Maestro Minute Archives
Here are some thoughts about our upcoming music
Beethoven and the Nazis
Or how the power of his music was used in World War II
It seems rather obvious that Beethoven who wrote that “All people become brothers” in his 9th symphony and wrote an opera Fidelio where Florestan is a political prisoner (and wrote a heroic symphony, No. 3, dedicated to the ideals of the French revolution) would be opposed to Hitler and the Nazi plans of world conquest and racial cleansing. What is less known is that his music was used by the allies against the Nazis, broadcast both in the free world and in occupied parts of Europe.
First: “Fidelio” was (often) performed in the free world and broadcast in occupied countries as a symbol of resistance to tyranny.
In the opera Leonore, to save her husband Florestan, a political prisoner, disguises herself as a young man named Fidelio, gets a job in the prison and eventually discovers him in a dungeon. When the evil governor Don Pizarro orders Florestan to be murdered, she reveals herself as his wife, flings herself in front of him as a human shield, and pulls out a gun. Fortunately a minister of the king arrives in the nick of time to restore justice. Note the text of the final chorus. ”Thanks, thanks, and all hail! To him who comes our chains to sunder. Justice comes, at length, to give us long-lost liberty!
Second: Beethoven’s 5th Symphony begins with 3 short notes and one long note. The Morse code symbol for the letter V (victory)
The 5th was broadcast as a code to the resistance in Nazi occupied countries and on September 9, 1943 to celebrate the fall of Mussolini, the NBC Symphony had a special broadcast or the first movement as part one of a 3 part victory concert.
The second part was a special broadcast of the whole 5th symphony on May 18, 1945 to celebrate Victory in Europe and part 3 was a special broadcast of the Eroica (Symphony no 3) (and the Star spangled Banner) on September 1 1945 to commemorate the end of World War II.