Nazi control of the music medium

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The nineteenth century introduced a change in economic circumstances in Germany. The rise of industrialization and urban expansion introduced a new marketplace for music. Individuals were able to participate within the music culture as small social clubs and orchestras were easily able to purchase sheet music and instruments. Out of this developed an extensive network of music among German citizens. The spawned more localized concert halls and orchestras, greatly increasing the circulation of both German and Jewish compositions.[1] Yet as the music culture grew the Nazi regime found it necessary to step in and control these cultural music products. Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda, famously decreed the radio to be "the most influential and important intermediary between a spiritual movement and the nation, between the idea and the people".[2] He put much effort into the proliferation of radio technologies amongst German citizens regardless of socioeconomic status, introducing a low-cost people's receiver. As the music industry of Nazi Germany grew, institutions within the regime devoted their efforts to promote Aryan ideologies through heavy censorship and cultural control. From blacklisted Jewish compositions to banned concert hall performances Nazi intervention was obvious. The regime issued strict authoritative control of these mediums in order to promote nationalism through cultural unity.

By controlling the mediums of communication in its society the Reich’s Chamber of Culture was able to dictate public opinion (in regards to musical culture) and reaffirm their hegemonic beliefs. Through this authoritative control they were able to silence the works of Jewish musicians effectively eliminating their voice in rational-critical discourse while promoting the Aryan works consistent with Nazi ideology.

Concert Halls[edit]

In 1928 competing national-socialist entities separately claimed control of all musicians and publications of musical material, each hoping to eventually become the administration of music culture.[3] Alfred Rosenberg played a key role in these early institutions, spawning many sub-organizations such as The Militant League for German Culture (Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur). This important organization created departments for music, cinema, visual arts, and radio, and effectively served as the forerunner of the Joseph Goebbels Ministry. In hopes of strengthening the ‘suppressed’ Aryan artists and eliminating ‘degenerate’ artists (Jewish & Jazz artists) Rosenberg’s institutions published many inflammatory brochures warning citizens of non-German nationalist music.[4] His institution funded Aryan musicians and even went as far as to disrupt concerts, threaten Jewish performers and intimidate audiences.[5] These practices were the beginning of the overarching political intervention of concert halls and orchestras of the 19th century.

In March 1933 Hitler appointed Joseph Goebbels as the Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. The institution effectively replaced Rosenberg’s, issuing much stricter control over all cultural products of the era including newspaper, film and radio.[6] Within the music realm Goebbels initially focused on the rapidly expanding concert hall industry. With the increase of both music publications and instrument production, a public sphere of music emerged.[7] German citizens were able to exchange music unlike ever before, increasing circulation of all genres of music. Since the performance of Jewish or gypsy music was prohibited by the state, this expanding circulation of sheet music was problematic. In an effort to regain control of this industry, and eliminate degenerate music, Goebbels soon instituted a harsh purge of Jewish musicians.

On September 22, 1933 Goebbels established the Reichskulturkammer, the Reich’s Chamber of Culture. This organization required all German artists to register for membership, those rejected resulted with a profession ban. The chamber of culture specifically promoted art produced by Aryans (such as film, fine art and literature) whose views were consistent with Nazi ideologies.[8] The organization blacklisted many Jewish musicians and composers (who opposed Nazi ideology) from performing live in concert halls. The Chamber of Culture famously banned Jewish composer Bruno Walter from performing in public in 1933. Walter’s performance in Leipzig was cancelled due to "threats of violence." Four days later Walter was officially blacklisted when Richard Strauss replaced him at the Berlin Philharmonic Hall.[9] The chamber of commerce eventually purged all orchestras of Jewish members, from local chorals to professional symphonies including the Berlin Philharmonic. This was made possible in April 1933 with the passage of the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service. This law essentially dismissed hundreds of Jewish citizens from civil service including musicians and composers from German orchestras and concert halls.[10] More than any other law, this one pushed Jewish musicians out of German culture at large.

These factors produced a music industry overrun with Aryan influence and focus on classical German composers. Goebbels believed that music could create a public emotional and spiritual experience competitive with religion. Concert halls with their darkened halls and formal setting expose the audience to an experience similar to church. The music of Bruckner and Wagner were the centerpiece of the new Aryan spirituality, aiming to attain the same "impact generated by traditional Christian religious ecstasy and devotion".[11] Goebbels strongly believed music could bring about national pride through cultural identification. Striving to increase the reach of his musical unity Goebbels shifted his sights towards radio.


Goebbels famously stated that the radio is an instrumental tool for the nation-state to influence the masses. In "Radio as the Eight Great Power" Goebbels stresses the importance of the radio as an intermediary between the government and the nation.[12] He blamed the profit-driven radio industry for diluting the political potential of this medium. The corporate entities focused more on profit than political enlightenment forcing Goebbels to institute strict Nazi control of the industry.

Under the Chamber of Culture the Party Propaganda Department, or Reichspropagandaleitung, was responsible for radio regulation. The radio division was split into three offices: Cultural Radio and Radio Organization, Radio Technology, and Radio Propaganda.[13] The Office of Radio propaganda censored music and programming, adhering to the strict authority seen in the concert hall regulation. Stations played music of approved Aryan composers like Wagner, prohibiting any Jewish compositions or ‘degenerate music’ such as newly popular American Jazz.[14] Goebbels acknowledged the importance of pop music, claiming "Not all music suits everyone. Therefore that style of entertaining music that is found among the broad masses also has a right to exist".[15] Unlike degenerate music, pop music was accepted as long as it reiterated the theme of nationalism. "Everything should include the theme of our great reconstructive work, or at least not stand in its way".[16] He stressed that popular music & entertainment, though not directly affecting political enlightenment, provides cultural enrichment and a potential step towards cultural imperialism.

The Office of Radio Technology released the Volksempfänger aka "the people’s receiver" in August 1933.[17] The low price of 76 German Reichsmark, roughly two weeks pay, enabled the broad masses to become radio consumers.[18] Now instead of regulating music on the local level in concert halls, the Chamber of Culture had a centralized control of the massive media outlet of radio.

The various amount of bureaucrats and committees involved in the radio industry resulted in unorthodox structure. The lack of unified organization across the industry is a hindrance on productivity and the sign of corruption according to Goebbels.[19] A state-regulated radio was necessary in order to fit the needs of the masses, placing the common good of the masses in the forefront. Now with the Party Propaganda Department in place, Goebbels exercised complete control of the radio industry from content to distribution. He created a direct link to the masses through which he could broadcast the Aryan music, continually producing a dialogue of reconstruction/nationalism amongst the German people. Through the saturation of German nationalist music, and omission of Jewish compositions, Goebbels harnessed cultural products to further political control. The musical rhetoric of the third Reich led to the spread of nationalist enthusiasms, uniting German Nazis through the medium of music.[20]


  1. ^ Botstein, Leon (2005). "Art and the State: The Case of Music". Musical Quarterly. 4. 88 (1): 487–495. doi:10.1093/musqtl/gdk007. 
  2. ^ Goebbels, Joseph (1938). Signale der neuen Zeit. 25 ausgewählte Reden von Dr. Joseph Goebbels. Munich: Zentralverlag der NSDAP. 
  3. ^ Levi, Erik (1994). Music in the Third Reich. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 15. 
  4. ^ See Levi pp.16.
  5. ^ "Alfred Rosenberg". World ORT. 
  6. ^ See Levi pp.19.
  7. ^ See Botstein pp.498.
  8. ^ Steinweis, Alan (1996). Art, Ideology, & Economics in Nazi Germany: the Reich Chambers of Music, Theater, and the Visual Arts. Chapel Hill, NC: Univ. of North Carolina Press. 
  9. ^ "Walter Bruno". 
  10. ^ Burleigh, Michael (2001). The Third Reich: A New History. New York: Hill and Wang. p. 298. 
  11. ^ See Botstein pp.492.
  12. ^ See Goebbels pp.206.
  13. ^ Bytwerk, Randall. "The Central Party Propaganda Office of the NSDAP". 
  14. ^ Noakes, J. (1984). "Nazism 1919-1945 Vol. 2 State, Economy and Society 1933-39". Department of History and Archaeology University of Exeter. 
  15. ^ Prieberg, Fred (1982). Musik im NS-Staat. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag. 
  16. ^ See Goebbels pp.206.
  17. ^ Nelson, Philip. "German Volksempfaenger VE 301 Dyn Radio". 
  18. ^ See Goebbels pp.207.
  19. ^ See Goebbels pp.207.
  20. ^ See Botstein pp.491.