The Devil's Music Master: The Controversial Life and Career of Wilhelm Furtwangler

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9780195065084: The Devil's Music Master: The Controversial Life and Career of Wilhelm Furtwangler

From 1922 until his death in 1954, Wilhelm Furtwängler was the foremost cultural music figure of the German-speaking world, conductor of both the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic orchestras. But a cloud still hangs over his reputation, despite his undeniable brilliance as a musician, because of a fatal and tragic decision. Wilhelm Furtwängler remained in Germany when thousands of intellectuals and artists fled after the Nazis seized power in 1933. His decision to stay behind earned him lasting condemnation as a Nazi collaborator--"The Devil's Music Master." Decades after his death, Furtwängler remains for many not only the greatest but also the most controversial musical personality of our time.
In The Devil's Music Master, Sam H. Shirakawa forges the first full-length and comprehensive biography of Furtwängler. He surveys Furtwängler's formative years as a difficult but brilliant prodigy, his rise to pre-eminence as Germany's leading conductor, and his development as a musician, composer, and thinker. Shirakawa also reviews the rich recorded legacy Furtwängler documented throughout his forty-year career--such as the legendary Tristan with Kirsten Flagstad and the famous performances of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in 1942 and 1951.
Equally important, Shirakawa goes backstage and behind the lines to explore how the Nazis seized control of the arts and how Furtwängler single-handedly tried to prevent evil characters as Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and Luftwaffe Chief Hermann Göring from annihilating Germany's musical life. He shows how Furtwängler, far from being a toady to the Nazis, stood up openly against Hitler and Himmler--at enormous personal risk--to salvage the musical traditions of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. Shirakawa also presents moving and overwhelming evidence of Furtwängler's astonishing efforts to save the lives of Jews and other persecuted individuals trapped in Nazi Germany--only to be proscribed at the end of the war and nearly framed as a war criminal.
But there was more to Furtwängler than his politics, or even his music, and we come to know this extraordinary man as a reluctant composer, a prolific essayist and diary keeper, a loyal friend, a formidable enemy when crossed, and an incorrigible philanderer. Numerous musical luminaries share their memories of Furtwängler to round out this vivid portrait.
Based on dozens of interviews and research in numerous documents, letters, and diaries, many of them previously unpublished, The Devil's Music Master is an in-depth look at the life and times of a unique personality whose fatal flaw lay in his uncompromising belief that music and art must be kept apart from politics, a conviction that transformed him into a tragic figure.

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About the Author:


About the Author: Sam H. Shirakawa is a writer and filmmaker.

From Kirkus Reviews:

Superb, fully sympathetic life of fiery German conductor Wilhelm Furtw„ngler (1886-1954), who was unfairly blackened as a Nazi convert. Shirakawa, a filmmaker, presents a big, intense picture of Furtw„ngler, who--as conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic for three decades and of the Vienna Philharmonic for much of that time--was Germany's foremost cultural figure of his day. A musical Wunderkind, he had a phenomenal memory and as a child could play on the piano, from memory, the complete quartets of Beethoven--or anything else that he had heard even once. Furtw„ngler's power over women was equally telepathic. His illegitimate children may well have numbered 13, while he had five by his second wife. His secretary ``scheduled all Furtw„ngler's dalliances with all the alacrity of a master taxi dispatcher.'' Even so, one young mistress complained that he was always composing on the weekends she spent with him. Though Furtw„ngler saw himself as a composer, Shirakawa says, his three symphonies--large brooding works--still await a conductor to bring out their magic. The author makes clear that Furtw„ngler's specialty was a nervous drive that kept audiences on the edges of their seats, a quality that is best captured on his live radio tapes, although his studio Tristan und Isolde does show the conductor at his most sublime. He fought Nazimania, had shouting matches with Hitler, refused to join the Party, and would not conduct in relation to any political activities--but remained in Berlin rather than run off to America, both to protect German music from the Party and to help save Jewish musicians. During the war, Furtw„ngler was bedeviled by the Wagner family and by his rising young rival, Herbert von Karajan, a Party member backed by top Party hacks. Excellent on Furtw„ngler's recording career and worth owning for that alone. For all music lovers. (Thirty halftones--not seen.) -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Shirakawa, Sam H.
Published by Oxford University Press (1992)
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Sam H. Shirakawa
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