Dance Music of the Third Reich…

Aha, somebody has been featuring ‘Charlie and His Orchestra’ on television or radio I thought, judging by the sudden increase in sales for Tomahawk Film’s album of the same name…but whom I wondered..? I had recently sent a review copy up to a BBC contact of mine who I know is thinking about producing something on the phenomenon that is Third Reich military music… but this was too early in his creative process to have actually been aired!

Then I got a confirming e-mail from a customer ordering one of our Charlie CDs in which he exclaimed that he was somewhat surprised to see BBC 4 including the subject of Nazi music in a Swing documentary at the week-end!! Happily, I was able to respond that this is not something new, for ’Auntie’ has recently included some of the Reich’s finest music in its programming output, not least on BBC Radio Two a short while ago, when some of our archival material got a very welcome & rather popular airing:

The late Malcolm Laycock, (who presented a really superb late night swing & jazz show on Sunday evenings, of which I was a great fan), contacted us here at Tomahawk a few years ago after we had released 4 further albums of Third Reich civilian music to say he was interested in acquiring those titles for his own collection: Lale Andersen, Wilhelm Strienz and Zarah Leander.. but particularly our Dance Music of the Third Reich which featured the music of Barnabas von Géczy, who was incidentally, Adolf Hitler’s favourite civilian band-leader.

He also asked if it would be possibly to air a track or two from this latter album on his Sunday show, if we were agreeable? Agreeable!…with an audience measured in the many millions, what a wonderful shop-window for Tomahawk’s Archival CDs… and to play to such a knowledgeable & learned audience as those that regularly listened in to his wonderful late night Radio Two Show…

But what of this particular album of German Dance Music that Malcolm was so keen to acquire? Well there were a total of 93,857 professional musicians under contract across Germany when the Third Reich came into existence in 1933 and by war’s outbreak in 1939 this number had grown to a staggering 172,443, thanks to Propagandaminister Joseph Goebbels realising the power that music and radio had on a population; and  within a year of the Nazis coming to power, he had personally taken charge of this vital propaganda tool for the German government, which eventually led to some 5 million German homes receiving state radio broadcasts across the Reich..!

Goebbels skilfully & successfully balanced the world of entertainment with the field of politics and by 1938 light entertainment music, (Unterhaltungsmusik), accounted for nearly two thirds of all music output across the Third Reich and German radio was very popular for its willingness to play the latest dance records… and by war’s outbreak in 1939, the number of listeners had risen to 10 million!

In fact the demand for Unterhaltungsmusik grew so much that Goebbels actually ordered more of it to be played and broadcast to the ever growing radio audience… and so it was that this very talented Hungarian musician, Barnabas von Géczy (1897-1971), already an accomplished band-leader & violinist in 1930s’ Berlin, took a starring role in this wonderful musical renaissance that was taking place across the Third Reich.

As the personal favourite of Adolf Hitler, Barnabas soon became a Nazi favourite across the Reich, leading his own talented orchestra & dance-band and by 1941, over 50 million listeners were tuning in to his highly popular broadcasts. So Tomahawk Films were delighted when, after many months of searching, we located a 78rpm schellack record collection of Barnabas von Géczy’s most popular music in Dachau… and even more delighted when, one dark winters’ night some months later, we heard the lively & joyous ‘Kautschuk’ happily bursting forth from our radio, courtesy of Malcolm’s fabulous show on BBC Radio Two…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

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