Memories of a nation

November 10 2014

It’s hard to see what MacGregor could have done better in that series and within its time constraints (last post). I’d have been sorry if he had not had programmes on Riemenschneider and Kollwitz. There isn’t much on music, but perhaps we all know about that; and his starting points were “objects, art, landmarks and literature”. The series is all the better for the omission. There perhaps could be more on the Thirty Years’ War.

Recent post here about the best-selling German novel of the First World War, The Wanderer between the Two Worlds.

November 2014: immigration and the German Willkommenskultur.

One day, I should write something personal about Germany.

To redress the balance on music, here is that astonishing musical document of the fin-de-guerre, the oboe concerto by the octogenarian Richard Strauss, 150 this year.

An American soldier, Lieutenant Milton Weiss, knocked on the door of his villa in Garmisch on April 30 1945. The man who descended the staircase announced: “I am Richard Strauss, the composer of Rosenkavalier and Salome.”

What a collision of worlds. Strauss invited the commanding officer, a Major Kramer, and seven of his officers to lunch. His cook, Anni, prepared a venison stew. Bottles of wine were brought up from the cellar. The requisitioning soldiers left, having mounted a sign at the front gate warning “Off limits”.

That afternoon, Hitler committed suicide. In the evening, German radio broadcast the news that “our Führer, Adolf Hitler, fighting to the last breath against Bolshevism, fell for Germany this afternoon in his operational command post in the Reich Chancellery”. This was immediately followed by recordings, conducted by Furtwängler, of the Adagio from Bruckner’s seventh symphony and the funeral music from Götterdämmerung.

Strauss wrote in his diary:

“Germany: 1945: Thus is the body dead, but the spirit is life.


“On 12 March the glorious Vienna Opera became one more victim of the bombs. But from 1 May onwards the most terrible period of human history came to an end, the twelve-year reign of bestiality, ignorance and anti-culture under the greatest criminals, during which Germany’s 2,000 years of cultural evolution met its doom and irreplaceable monuments of architecture and works of art were destroyed by a criminal rabble of soldiers. Accursed be technology!”

Three days earlier, 7,000 prisoners, mostly Jews, had been forced to begin a death march from Dachau to Tegernsee, a little to the northeast of Garmisch, where the SS had built defences against American forces advancing from Bad Tölz.

One of the soldiers whom Strauss got to know in the coming days, John de Lancie, was an oboist. De Lancie asked the composer whether whether he had ever thought of writing an oboe concerto and got a simple “No”. But he had planted a seed.

“Memories of a nation”: the whole German musical past shines through these late works. Manfred Clement, Staatskapelle Dresden, Kempe:

With thanks to Matthew Boyden, Richard Strauss, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999.

3 Responses to “Memories of a nation”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Simon Rattle recalls Hans Werner Henze’s account of the moment the war ended at the end of this reminiscence recorded at Henze’s death:


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