Klage – Anklage – Gegenaktion [Lament – Accusation – Counteraction]

On the tracks of Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s musical resistance

Hartmann is regarded as the German anti-fascist composer par excellence, who was not only actively involved in resistance circles, but also took a loud and generally understandable stand in his music. In his compositions, Hartmann endeavoured to convey the message of boundless humanity, independent of political systems. He consciously understood this confession as a “counteraction”. He used fragments of music and texts by ostracised and banned artists; for example, he quoted composers whose music was discredited as “degenerate art” in Nazi Germany. Even (banned) songs of the socialist labour movement, such as “Brüder, zur Sonne, zur Freiheit”, “Die Internationale” or “Unsterbliche Opfer”, are deliberately integrated into the musical context and their historical background and intention assimilated.

On the other hand, Hartmann draws on Jewish melodies that rise up as ciphers of lament and accusation. Karl Amadeus Hartmann was at the beginning of a great career in the early 1930s. Nevertheless, he rigorously refused to be co-opted by the totalitarian regime and withdrew from public life in Germany, while at the same time trying to speak all the more eloquently abroad and actually being recognised as a symbol of a “different Germany” – one that set culture and humanism against barbarism. As documents show, between 1933 and 1943 Hartmann did not spend weeks, sometimes even months, in Germany, but tried tirelessly to make his scores, which had been smuggled abroad, and their intentions heard.

The Jewish folk song Eliyahu hanavi, which he systematically used in all his works of the time and provided with unmistakable statements, is of central importance. The song originally comes from the folk songs of Eastern European Jews. It is traditionally sung at the end of the Sabbath and during the Passover festival. Hartmann could therefore assume a high recognition value. Through the respective form in which Hartmann quotes the song in his works and through the intertextual interweaving with the musical context, statements about Jewish culture and its situation in National Socialist Germany are articulated. The song must therefore be seen on the one hand as a resounding symbol of the annihilation of the Jewish people and on the other as a sonic cipher of lament and accusation against the oppression, persecution and killing of all opponents of the regime. For Hartmann, quoting this song was tantamount to an expression of solidarity with the Jews persecuted in Europe and can be understood as an expression of hope for “redemption” from persecution by the Nazis.

“For Hartmann, writing his operas was something of a subversive act, like writing pamphlets or holding unauthorised meetings. The fact is that these works contain a clearly audible tone that differs in everything […] from what was performed in public at the time. This tone is anti-fascist and humanitarian, also humanist and cosmopolitan. […] Hartmann’s music is characterised by solidarity with the peoples suffering under Nazi-fascist terror and by the view that music has moral tasks and that new music is invented through social demands on it, progressive demands and not restorative-affirmative ones.”

Henze, Hans Werner. 1980. Laudatio. in Renata Wagner (Hg, 1980): Karl Amadeus Hartmann und die Musica Viva. Essays. Previously unpublished letters to Hartmann.



Further information on this topic can be found in the publication “Klage – Anklage – Gegenaktion. On the trail of Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s musical resistance” by Andreas Hérm Baumgartner, based on a lecture given on the occasion of the “Days of Bavarian School Music”, 2018, available at https://www.hartmann-gesellschaft.de/archivalien/musikwissenschaftliche-texte/