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Correspondence between Wilhelm Furtwängler and Joseph Goebbels about Art and the State (April 1933)

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II. Goebbels to Furtwängler

Dear General Music Director!

I am grateful for the opportunity given me by your letter to enlighten you about the attitude of the nationally-inclined forces in German life to art in general and to music in particular. In this connection, I am particularly pleased that, right at the beginning of your letter, you emphasize in the name of German artists that you gladly and gratefully welcome the restoration of our national dignity.

I never assumed that this could be anything other than the case, for I believe that the struggle we wage for Germany's reconstruction concerns the German artist not only in a passive but in an active way. I refer to something the Reich Chancellor said publicly three years ago, before our seizure of power: 'If German artists knew what we shall do for them one day, they would not fight against us but with us.'

It is your right to feel as an artist and to see things from an artist's point of view. But that need not mean that you regard the whole development in Germany in an unpolitical way. Politics too is an art, perhaps the highest and most comprehensive there is, and we who shape modern German policy feel ourselves in this to be artists who have been given the responsible task of forming, out of the raw material of the mass, the firm concrete structure of a people. It is not only the task of art and the artist to bring together, but beyond this it is their task to form, to give shape, to remove the diseased and create freedom for the healthy. Thus, as a German politician, I am unable to recognize only the single line of division which you see—that between good and bad art. Art must not only be good, it must also appear to be connected with the people, or rather, only an art which draws on the people itself can in the final analysis be good and mean something to the people for whom it is created.

There must be no art in the absolute sense as known by liberal democracy. The attempt to serve it would result in the people no longer having any inner relationship to art and in the artist himself isolating and cutting himself off from the driving forces of the time in the vacuum of the 'l'art pour l'art' point of view. Art must be good; but beyond this it must be responsible, professional, popular [volksnah] and aggressive. I readily admit that it cannot take any more experiments. But it would have been more suitable to protest against artistic experiments at a time when the whole world of German art was almost exclusively dominated by the love of experiments on the part of elements alien to the people and of the race who tainted and compromised the reputation of German art.

I am sure you are quite right to say that for music quality is not only an idealistic question but a matter of life and death. You are even more right to join our struggle against the rootlessly destructive artistic style, corrupted by kitsch and dry virtuosity. I readily admit that even Germanic representatives took part in these evil goings-on, but that only proves how deeply the roots of these dangers had penetrated into the German people and how necessary it has seemed, therefore to oppose them. Real artists are rare. Accordingly they must be promoted and supported. But in that case they must be real artists.

You will always be able to express your art in Germany—in the future too. To complain about the fact that now and then men like Walter, Klemperer, Reinhardt etc. have had to cancel concerts seems to me to be particularly inappropriate at the moment, since on many occasions real German artists were condemned to silence during the past fourteen years; and the events of the past weeks, not approved of by us either, represent only a natural reaction to those facts. At any rate, I am of the opinion that every real artist should be given room for free creativity. But in that case, he must, as you say yourself, be a constructive creative person and must not be on the side of the rootlessly subversive, leveling, in most cases purely technical professionals whom you rightly criticize.

[ . . . ]

Source of English translation: Jeremy Noakes and Geoffrey Pridham, eds., Nazism, 1919-1945, Vol. 2: State, Economy and Society 1933-1939. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2000, pp. 213-15.

Source of original German text: Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, April 11, 1933; reprinted in Paul Meier-Benneckenstein, ed., Dokumente der deutschen Politik, Volume 1: Die Nationalsozialistische Revolution 1933, edited by Axel Friedrichs. Berlin, 1935, pp. 255-58.

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