitri Shostakovich, the premier musical artist of his country under the tyranny of Stalin. They were both the favorites of their respective dictators, and utterly powerless to change their fates. After the war, Furtwangler was vilified by the Allied occupiers and vetted through a humiliating and relentless de-Nazification process, and was eventually cleared of wrongdoing. Justly, as Shirikawa points out, because Furtwangler's constant defiance of the Nazis was nothing short of heroic, and the author cites case after case to prove it. Himmler's file on Furtwangler became enormous as the conductor resisted, defied, challenged and refused to tolerate Party policies, even criticizing Hitler outright. Some of Furtwangler's acts of resistance were bold and some subtle. He called the Nazi flag "a rag" and refused to conduct under it when the Vienna Philharmonic hung it to mollify the Nazis. He refused on several occasions to raise his arm in the Nazi salute, even at concerts attended by Hitler himself. He fought to keep Jewish musicians in his orchestra. Furtwangler managed a feat achieved by few people, save Oskar Schindler, and that was to keep Jewish musicians and their Jewish spouses alive for the entirety of the war. It was Furtwangler's efforts that led to an unusual edict, begrudgingly issued by Goebbels, that let Jewish musicians perform in Germany relatively unfettered for many years. It's hard to know whether it was bravery or cluelessness, or a mixture, that prompted Furtwangler to openly argue with, and even shout at, Hitler, or to program works banned or discouraged by the regime and even the dictator himself -- even atonal modern works Furtwangler could have easily scotched because he did not like them himself. What was important was to him was to champion art above all else, regulations be damned. The conductor's open criticism of the regime and direct complaints to Goebbels are rather astounding things to consider, especially some of the letters included here that clearly show Furtwangler criticisms in no uncertain terms. Even as late as the failed plot to kill Hitler near the end of the war, Furtwangler was the only artist who refused to sign a loyalty document cobbled by Goebbels to codify support for the dictator. Furtwangler's motivations for helping Jews may have been mixed and not altogether altruistic, yet he helped many who were of no service or use to him in any way. The angry criticism, penned by a Nazi official about Furtwangler, may be the best backhanded testimonial to the conductor's generosity: "There is not a Jew left in Germany whom Furtwangler has not helped." The complication with the Furtwangler case, as author Shirikawa understands, is that people who criticized him -- including many prominent Jewish musician emigres -- were not necessarily wrong. Furtwangler did enhance the reputation of an evil regime, even though he resisted it. But neither was Furtwangler wrong. In the heat of emotion after the Holocaust, it is easy to understand the rancor that Furtwangler engendered in some quarters. In sifting through the record, Shirikawa separates fact from fiction, and offers a full, rounded and fair portrait of a towering, controversial and brave artist. Although the book lacks just that pinch of elan that marks the best biographical narratives -- neither dully dry nor wholly scintillating -- it is nonetheless a superior musical biography. Shirikawa has done his homework and crafted the best single volume yet about the life, work and times of an almost mystically gifted musical artist. There are times when I've believed, listening to Furtwangler's transcendent and superhuman accounts of the music of Beethoven, Brahms and Bruckner -- especially his titanic performances recorded in Nazi Germany during World War II -- that there has never been a greater conductor of music. This book is not hagiography. On the other hand, Shirikawa is on Furtwangler's side, setting the record straight on a career besmirched by misinformed purveyors of a witch-hunt mentality that all but ruined his reputation before and after his death. In the rage over the legacy of Hitler, subtlety and facts were shunted aside in the vengeful postwar atmosphere. Everyone of prominence in Germany was assumed to be a Nazi until "de-Nazified." Furtwangler had placed himself in an impossible position; reviled by critics abroad (including many emigres) for being seen as serving the Reich and detested in his own country by Nazi officials for his noncooperation. It put him in a bind both during and after the war. It meant that he could never perform in the United States, and efforts to allow that were quashed largely by the Jewish artistic community of New York City, who were in no humor to validate perceived accomplices. In addition to music history mavens, the book has appeal for anyone interested in the ins and outs of backstabbing politics in the Nazi era, especially in its account of Furtwangler's rivalry with Nazi Aryan golden-boy up-and-comer Herbert Von Karajan, the man who would eventually succeed Furtwangler as director of the Berlin Philharmonic after the war; something which would have caused the old man to spin in his grave. Furtwangler found himself in one Kafkaesque nightmare situation after another, a pawn in the battle between Goring and Goebbels over control of the arts in Germany. The book gives a good and pithy but sophisticated and balanced perspective on the rise of Nazism in Germany, providing an in-depth look from a different angle, recounting the juicy behind-the-scenes Machiavellian machinations for bureaucratic power control and the complex linkages between the arts and political worlds. Even though Hitler respected Furtwangler and protected him, it did not mean Furtwangler was safe from nearly constant harassment by Nazi underlings, all out to undermine him. Hitler had bigger fish to fry. Anyone interested in the always dicey issue of pure art vs. pandering compromise or in the history of World War II -- in my opinion the most fascinating era in human history -- will do well to read this. ([email protected], with slight corrections in 2016)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Edwin Wong

    It.s Friday evening and I.m cheating. I haven.t actually finished Sam H. Shirakawa.s The Devil’s Music Master: The Controversial Life and Career of Wilhelm Furtwangler. It.s actually Furtwängler, but the software doesn.t seem to like the umlaut so you.ll just have to pretend it.s there! So I.m cheating. But hey, its. 487 pages and I.m up to the last chapter. And did I say it.s Friday evening? Who is Wilhelm Furtwangler, you ask?–if you know (and no peaking ahead!), well, I.m really impressed! Fu It.s Friday evening and I.m cheating. I haven.t actually finished Sam H. Shirakawa.s The Devil’s Music Master: The Controversial Life and Career of Wilhelm Furtwangler. It.s actually Furtwängler, but the software doesn.t seem to like the umlaut so you.ll just have to pretend it.s there! So I.m cheating. But hey, its. 487 pages and I.m up to the last chapter. And did I say it.s Friday evening? Who is Wilhelm Furtwangler, you ask?–if you know (and no peaking ahead!), well, I.m really impressed! Furtwangler, along with Toscanini and perhaps Stokowski, was one of the most famous conductors of the WWII era that no one knows. How.s that for an oxymoron? Betcha didn.t think I had a sense of humour! For the sheer emotional impact of his 1944 Beethoven 9th, he.s my favourite conductor. Whatever he conducts, he takes it apart in his own peculiar way and when he puts it back together, it has the stamp of Furtwangler written all over it. I think that.s a very important attribute: to put your stamp on a piece. Some may disagree, they say, ‘The conductor should be like a transparent piece of glass through which the music flows’. I don.t believe that at all. The musician must put his identity onto the music. This is what makes the interpretation original. And perhaps great. Furtwangler.s magic trick has something to do with his tempi, which are, well, leisurely. This was quite opposite to Toscanini, who, I think of more as a general than a conductor!–just listen to his rehearsals and you will know what I.m talking about! But it.s not just his tempi. Furtwangler conducts from the bottom up rather than from the top down. The bass section is extraordinarily lush and full, and in being so, I think gives him interpretive freedom elsewhere because the foundation is just so solid. For any given piece, I may have a disc that I like better than Furtwangler (for example Tintner.s interpretation of Bruckner.s 7th I prefer over Furtwangler), but if I have a Furtwangler interpretation, it consistently ranks number one or two. And that.s saying a lot since I.m a stereo system addict and a lot of those wartime recordings leave a lot to be desired by today.s recording standards. Speaking of stereo system, here.s mine. Magnepan 3.7i speakers driven by a Devialet 120 front end being fed bit perfect files from a MacBook Pro: IMG_20150122_111947635 Mama mia, ain.t it beautiful! Notice no hornet.s nest of wires and boxes piled upon boxes with vacuum tubes galore! But all this is a digression, back to the book. Here.s what it looks like: Unknown Diligent readers will recall that I.ve been thinking about the cover art for my book. So I.m thinking of cover art in general when I look at other books. Now, looking at this edition, I.ve got to wonder whether Shirakawa got any input into the design of the cover. Shirakawa.s had one aim: to exonerate Furtwangler.s legacy. You see, Furtwangler, out of a duty to his art, stayed in Germany during the Second World War. He was never a Nazi (unlike Karajan, for example) but because of various power struggles and post-war paranoia, was persecuted as a Nazi. He was given a clean bill of health after his ‘denazification’ hearings at Nurnberg, but a lot of people, up to this day, do not forgive him for not leaving Germany. This is an interesting ethical question: do citizens have a moral obligation to leave a country when thugs take over or is it better to remain and change things as best as one can from within? But anyways, back to the cover. Now just look at it. Its imperial red for one. Flanking either side of Furtwangler.s photograph are columns with bold swastikas adorning their crowns. Furtwangler himself is depicted making some sort of dark gesture like he.s calling up the devil. Now ask yourself, if you were writing a book to DISTANCE Furtwangler from the Nazis, is this the sort of cover art you would use? To me, if I were Shirakawa and I had spend all this time putting together this book, all the time doing interviews, going through archives, and I saw this cover, I would be absolutely livid! I think the publisher (which is no less than Oxford University Press) deliberately chose something sensational to sell copies. All too often this happens. I remember reading about how absolutely livid Taleb was over the cover art the publisher ‘imposed’ on one of his books. He.s a self styled ‘philosopher of uncertainty’ and he writes about risk and other unpredictable things. Anyway, the publisher put a set of dice on the cover, thinking that they were a visual analogue to risk. But Taleb.s whole thesis was that things like dice and card do not really represent risk because risk in the real world is much much more unpredictable than dice and cards would lead us to believe! He called thinking about risk through dice games the ludic fallacy. It was an error. And then some well meaning publisher (who obviously hadn.t read the book) puts dice on the cover! Moral of the story: a lot of hard work can be ruined if someone puts the wrong cover on your book! Now diligent readers will also recall that I.ve been thinking about the copywriting process. You know, the little blurb on the back of the book that gets you to buy the book. Here.s the back blurb from The Devil’s Music Master: EXCERPT: “When thousands of intellectuals and artists joined the exodus of Jews from Germany after the Nazis seized power, Furtwangler remained behind with the naive but overwhelming conviction that he could save the culture that produced Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and other great composers from annihilation by the Third Reigh. Despite his well-documented and astonishingly successful efforts to keep Jews a part of German cultural life in the early part of the Nazi era and his manifold efforts to assist anyone who asked him for help throughout the Third Reich…he was all but branded a war criminal and nearly framed at his denazification trial at the end of the war. This, even though Furtwangler never joined the Nazi party and openly acted against the regime until its fall. Even today, many remain convinced that Furtwangler at best compromised and at worst simply sold out. For them, Wilhelm Furtwangler will forever be the Devil’s Music Master.” Hmmm. It.s an excerpt and on the back it even says in big letters ‘EXCERPT’. This doesn.t strike me as being professional. The quote captures the books thesis precisely, but this wouldn.t be the sort of thing I.d want for my book. I.d want something catchier. It also doesn.t tell us too much about the author. On the inside jacket of the hardback, there.s a section: About the Author: Sam H. Shirakawa is a writer and filmmaker. Okay, I get from holding the 487 page book that.s he.s a writer. So he does films. Do they have a name? Maybe I.m being too critical, but the description isn.t too helpful. As a reader, I want to know what Shirakawa has invested into Furtwangler. He obviously is devoted to him, as he.s done a ton of research, especially into the artistic power struggles during the Third Reich between artists and politicians. If you.re writing a book and thinking about this as well, remember that your reader is curious about you yourself, not just your book! As to the book itself, well, you.re just going to have to read all 487 pages yourself! If you.re into seeing a picture of artists’ lives under the Third Reich, this is the book for you. Not just Furtwangler: the book describes his whole coterie of friends, fellow composers (Strauss), rival conductors (Karajan, Toscanini), and soloists (Schwarzkopf, Menuhin) as they find their way around and react to wartime politics. As to Furtwangler.s musicianship, there.s more about his style after the end of the war. This is perhaps the last fifth or quarter of the book. While the Nazis are in power, the focus is less on his musicianship (i.e. the aesthetics) and more on the politics (this person left, he tried to save this person, Hitler enjoyed the concert, he yelled at Goebbels, etc.,). Shirakawa relies on documentary evidence and, where possible, he has travelled to interview Furtwangler.s friends and associates for a more intimate look. So there you have it, dear reader! I think it.s time for me to kick the feet up, and listen to Furtwangler conducting Wagner.s Tristan und Isolde! Until next time, I.m Edwin Wong and I.m Doing Melpomene.s Work!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Wilhelm Furtwangler seems one of those artists doomed by history (like Leni Reifensthal) to have been a victim of his own bad decisions more than he'd offer. From this biography we learn of his absolute resistance to the Nazi regime that sought to propagandize his talent maximally while making his career impingnent upon his cowing to their every desire. It is a fucking (!) shame that Real Nazi conductors like Herbert Von Karajan get more favorable legacies attached to themselves (von Karajan was Wilhelm Furtwangler seems one of those artists doomed by history (like Leni Reifensthal) to have been a victim of his own bad decisions more than he'd offer. From this biography we learn of his absolute resistance to the Nazi regime that sought to propagandize his talent maximally while making his career impingnent upon his cowing to their every desire. It is a fucking (!) shame that Real Nazi conductors like Herbert Von Karajan get more favorable legacies attached to themselves (von Karajan was an Active Nazi from the get go- a go-getter, one who advanced his reputation and career within The Party- while Furtwangler's career and reputation were all but muddled by the implied association). Furtwangler was a resistant, in the manner of a Rommel- inside the system he despised, standing for the Old Guard against the goose-schtuppers.) He saved dozens, if not hundreds of Jews and non-Jewish musicians from the camps and this can never be said of Von Karajan. This book is a wonderfully sympathetic view of a man whose American reputation is slimed by enemies who had little regard for his actual reasons for remaining in Germany. As I told my father, who fought in that war, "A German is someone with the dumb luck of having been born there. A 'Kraut' is the guy shooting at you from across the river. And a Nazi is the guy who keeps on shooting even though you've got him dead to rights and his buddies have all yelled "kamerad"." Furtwangler was no Nazi, this book goes well to show he was one of the former- A German, proud to be German with the dumb luck of having been born a German, and an artist whose apolitical artistic motives were forever muddled by those who sought revenge against not just the regime that murdered millions, but those "with the dumb luck of being born German" for whom existed no means or desire to alter that which their Creator had handed them in their nativity.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nickie

    Really interesting read, especially because of the subject's controversial reputation...was he a Nazi or not? It seems to me, he was one of those people who so indentified as "German," that he didn't want to leave. Furtwangler pretty consistently reiterated that music should be above politics, but in Nazi Germany, that wasn't all up to him....Goebbels particularly wanted to twist German music into another cog in it's steadily cranking wheel of propaganda. As the great composers of Germany were a Really interesting read, especially because of the subject's controversial reputation...was he a Nazi or not? It seems to me, he was one of those people who so indentified as "German," that he didn't want to leave. Furtwangler pretty consistently reiterated that music should be above politics, but in Nazi Germany, that wasn't all up to him....Goebbels particularly wanted to twist German music into another cog in it's steadily cranking wheel of propaganda. As the great composers of Germany were a source of great pride, this was easy to do. Furtwangler did perform with Hitler in the audience (and at his command), but he did evade so doing many times and pretty cleverly avoided giving the Nazi salute to Hitler by carrying his baton (it would look too much like he was preparing to strike a blow if he had tried to salute with it in his hand). Just as much jealousy and behind-the-scenes machinations of other composers existed as in the modern world of popular music at the time. Also interesting to read about the advent of recorded music and how that changed the way that conductors had to adapt to the demands of the studio (and it's limitations), so differently than they were used to working, with live musicians and orchestra. It is particularly chilling to note the current political situation, with so much call to nationalism, disguised at patriotism, once more rearing it's ugly head, all over the world, that of course, is discussed at length in this book from the perspective of the rise and fall of Nazi Germany.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tony Gualtieri

    A brilliant apologia for Furtwängler's career, showing the complexity of his position as the leading exponent of Germanic music during the Third Reich. It's essential reading for anyone who is interested in the spiritual element in music. One curious omission is the absence of any critique of Furtwängler's recordings of Beethoven outside of the 1951 Beyrouth Ninth, which are for me his greatest legacy. A brilliant apologia for Furtwängler's career, showing the complexity of his position as the leading exponent of Germanic music during the Third Reich. It's essential reading for anyone who is interested in the spiritual element in music. One curious omission is the absence of any critique of Furtwängler's recordings of Beethoven outside of the 1951 Beyrouth Ninth, which are for me his greatest legacy.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kaz

    The book details how Furtwängler stood up against Nazis and yet almost got convicted for war crime

  7. 5 out of 5

    Cara

    This isn't quite a 4-star book for me, but it comes quite close. Shirakawa has spent a lot of time listening to Furtwangler recordings and speaking with those who knew him (while, of course, also relying on good primary and secondary sources). He clearly sympathizes with the conductor and greatly admires his work. As someone just beginning to really appreciate Furtwangler, I'm glad that Shirakawa spends several chapters exploring Furtwangler's recording career (much of it post-WWII). Aside from h This isn't quite a 4-star book for me, but it comes quite close. Shirakawa has spent a lot of time listening to Furtwangler recordings and speaking with those who knew him (while, of course, also relying on good primary and secondary sources). He clearly sympathizes with the conductor and greatly admires his work. As someone just beginning to really appreciate Furtwangler, I'm glad that Shirakawa spends several chapters exploring Furtwangler's recording career (much of it post-WWII). Aside from his outstanding musical gifts, the most notable thing about Furtwangler is the decision he made to stay in Germany during the Third Reich. Shirakawa sets forth Furtwangler's reasoning effectively, and he highlights the dangers that Furtwangler increasingly faced. The author also spends significant time on the cost of Furtwangler's decision--including on his reputation (then and now) in America and the scorn to which he was subjected by artists/authors/musicians who left Germany after the Nazis came to power. Did Furtwangler do the right thing by remaining to preserve what he considered to be true German art from the depredations and degradations of the Nazis? It's hard to argue with Shirakawa's conclusion that Furtwangler did a great deal of good--both for individuals and the general public--by remaining. And also that Furtwangler did what he could to not be officially associated with the regime. But Shirakawa never really explores whether Furtwangler was aware of the use to which he was put by the Nazis, and, if so, how he could justify being perceived as ratifying the Nazi's attempt to redefine music. I also felt that Shirakawa never really explained how Furtwangler survived until almost the end of the war before having to flee Germany. Himmler (head of the SS) hated him; Goebbels and Goering both disliked him; and Hitler seems to have been frustrated by him. Was Goebbels' and Hitler's admiration of his musicianship enough to overcome his noncompliance with Nazi requests, and his open disagreements with policy? Possibly, but it's never quite clear. The ambiguity of Furtwangler's power in Nazi Germany is made manifest by the fall of (Cornelius?) Vedder, a Himmler associate and agent who shepherded Herbert von Karajan's rise. According to Shirakawa, at least Goering and Himmler were behind Vedder and Karajan's swift climb to prominence and rivalry with Furtwangler. But somehow Furtwangler was able to engineer Vedder's fall, which conveniently had the effect of hindering Karajan's ambitions. It's not at all clear how Furtwangler could have pulled this off, and Shirakawa's account isn't revealing. Finally, although time was spent at the beginning of the biography on Furtwangler's non-musical life (his relationship with his long-time secretary, his many love affairs), that falls by the wayside as Shirakawa recounts the Nazi years. It was never clear to me how Furtwangler came to know and love his second wife, who brought 4 children from a previous marriage into their home. Or what relationship he had with any of his children, including his multiple illegitimate and step-children (other than a couple of short anecdotes from his one legitimate child at the end). I would have liked to know more about the private man. Still, this biography is well-researched, well written, and (mostly) does justice to its fascinating subject.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jackson Cyril

    A biography of the great German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, and how he managed to survive in Hitler's Germany. It's a far too sympathetic take on the old man. I appreciate his music making, and cannot think of any better interpreter of Beethoven's masterworks, but politically, he was, I think, very naive. He certainly knew of the atrocities going on in the Reich and he certainly knew the fell purposes that his music was serving, but he refused to leave. But can we judge him? The prospect of l A biography of the great German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, and how he managed to survive in Hitler's Germany. It's a far too sympathetic take on the old man. I appreciate his music making, and cannot think of any better interpreter of Beethoven's masterworks, but politically, he was, I think, very naive. He certainly knew of the atrocities going on in the Reich and he certainly knew the fell purposes that his music was serving, but he refused to leave. But can we judge him? The prospect of leaving one's beloved country and loved ones behind is not something any of us would willingly embrace, and I do sympathize with Furtwängler's sentiment that if there was ever a time when a people needed to hear the music of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, it was then. I cannot damn him as so many do, nor can I wholly excuse his behavior simply on the grounds of his genius as Shirakawa does. That said, go listen to his Beethoven! No one, to my reckoning, has come close to his interpretation of the third or ninth.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Isidor

  10. 5 out of 5

    Simon

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bahman

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sokol Kuznetsov

  13. 5 out of 5

    David

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rick Michaelson

  15. 4 out of 5

    Greg

  16. 4 out of 5

    Burt Tuxford

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ron Noble

  18. 5 out of 5

    James Glidden

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alan

  20. 4 out of 5

    Corey Thornton

  21. 5 out of 5

    MusicandBooks

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Sonnenfeld

  23. 5 out of 5

    Guillermo Palacios

  24. 5 out of 5

    Debi Wingate

  25. 5 out of 5

    Katelyn

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rolando

  27. 4 out of 5

    PLVS OVLTRE

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Kriewaldt

  29. 5 out of 5

    Krista

  30. 4 out of 5

    Perry

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