Reich Chamber of Music

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1938: The National Socialist duotone poster "Degenerate" Music depicts a black jazz or swing saxophonist with a Star of David , overdrawn like caricatures and grotesquely

The Reichsmusikkammer ( RMK ) was a National Socialist institution that had the task of promoting music that conformed to the system or was acceptable to the Nazi system, but suppressed music that contradicted the ideology or cultural conception desired at the time. It was therefore part of the so-called “ Gleichschaltung ” of German society in the Third Reich between 1933 and 1945.


Just like the fine arts and newer media such as radio and television , music was also made into an instrument of politics by the National Socialists in the Third Reich . Intellectuals and artists were supposed to fulfill exclusively representative functions in the Nazi state and adapt to the ideology of the state. In order to achieve this, the entire intellectual and artistic life had to be subjected to a central control. It was therefore subject to certain rules and regulations and could no longer develop as freely as before.

In order to be able to carry out this " synchronization " of culture, the so-called Reich Chamber of Culture was founded on September 22, 1933 by the Reich Chamber of Culture Act under Joseph Goebbels , Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda .

The chamber was the umbrella organization of seven individual departments:

The professional associations that had existed up to that point were incorporated into these, so that the chamber, with a total of around 250,000 members, encompassed the entire cultural life in Germany. The Reichsmusikkammer alone had around 170,000 members, including 1,024 members classified as "non-Aryan" at the beginning.


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Professional bans due to non-acceptance into the RMK for the Berlin musician Werner Liebenthal on August 9, 1935 and due to the exclusion of the Jewish composer Bernhard Kaempfner on December 1, 1938, both signed by the President of the Reich Chamber of Music, Peter Raabe

German music should culturally legitimize the supremacy claimed by Germany in the world. For this purpose, works by famous composers such as Ludwig van Beethoven and Richard Wagner were reinterpreted in terms of Nazi ideology. In addition to Beethoven and Wagner, Johann Sebastian Bach , Johannes Brahms , Anton Bruckner , Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were among the most popular composers. Of the younger composers, it was above all Werner Egk and Carl Orff who were preferred by the National Socialists.

The Nazi regime thus made a strict distinction between “German” and “ degenerate ” music. The aim of the Reichsmusikkammer was to exclude people who appeared to be a hindrance or unsuitable for culture in the sense of the Nazi regime. German music was supposed to be cleansed of Jewish and foreign influences and music classified as “degenerate” should be banned from the public.

Composers branded as undesirable were u. a. Alban Berg , Paul Dessau , Hanns Eisler and Ernst Krenek , because they did not agree with the ideology of the National Socialists and were also active in the resistance . Others such as Gustav Mahler , Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy or Arnold Schönberg were rejected because of their Jewish origins alone. Exclusion or non-inclusion in the Reichsmusikkammer meant a professional and performance ban . From the beginning, this was explicitly true for all musicians who did not have an " Aryan certificate ", but also for all so-called " cultural Bolsheviks " whose works were described as too modern and therefore "degenerate".

Many instrumentalists had to leave their orchestras; deserving professors and teachers from colleges and universities were also dismissed. Operas with texts by Jewish writers were no longer allowed to be played and songs by Jewish poets could no longer be sung. Many of the excluded tried to flee into exile , only a few adapted themselves and their music to the demands of the National Socialists.

An expression of this agitation against “non-German” artists was the exhibition “Degenerate Music” on May 22, 1938 in Düsseldorf as part of the Reichsmusiktage . The list of “undesirable musical works” was directed not only against the anti-Semitic focus but also against all modern artists who experimented with the twelve-tone music by Arnold Schönberg.

The bans also included jazz and similar “ nigger music ” and hit Irving Berlin and Kurt Weill , among others . This list of prohibitions of the Reichsmusikkammer was expanded when the Second World War began. From this point on, composers from the “enemy states” were no longer allowed to appear on the concert programs. During the time of the Hitler-Stalin Pact , however, the names of Russian composers, such as Prokofiev or Tchaikovsky , occasionally reappeared in German concert halls.

Organization and staff

1934: Organization chart of the Reich Chamber of Music

The Reichsmusikkammer, officially valid as the professional representation of musicians, promoted pleasant musicians, but was de facto an instrument that was supposed to exercise power and control. The National Socialist leadership put various well-known personalities at the head of the Reichsmusikkammer. According to Max Butting , Max von Schillings , initially planned by Hitler, canceled . The second election of Richard Strauss , one of the greatest living composers in the German Reich at the time, became its president, the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler his deputy. In 1933 the government did not appoint the then sixty-nine-year-old Strauss as president without being asked. The inquiry telegram from the Propaganda Ministry was first published in 1987. Because of a letter from June 17, 1935, intercepted by the Gestapo in Dresden, in which Strauss wrote to the writer Stefan Zweig, among other things, that he would “mime the President of the Reichsmusikkammer” to “do good and prevent greater misfortune” Forced to resign, but remained in Germany as a celebrated composer. After the war ended in 1945, he was criticized and attacked for his activities in the " Third Reich ".

Because of his international reputation as a cultural figurehead, the National Socialists appointed Furtwängler head of the Berlin State Opera and Vice President of the Reich Chamber of Music in 1933 . He saw himself as an apolitical artist. Because he did not want to accept the performance ban for Hindemith'sMathis the Painter ”, he was forced to resign in 1934. In an open letter to Goebbels dated April 11, 1933, he criticized the discrimination against Jewish musicians: “In the end I only recognize one line of distinction: the one between good and bad art. But while the dividing line between Jews and non-Jews, even where the political stance of those concerned gives no reason to complain, is drawn with almost theoretically inexorable sharpness, the other dividing line that is so important and decisive for our musical life in the long run, the good and bad, all too neglected. "The Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda replied immediately:" Only an art that draws from the full nationality itself can be good in the end and mean something to the people for whom it is created [...] . Art must be good; but also responsible, skillful, close to the people and combative. "

After Strauss and Furtwängler resigned from their offices, these were filled with musicians who appeared less problematic. These were the conductor and Liszt researcher Peter Raabe as chairman, and the composer Paul Graener as his deputy . Raabe, who never joined the NSDAP , had already called for a music chamber before 1933 in order to achieve social security for the musicians. He only worshiped Hitler in his role as a patron of the arts. From 1935 onwards, in the course of Goebbels' apostrophized "De-Judaization of German cultural life", the "non-Aryan" musicians were dismissed. The letters in question were signed by Peter Raabe, although he was not an anti-Semite and was even considered a “Jew friend”. As general music director in Weimar, he had given Schönberg's orchestral pieces op. 16 for the first time in Germany and repeatedly conducted Mahler's symphonies.

Over time, differences arose between Raabe and the Nazi leadership. In 1938 Raabe demonstratively stayed away from the opening ceremonies of the " Reichsmusiktage " and submitted a resignation, which was rejected. Graener resigned from office in 1941. The conductor Heinz Drewes (1903–1980), head of the music department at the Propaganda Ministry, rose to become the most influential functionary in the music organization of National Socialist Germany during the Second World War .

The organizational form of the Reichsmusikkammer, located at Bernburger Strasse 10 in Berlin SW 11, was that of a public corporation . This was headed by a president and a vice-president. In 1940 Heinz Ihlert was the managing director . In that year the Presidential Council consisted of General Music Director Franz Adam , General Director Heinz Drewes , Paul Graener , Heinz Ihlert, Fritz Kaiser, State Councilor Friedrich Krebs , Leibstandarten Obermusikmeister Hermann Müller-John , Peter Raabe , General Music Director Hermann Stange and Fritz Stein . The Reichsmusikkammer was divided into a central administration with six departments:

  • the “Organization” area, which was directly subordinate to the managing director
  • the "Personnel" department headed by Assessor Helmuth Kriebel
  • the “Household and Treasury” department headed by Willy Haußmann
  • the cultural department, headed by Alfred Morgenroth
  • the economic department also led by Willy Haußmann
  • Head of the “Law” department was Assessor Karl-Heinz Wachenfeld

In addition, there was a specialist administration. This was divided into three areas

In addition, the regional administration formed a further area within the structure of the Reichsmusikkammer, with state management in the individual districts, district and local music associations, branches, municipal music officers and district music officers.

The most important and ultimately under the control of the Reich Music Chamber Music journals were founded in 1908 and Max Hesse's publisher published the music (editor HERBERT GERIGK ), the Journal of Music (ed. By Gustav Bosse ), the General Musikzeitung ed (. By Paul Schwer , 1874–1939) and the magazine Neues Musikblatt (ed., By Ernst Laaff and Fritz Bouquet , 1895–1949), which were combined in 1943 to music in war due to the worsening war situation .


In particular, popular music and dance hits experienced a great boom during the Second World War under the Nazi regime. The radio programs mainly offered this form of music, geared towards the tastes of a mass audience, because entertainment and distraction from everyday life caused by the war were becoming increasingly important. At the same time, listening to " enemy channels " - which is a criminal offense as a broadcasting crime - should be prevented with an attractive program.

Although jazz was banned as "alien Negro music", the National Socialists did not succeed in arbitrarily reshaping the musical tastes of large groups of listeners. Jazz and swing had to be partially tolerated by the National Socialists; the American origin was mostly kept secret. In addition to issuing work permits for composers and musicians, the Reichsmusikkammer set itself the task of defining the working conditions in the commercial and industrial sectors under its control, deciding on the opening and closing of companies and providing guidelines for the design of artistic works. At first there was still the possibility for individual artists to largely evade the influencing measures, provided that they continued their musical work away from the large institutions and universities. The majority of the artists, however, were forced to give up their profession by the National Socialists, whereupon most of them felt compelled to flee into exile .


A sign made of embossed sheet metal or even enamel with the inscription "Swing dancing forbidden" in contemporary typography and the signature "Reich Chamber of Culture" is based on the content of the suppressive area of ​​responsibility of the Reich Chamber of Music. The sign can be found both in more recent historicizing television films and in the context of jazz musicians such as Emil Mangelsdorff , who experienced the time. However, there was no sign with such a text in the Third Reich. Rather, it was designed in the 1970s by a German graphic artist for the record cover of a swing production as a motivating allusion and thus became the template for numerous copies, which are still made in variants today.

See also


  • Official communications from the Reich Music Chamber. Vaterländische Verlags- und Kunstanstalt (until 1941), Berlin 1934–1943, ZDB -ID 975280-8 , on the list of literature to be sorted out .
  • Heinz Ihlert: The Reich Music Chamber. Goals, achievements and organization. Junker and Dünnhaupt , Berlin 1935 ( writings of the German University for Politics 2: The organizational structure of the Third Reich 7), on the list of literature to be sorted out.
  • Karl-Friedrich Schrieber , Karl-Heinz Wachenfeld: Music law. Collection of the laws and ordinances applicable to the Reich Chamber of Music, the official orders and notices of the Reich Chamber of Culture and the Reich Chamber of Music. Junker and Dünnhaupt , Berlin 1936 (The right of the Reich Chamber of Culture in individual editions) , on the list of literature to be sorted out.
  • Joseph Wulf : Music in the Third Reich. A documentation. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1966 ( Rororo 818/820).
  • Fred K. Prieberg : Music in the Nazi State. Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1982, ISBN 3-596-26901-6 ( Fischer 6901).
  • Hanns-Werner Heister, Klein Hans-Günter: Music and music politics in fascist Germany . Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1984, ISBN 3-596-26902-4 ( Fischer 6902).
  • Gerhard Splitt, Richard Strauss 1933–1935. Aesthetics and music politics at the beginning of the National Socialist rule, Centaurus Verlag, Pfaffenweiler 1987, ISBN 3-89085-134-7 .
  • Michael H. Kater : The abused muse. Musician in the Third Reich. Europa-Verlag, Munich a. a. 1998, ISBN 3-203-79004-1 .
  • Rainer Sieb: Access to the music. To set up organizational structures for music work in the divisions of the party. Osnabrück 2007, especially p. 137 ff. ( Digitized version ).

Web links

Commons : Reichsmusikkammer  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Reich Chamber of Culture. In: , accessed on May 12, 2017
  2. Albrecht Dümling: Longed for by musicians, hollowed out by Goebbels. In: Neue Musikzeitung , 62nd year (2013), 9, 2013, accessed on May 12, 2017
  3. ^ Tomasz Kurianowicz: The music dictatorship. In: Der Tagesspiegel , July 6, 2013, accessed on May 12, 2017
  4. ^ Reichsmusikkammer (RMK). In: , accessed on May 12, 2017
  5. Jan Brachmann: Was it a creed or camouflage? In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , July 12, 2013, p. 34
  6. ^ Robert Jungwirth: Music under the Nazi dictatorship. In: , accessed on May 12, 2017
  7. Reich Chamber of Culture and Reich Chamber of Music. In: , accessed on May 12, 2017
  8. Foreign Office, Political Archive, Inland II A / B (82-00C Head of the AO in the Foreign Office, Vol. 1): "... members of enemy states ..."; quoted from: Hans-Adolph Jacobsen, Arthur L. Smith Jr .: The Nazi Party and the German Foreign Office . Routledge Publishers, Abingdon-on-Thames 2012, ISBN 978-1-135-90672-6 , p. 190
  9. ^ Estates representation of interests without authority. In: Neue Musikzeitung , 56th year (2007), 3, 2007, accessed on May 12, 2017
  10. Robert Jungwirth: The power of the Reichsmusikkammer in the Nazi state. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung , April 12, 2016, accessed on May 12, 2017
  11. A heroic life? Richard Strauss in National Socialism. (PDF) In: , accessed on May 12, 2017
  12. Stephan Hoffmann: 1945 - The zero hour. Continuity and a new beginning in musical life in Germany (2). (PDF; 159 kB) In: Südwestrundfunk , series: SWR2 music lesson, July 21, 2015; accessed on May 12, 2017
  13. Michael H. Kater: The epitome of true Germany. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung , May 17, 2010, accessed on May 12, 2017
  14. Stefan Zednick: Trigger for a music- political crisis. Deutschlandfunk , May 28, 2013, accessed on May 12, 2017
  15. Joachim Kronsbein: Furtwängler's shadow . In: Der Spiegel . No. 21 , 2007 ( online ).
  16. ^ Letter exchange between Wilhelm Furtwängler and Joseph Goebbels on art and the state (April 1933). In: , accessed May 12, 2017
  17. ^ Letter exchange between Wilhelm Furtwängler and Joseph Goebbels on art and the state (April 1933). In: , accessed May 12, 2017
  18. ^ Estates representation of interests without authority. In: Neue Musikzeitung , 56th year (2007), 3, 2007, accessed on May 12, 2017
  19. Ihlert, Emil Henry Heinz, born October 27, 1893, managing director of RMK. In: Bundesarchiv , BArch, R 55/24234, accessed on May 12, 2017
  20. Deutsches Bühnen-Jahrbuch: Theatergeschichtliches year and address book , vol. 52 (1941), FA Günther & Sohn, Berlin 1941, p. 172
  21. ^ Deutsches Bühnenjahrbuch - Theatergeschichtliches Jahr- und Adressebuch , Vol. 51 (1940), FA Günther & Sohn, Berlin 1940, pp. 142f.
  22. Swing dancing instead of HJ and BDM. In: Die Zeit , May 25, 2014, accessed on May 12, 2017
  23. On the striking front: a forgery makes history. In: , accessed May 12, 2017
  24. Jazz in the “Third Reich” - Myths and Facts. In: , accessed on May 12, 2017