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 not only actively participated in resistance circles, but in particular took a loud and generally understandable stand in his music. In his compositions Hartmann tried to carry the message of boundless humanity independent of political systems to the outside world. He consciously understood this confession as a “counteraction”. On the one hand, he used music and text fragments of ostracized and forbidden artists; for example, he quoted composers whose music was discredited as “degenerate art” in Nazi Germany. Also (forbidden) songs of the socialist workers’ 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, which are used as lament and accusation ciphers. Karl Amadeus Hartmann was at the beginning of a great career in the early 1930s. Nevertheless, he rigorously refused to be appropriated by the totalitarian regime and withdrew from public life in Germany, while at the same time he tried to speak all the more eloquently abroad and was actually perceived 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 stay in Germany for weeks, sometimes even months, but tirelessly tried to make his scores and their intentions heard between 1933 and 1943.

The Jewish folk song Eliyahu hanavi, which he used systematically in all his works of this time and which he enriched with unmistakable statements, was 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 Pesach 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. Thus the song must be seen on the one hand as a resounding symbol of the annihilation of the Jewish people and on the other hand as a tonal cipher of the lament and accusation against 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 Nazi persecution.

„Die Niederschrift seiner Opera hatte für Hartmann etwas von subversiven Handlungen, wie das Verfassen von Flugblättern oder das Abhalten unerlaubter Versammlungen. Es ist ja so, dass diese Werke einen deutlich vernehmbaren Ton enthalten, der sich in allem […] von dem unterscheidet, was damals öffentlich aufgeführt wurde. Dieser Ton ist antifaschistisch und humanitär, auch humanistisch und weltoffen. […] Die Musik Hartmanns wird von der Solidarität mit den unter dem nazifaschistischen Terror leidenden Völkern bestimmt und von der Auffassung, dass Musik moralische Aufgaben hat und dass neue Musik erfunden wird durch gesellschaftliche Forderungen an sie, fortschrittliche Forderungen und nicht restaurativ-affirmative.“ // “For Hartmann, the writing of his opera had something of a subversive quality, such as writing leaflets or holding unauthorized meetings. The fact is that these works contain a clearly audible tone that differs in everything […] from what was publicly performed at the time. This tone is anti-fascist and humanitarian, also humanist and cosmopolitan. […] Hartmann’s music is determined by solidarity with the peoples suffering under the Nazi 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 (ed., 1980): Karl Amadeus Hartmann und die Musica Viva. Essays. Bisher unveröffentlichte Briefe an Hartmann.