Wehrmacht Military Musical Training…

“The essence of being a soldier, the inner and outer discipline, the readiness for action finds its most compelling expression in the march, which even today, we simply refer to as the ‘military march’. As a soldier is expected to think, speak, look and act, even when not on duty, he is similarly expected to sound like a soldier when making music”…so quoted the Handbuch für die Singleiter der Wehrmacht when first published in 1940…

Viewed with the same seriousness as combat or specialist personnel, career military bandsmen of the Reich were recruited from the following four backgrounds: firstly there were the professional musicians in civilian life or former musicians with the Imperial German Army or Reichswehr who answered adverts in the Deutsche Militärmusikerzeitung (German Journal for Military Musicians) for specific musical posts within the newly formed Wehrmacht and SS Musikkorps during the pre-war period of 1933 to 1939, or who applied to join a military band having been called-up for general military service after the outbreak of war in 1939.

Second category would be young, fully trained Hitlerjugend musicians or gifted amateurs spotted by a SS or Wehrmacht Musikmeister and subsequently invited to join the unit or divisional band.. whilst a third grouping were drawn from young soldiers and part-time ‘hobby’ musicians who, having undertaken their pre-war six months training with the Reichsarbeitsdienst, then joined the Wehrmacht and were spotted by their regimental bands as potential recruits and recommended for formal military music training.

The final group would be comprised of professional military bandmasters and musicians recruited upon completion of their musical training in the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS respective military music academies (Heeresmusikschule Bueckburg & SS Musikschule Braunschweig) or the elite Berlin Music Academy.

In the previously quoted Third Reich’s official German Army Musician’s handbook ‘Handbuch für die Singleiter der Wehrmacht’, Major Ernst-Lothar von Knorr on the staff of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (German High Command) confirmed in his writing:

“Only professional musicians or young men with substantial musical training can become Wehrmacht musicians; they are either recruited as volunteers or by the Wehrbezirkskommando (regional army administration), once they have reached call-up age. Posts are advertised daily in newspapers & specialised publications and musicians are tested in their musical ability by the Musikmeister. The new military musicians must have mastered their main instrument to such a degree of competence that they can immediately take up their place in the band, which they will do upon completion of their basic training.

If a post becomes vacant, they will be assigned to it after signing a 12-year contract and if showing the required aptitude, will be admitted to the training programme for musician NCOs. This admission depends on a favourable report by the Musikmeister. Apart from a wide-ranging knowledge of music history, successful candidates are required to play not only their main instrument but a secondary one as well.

If they show exceptional ability and leadership qualities, two further career paths are open to them: without reference to their previous length of service they can be made Korpsführer; in this position they will stand in for the Musikmeister and bear the rank of a senior NCO,which in the Wehrmacht is either a Musikoberfeldwebel or a Musikoberwachtmeister.

The second option is the training to become a Musikmeister: candidates are nominated by their own Musikmeister who will oversee their preparation for admission to the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik (State Musical Academy), in Berlin where they will enjoy reduced military duties to assist with their studies. The academic training at the university takes 3 years and music students follow a set curriculum which comprises both practical & theoretical subjects.

Apart from purely musical duties, students are also trained for the military leadership of a Musikkorps (regimental band), and a Spielmannszug (fife & drum corps), and the course culminates in practical musical and an equivalent military examination. Before they embark on this course of study, successful candidates have to sign up for an additional 6-year contract over and above the general 12-year one, and a Musikmeister can expect to progress to the rank of Obermusikmeister and Stabsmusikmeister.

The musical demands of young military musicians are high and the daily rehearsals are serious work, therefore their selection and training is a matter of great seriousness….”

And this is certainly borne out by the Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS musicianship evident on the original 1933-45 schellack 78rpm recordings, digitally re-mastered to CD and on offer in The Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2014

Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmacht…

As I depict in a dedicated chapter in my book The Military Music & Bandsmen of Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-1945, the outbreak of the Second World War saw the introduction of probably the most important and popular light entertainment programme broadcast nationally on Grossdeutsche Rundfunk: ‘Das Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmacht’ (Request Show for the Armed Forces). First transmitted on October 1st 1939, it became a regular and eagerly awaited feature of Sunday afternoon listening and, with an audience of some 80 million listeners at its height, could rightly stake its claim to be the first mass appeal light entertainment show in the history of popular radio.

Opening with Master of Ceremonies Heinz Goedecke’s words of welcome: ” This is Greater German Radio: dear soldiers, dear listeners in the home country, dear friends beyond the borders, the fanfare is summoning the Request Concert for the Armed Forces…” the Wunschkonzert offered a fascinating and entertaining collection of variety songs, popular hits, stirring instrumental marches, unit & korps marching songs, comic sketches and light classical music, all requested by the fighting men themselves and mailed in from the different German theatres of World War Two.

A German ‘Forces Family Favourites’, the Wunschkonzert was the soldiers’ very own show and forged a powerful link between the German armed forces fighting at the front and their families back in Germany, manning the home front. As such it became a show-case for some of the best German music and light entertainment of the day, in addition to being the launching pad for a number of famous songs, not least ‘Bomben auf Engeland’, which had its first public performance on the Wunschkonzert.

In the first weeks following the outbreak of the Second World War, German domestic radio programming was totally dominated by the advance of the Wehrmacht in the East; however once the invasion of Poland was complete and the situation stabilised, it soon became evident that there was a need for some form of communication between the soldiers and their families. So it was that Deutschlandsender’s director of broadcasting Albert-Ingemar Berndt broadcast an appeal for requests from the troops at the front and on the very first day after that appeal the mail office at Broadcasting House was swamped with 23,117 letters earmarked for the Wehrmachts-Wunschkonzert!!

Heinz Goedecke and Wilhelm Krug were given the joint responsibility for putting the show together and, after admitting that they were actually totally unprepared and unsure of a proper running order or artiste roll-call for this first programme, both were, however, sure that the essence of the concert should be to make those at home feel close to the soldiers at the front and give those manning the front lines the real feeling that the ‘home front’ was listening.

So with precious little real preparation time, the show’s production team plunged in and virtually ‘ad libbed’ the very first programme from start to finish with runners managing the bank of telephones and relaying messages to the sound engineers who were to play the 78rpm shellac records and the band & orchestra leaders who were to conduct the musicians and singers performing live in the studio!

Judged a great success, this first broadcast was also to include a heart-rending request that was to establish a song which would become the very heart and soul of the armed forces request show…Gute Nacht Mutter! about which I have written about here in another Tomahawk Blog, so no need for me to repeat that story, save to say that this hauntingly beautiful and achingly sad song became a staple of the new Wunschkonzert..

The essence of the Wunschkonzert was that it should be a ‘one way traffic’ from the front to the homeland, and at the height of World War Two it offered to the 14 million Germans, who had registered to receive radio broadcasts, a diversion from the harsh realities of the conflict whilst forging a strong link with soldiers’ loved ones. Its proud motto boasted: “the front line reaches out to the home front..the home front reaches out to the front line”.

Letters and cards from the various fronts also varied in their requests: rather than songs or selected pieces of music, one group of soldiers who, in civilian life, had all worked for the same building firm, requested that the sound of a pneumatic drill be played over the air because “this meant as much as the butter on their bread”. Meanwhile the kitchen staff of an army pioneer battalion in France wanted to hear the Potato Soup (call to eat) Fanfare.

This was taken up with so much enthusiasm by the studio’s fanfare trumpeters that soldiers asleep in their barracks emerged from their bunks, somewhat drowsy and confused on hearing this well-known call at an odd hour!

As the war progressed into 1941 and 1942, and other campaign theatres opened up, German troops soon found themselves fighting in Norway and Africa and the Wunschkonzert had to take these listeners into account as well. After the victory at Narvik, a special postal connection spanning some 2,000 miles was opened up, and at the studio special baskets for Feldpost from the north were established.

Everybody who was anybody in Germany was keen to be associated with the Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmacht and  so not surprisingly many famous German films stars and much loved singers of the day, such as the German Forces very own Lale Andersen together with Mimi Thoma & Zarah Leander and of course, the wonderful bass voice behind the show’s ‘Gute Nacht Mutter’ Wilhelm Strienz, gave their time freely in support of the broadcast. Perhaps therefore it was only a matter of time, before Reichspropagandaminister Goebbels, (never one to miss a passing bandwagon and jump upon it), decreed that this programme was henceforth regarded as a Nazi ‘national broadcasting treasure’.

As the Second World War progressed and events slowly began to turn against Germany, the general output of the Reich’s Broadcasting Network began to change, subtly at first, then with more and more blatant propaganda broadcasts beginning to take over from the earlier musical entertainment; not surprisingly a more sombre mood began to replace the previous gaiety of the earlier years. However, despite German forces facing severe reverses on all fronts, the Wunschkonzert was the one programme that escaped the long shadow being cast over other programmes, and the weekly show very soon became the main focus for a nation desperate to escape the harsh realities of a war suddenly turning against them.

So important, and indeed vital, a programme did the Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmacht become in maintaining the morale of a German nation now facing the complete unknown, that Reichspropagandaminister Goebbels was even moved to rescind his earlier ban in 1935 on the playing of jazz music in an effort to keep the nation’s spirits up!

But from 1943 onwards, as the Allied bombing offensive against the Reich began to increase in intensity, the radio audiences tuning in on medium wave found their listening increasingly interrupted by something called the ‘Kuckucksruf’ (cuckoo call), a melodious two-tone signal that would suddenly break into the music to tell the nation that the first Allied bombers had been spotted over the Reich.

The music would then resume, only to be interrupted again by the call a few minutes later, then at the third call, an announcer would confirm that Allied bombers had entered German airspace, giving exact location and map co-ordinates so allowing the audience to keep track of the air-raids as they unfolded in the skies above their homeland..! As the war finally turned irreversibly against the Reich, German radio broadcasts were to become interrupted on an almost daily basis, with many listeners coming to dread the sound of the ominous Kuckucksruf!!

Finally Deutschlansender fell silent in April 1945 as Russian forces converged on Berlin and the most popular radio show in German history died alongside the fatally wounded capital but the Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmacht left behind a wonderful radio legacy that would never be repeated…

Heard by millions of listeners from East Africa to North America, across Europe to the Far East, the Request Show for the German Armed Forces was not only instrumental in holding a nation at war together… but eventually raised a staggering 17 million Reichsmarks for charities on the German Home Front during its wonderful, broadcasting lifetime…

Now the essence of this most famous and evocative of all Third Reich war-time radio programmes has been brilliantly captued by Tomahawk Films in our evocative and exciting 2-CD radio series simply entitled: Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmachtenjoy!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

The Music of Third Reich Favourite Mimi Thoma…

When it comes to evocative female singers from those dark days of World War Two that were tasked with keeping up the spirits of war-weary nations, there will always be those that are instantly remembered and recalled: for the Allies it will always be Vera Lynn & Ann Shelton, for the Americans, The Andrews Sisters and for the Germans it will forever be Lale Andersen and Zarah Leander… but what about those other ‘literally un-sung heroines’ that were deemed their equals at the time, but since 1945 have almost fallen into total obscurity?

For Germany one such singer, popular throughout the years of the Third Reich, but barely a musical footnote after, is Mimi Thoma: born in Munich in 1909 the young Mimi originally set out on a medical career, successfully working in the nursing profession in pre-war Germany and at the time she had set out for herself a long-term game-plan to specialise in Paediatrics, (or the care of children). However fate had different plans in store for her and, as a very talented amateur singer in her spare time and blessed of a superb & quite distinctive voice, she was very soon noticed and then signed-up by music agents in the 1930s when as she was performing part-time in some of the many small nightclubs that were dotted around her home city.

With a wonderfully wistful & quite moody delivery that was so en vogue in the pre-war German cabaret scene in both Munich and the capital, Berlin, Mimi very soon built up a massive and loyal following right across Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich so much, in fact, that it put her up on a then par with, and ranked equally alongside, the likes of the similar voiced, but the more famous aforementioned cabaret singers, Lale Andersen & Zarah Leander.

Proclaimed on each & every concert-hall bill-board across Germany as: ‘A voice that everyone knows’ Mimi also became a great favourite with Joseph Goebbels and the Reich’s Nazi propagandists and as such throughout her burgeoning career she was variously signed to the German Grammophon, Telefunken & Polydor recording labels. Additionally, as with Zarah Leander, she also found herself acting in several important Berlin-produced movie-musicals that were shot at the famous Ufa-Babelsburg studios later on in the Second World War.

Surviving war’s eventual end in May 1945 Mimi, like her compatriot Lale Andersen, was also asked to perform for an Allied Red Cross concert in late 1945, before then embarking, again like Lale, on several years of touring across post-war Germany. However, very sadly, she was never able to recapture her terrific war-time success or indeed build upon her amazing pre-1945 popularity in Germany and tragically died in Cologne in 1968 at the tender age of just 59; even worse, she died alone and totally forgotten by her once adoring country..!

And that is how matters would have remained, had it not been for American movie mogul & director, Steven Spielberg, who would come to use Mimi’s very evocative children’s song, ‘Mamatschi’ on the sound-track of his Hollywood blockbuster movie Schindler’s List

It is a real tragedy that Mimi would have died believing her singing career had passed into obscurity and that she had been completely forgotten and thus unaware that, through Mr Spielberg years later, a welcome spotlight would once again be shone on her former war-time singing career as a Third Reich favourite and indeed that a new younger generation would come to hear her distinctive voice, whilst her past fans would be happily reminded just why they originally adored her voice the first time around…

Not surprisingly, we were delighted here at Tomahawk Films when our further searches in Germany uncovered, by chance, a small but perfectly preserved haul of pre-Second War schellack 78rpm records containing some of Mimi’s best known former songs…

Included was her own theme tune, Mamatschi, so allowing us to shine a small light on this once famous, but long-forgotten female voice of the Third Reich recording & radio industries through the release of our CD: Mamatschi..! The Songs of The Third Reich’s Favourite Cabaret Singer Mimi Thoma 1935-1941 …

 Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

Nazi Propaganda Swing from Charlie & His Orchestra..!

Just one of the many enjoyable aspects of producing Tomahawk Film’s digital re-mastered archival music CDs is that, thanks to our searches in Germany, aided by our friends & colleagues on the continent, is that we never know from one day, or one month, to the next just what wonderful material will emerge from hiding..and what new titles we can produce as a result..!

When Tomahawk first became a professional  restorer of period audio archival material some 25 years ago, it was the military side of the Third Reich that we concentrated on, but after many years in the Dubmaster studio with archival engineer Simon ‘Woody’ Wood, I found that I was really becoming captivated by the wonderful civilian music that also emanated from this period… and once we had produced our Wunschkonzert fuer die Wehrmacht series, we realised our audiences were too..!

From the Music of Lale Andersen to Wilhelm Strienz, from Dance Music of the Third Reichto the Songs of Mimi Thoma, we were certainly widening our net… however it was perhaps the Nazi Propaganda Radio Swing, Blues & Jazz classics from the famous Lutz Templin Orchestra, (better known as ’Charlie and His Orchestra’) that really caught our further historical attention & interest and I am very proud of the CD that came out of another fantastic editing & re-mastering session with Woody:

Perhaps one of the lesser know theatres of World War Two was the ‘Battle of the Airwaves’ and the leading exponents were the radio producers of the Reich’s Propaganda Ministry in Berlin, whose short-wave radio broadcasts from Reichsender Berlin took many forms; and whilst Lord Haw-Haw remains the most infamous voice heard on these Nazi air-waves, the Lutz Templin Orchestra aka ‘Charlie and his Orchestra’ was, broadcasting to the outside world, perhaps one of the most widely listened to!

Working directly to Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, a team of top composers & lyricists set about parodying well-known American Jazz, Blues & Swing classics of the day and specifically penned, first anti-British & anti-Semitic lyrics, thence anti-American & Soviet broadsides, which Propaganda Ministry linguists would then translate into English for broadcast.

Whilst ‘Charlie’ in the title was believed to be famous German crooner Karl Schwedler, (who was allowed to travel throughout occupied France, Holland & neutral Sweden, to collect examples of the latest Anglo-American music, banned in Nazi Germany), it was band co-leader Lutz Templin who was the driving force behind the parodies’ musical  arrangements.

Though the band line-up changed regularly between 1940 & 1945 as many of its professional German musicians, (drafted into the Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS Musikkorps), were replaced by Belgian & Dutch musicians from the Occupied countries, Templin’s continued influence could be felt as the band performed in Berlin; then as the Allied bombing of Germany intensified it relocated to perform & continue broadcasting on short-wave radio, (Kurzwellensender), in Stuttgart from the Summer of 1943.

As the war raged on, so the skits parodied different events & countries involved in the war effort, but the songs never lost their distinctive feel of 1940’s war-time radio and this superb 16-track collection of clever English lyrics, ranging from the funny to the vitriolic, offers some stunning Nazi Propaganda Swing classics including: I Double-Dare You, Miss BBCBye ‘Bye Empire and Black-out Blues..

In addition there is, at Goebbels’ insistence, two poignant Lale Andersen English lyrics vocals on Under an Umbrella & Lili Marleen, which were specifically aimed at capitalizing on the home-sickness many Allied servicemen posted overseas would already be feeling…!

I hope you’ll derive as much fun from listening to this very rare and hugely engaging collection of Nazi Propaganda music as I did in re-mastering & producing it… it’s certainly full of wonderfully entertaining tracks that should hopefully, (as they say in theatrical circles), ‘delight & amaze you…’

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