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

Third Reich Music in ‘Schindler’s List’

Another welcome showing for this incredible movie on terrestrial television this week, however I must admit that, a little embarrassingly, it was a long time until I finally saw Schindler’s List (especially given the historical field in which Tomahawk Films & I both work); but I hasten to say that it wasn’t for any reasons of ignorance that I just could not bring myself to watch it, but the fact that I did not want to put myself through ‘another concentration camp film drama’…

It was not many years ago that I was asked to narrate a series of documentaries on the Nazi Concentration Camps: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Sobibor, Dachau, Mauthausen, Treblinka, Ravensbrück, Majdanek, Bergen-Belsen, Oranienburg, Buchenwald, Theresienstadt, Sachsenhausen… the infamous names just kept coming…. and the producer asked that I ‘narrate to picture’, something I don’t do that often, preferring to read a script ‘dry’ so I can fully take in and concentrate on the words that have been so carefully written.

In fact the last time I narrated to picture was for a superb 36-part holiday series on The Travel Channel many moons ago where, sadly not having been on location with the crew, I was reduced to sitting, mid-January, in a cold & draughty voice-over booth in a snowy Hampshire, narrating over some utterly enticing pictures of tropical destinations: the Bahamas, Grenada, St Kitts, the Cayman Islands, Turks & Caicos, Trinidad & Tobago, Martinique, Guadaloupe… all tantalising long, lingering shots of bikini-clad beauties, warm azure seas, golden sandy beaches all laid our beneath a legion of tall palm-trees…enough to make you weep as hour after hour of stunning locations unfolded before me and my frozen feet, as I beavered away adding ‘mellifluous tones’ to these oh-so seductive pictures….

However, with the concentration camp documentaries it was another matter entirely as I tried to remain professionally focussed on narrating some very well written scripts but continuously having to look up at the monitor for timings only to keep seeing some pretty grim images…and then some..!

I love doing voice-overs, but this was certainly not one of my easiest nor the most enjoyable of narrating jobs and upon its completion I made a mental note not to watch any more ‘detailed’ concentration camp footage again, if I could help it… thus that previous resistance to sitting through ‘Schindler’s List’ and have to re-live, (or so I imagined), all that harrowing footage once more..!

But how wrong I was for working here in the office late one evening with the television on purely for company in the background, this incredible movie suddenly appeared on screen without prior warning but, too engrossed in the script I was editing at the time, I did not bother to get up from my computer to switch the monitor off. But, oh boy, am I glad I was too absorbed, (or simply too lazy!), to do so for after a very short period I became aware of this incredible black & white movie unfolding before me; then I looked up and became engrossed and then my script-editing stopped.. very shortly after that I was totally hooked… what a superb example of the historical movie-makers‘ art this film is…beautifully shot, beautifully told & beautifully acted…

A 1993 Universal Pictures movie directed by the legendary Steven Spielberg and shot in glorious, evocative monochrome and starring Liam Neeson, Sir Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes, this was a superb take on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a greedy & utterly vain German businessman who became an unlikely saviour during the Third Reich when he turned his munitions factory into a safe-haven for Jews… and over the course of the Second World War he managed, somehow, to save the lives of over 1,000 Jews from a terrible death in the gas-chambers at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

With commissioned music composed by John Williams, the evocative German period music soundtracks come, most fittingly, first in the shape of Mimi Thoma’s emotional Mamatschi’ as written by Oskar Schima.

This is then followed by a very clever and most welcome appearance of Werner Bachmann’s moving ‘Gute Nacht Mutter’ delivered most powerfully by the incredible bass-voice from the legend that was Wilhelm Strienz… the fascinating story of which is explained a little more in depth in one of my previous Tomahawk Films Blogs

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013