Piano and Politics: Walter Gieseking's Career During the Third Reich and Postwar Period
Latino Jr., Frank Raymond
Davis, Shelley G.
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During the Third Reich, Walter Gieseking (1895-1956) enjoyed an illustrious, international career as its preeminent "indispensable" and, later, "God-gifted" concert pianist. He was increasingly used by Goebbels's Propaganda Ministry as a propaganda tool, and throughout World War II, the Ministry ordered him to tour annexed, occupied, and neutral countries such as Finland, France, Romania, and Poland, where he appeared before public audiences as well as German and foreign officials and troops. Hitler named him "Professor" in 1937, decorating him with the War Merit Cross, 2nd Class without Swords, in 1944. By that September, Gieseking was among the highest paid of seventeen pianists allowed by the Propaganda Ministry to continue their profession. Conversely, Gieseking met with Nazi officials in 1936 to protest the ban on the music of his friend, composer Paul Hindemith, and he fought to keep his Jewish manager, Arthur Bernstein, in the 1930s, before helping him escape with his wife to the U.S. in 1939. Gieseking's story is that of an elite German artist who controversially remained a Reich citizen, despite his conflicted feelings toward the regime and the career struggles he faced as the conditions for him became progressively more dangerous and difficult. After WWII, he met with fierce public opposition as he resumed his career abroad, particularly in the U.S., where the government involved itself, but also in South American nations, Australia, the Territory of Hawaii, and Canada. He became the single most protested German musician of his time. Based largely on copious unpublished and previously unstudied archival documents, including those from his privately maintained Nachlass, my dissertation illuminates almost entirely unexamined phases of Gieseking's life. I show how the Nazi regime influenced, and ultimately controlled, his career. I explore the political challenges that he encountered within Germany and abroad, before, during, and after the war, providing new perspectives on the uneasy relationship between this prominent German musician and a ruthless dictatorship, as well as on the postwar Allied-led denazification procedures and intense anti-Nazi opposition he endured. Integrated are relevant aspects of his activity as a composer, essayist, recording artist, and teacher.