When the Nazis came to power, Germany and Austria were the world’s great centers of classical music, and the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics the most prestigious anywhere. They also hardly hesitated before removing the Jewish musicians in their midst, complying with demands to cease playing the music of Jewish composers, and then, after the war ended, retaining their Nazi members (including at least one former SS officer). In The Political Orchestra, the historian Fritz Trümpi tells the story of these two philharmonics’ collaboration with the Third Reich in what Terry Teachout calls “one of the most squalid chapters in the annals of Western culture.” He writes in his review:
What the two orchestras had in common was a nationalistic ethos, a belief in the superiority of Austro-German musical culture that approached triumphalism. One of the darkest manifestations of this ethos was their shared reluctance to hire Jews. The Berlin Philharmonic employed only four Jewish players in 1933, while the Vienna Philharmonic contained only eleven Jews at the time of the Anschluss, none of whom was hired after 1920. . . . By 1942, 62 of the 123 active members of the Vienna Philharmonic were Nazi party members.
The admiration that Austro-German classical musicians had for Hitler is not entirely surprising since he was a well-informed music lover who declared in 1938 that “Germany has become the guardian of European culture and civilization.” He made the support of German art, music very much included, a key part of his political program. Accordingly, the Berlin Philharmonic was placed under the direct supervision of Joseph Goebbels, who ensured the cooperation of its members by repeatedly raising their salaries, exempting them from military service, and guaranteeing their old-age pensions.
There had never been any serious question of protest, any more than there would be among the members of the Vienna Philharmonic when the Nazis gobbled up Austria. Save for the Jews and one or two non-Jewish players who were fired for reasons of internal politics, the musicians went along unhesitatingly with Hitler’s desires.