The Music of Prof. Herms Niel…

During the 12 years in which the Third Reich, or Nazi-era, officially existed, military & civilian music was very much allowed to come to the fore of German consciousness under the paternal guidance of Adolf Hitler… and was particularly encouraged and overseen by his arch propagandist, Reichsminister Joseph Goebbels who had, early on, realised the very positive and uplifting effect that such music could have on a people…

Thus not only did Lili Marleen composer & musical genius Norbert Schultze, emanating from the civilian composer ranks, flourish in this highly encouraging atmosphere ultimately created, (so composing ‘Bomben auf Engeland’and some 25 other German classics such as ‘Wir fliegen gegen Engeland’, ‘Panzer rollen in Afrika vor’and Zwei Panzergrenadiere’), but from the military sphere came an even more prolific writer & composer of military marches & evocative soldier songs: Prof. Herms Niel.

As an eventual Musikmeister with the Reichsarbeitsdienst (German Labour Service), he was born Hermann Nielebock on April 17th 1888 in the small Brandenburg village of the same name and, on leaving school as a young man, he served his musical apprenticeship in the small band of the town of Gethin between 1902 and 1906.  In 1906 he then joined the Imperial German army, and was enlisted as a trombonist in the band of the First Infantry Guard Regiment (1. Garderegiment zu Fuss) at Potsdam, eventually seeing service throughout  the whole of the First World War as an acting sergeant and band-leader, before being finally demobbed, after war’s end, in 1919.

In the very tough years that followed the end of the Great War, Herms Niel managed to earned a living as a civilian band-master and composer until the dawning of the Third Reich, whereupon he immediately joined the fledgling Sturm Abteilung in 1934 as a troop-leader, before receiving his promotion to band-leader of the Reichsarbeitsdienst training establishment which had been established at Potsdam and when his work as a composer of many famous Third Reich soldier songs really took off…

In 1941 he was awarded the academic title of Professor of Music, and throughout the Second World War his musical credits and composition output was completely unmatched and very soon he became Nazi Germany’s best loved composer of military marching songs, remembered for creating some of the classic, and indeed most famous and widely known tunes of all, including: Hannelore, Engelandlied, Es ist so schön, Soldat zu sein, Edelweis, Das Frankreichlied, Jawoll, das stimmt, Jawoll and the Kriegsmarine’s Heut stechen wir ins blaue Meer and the Luftwaffe’s soaring anthemFallschirmjägerlied…

In addition to his obvious prowess as a world-renowned composer, one little known fact was that Herms Niel also invented and devised a fanfare trumpet. Known as the ‘Herms-Niel-Doppelfanfare’ in E & B Flat, it was manufactured in 1938 by Ernst Hess Nachf., a famous accordion factory & musical instrument dealership in the heart of Germany’s musical instrument manufacturing region of Klingenthal.

However it is his for his most prodigious military musical output that he will be forever remembered by legions of very grateful military music enthusiasts the whole world over.

To this end Tomahawk Films were again in action in Germany once again several years back seeking out and acquiring as many of his original & most stirring compositions on pre-war schellack 78rpm records as we and our contacts over there on the continent could find…

Having then let archival audio-engineer Simon ‘Woody’ Wood loose in the Dubmaster studio for a further session of his superbly skilful schellack restoration and renovation, we were delighted to be able to add another evocative & stirring Third Reich ‘soldier song’ CD collection to the Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive.

Simply entitled: Musik von Herms Niel, this very stirring CD collection features 15 of his most famous compostions & best-loved soldier songs including Gerda-Ursula-Marie, Marsch des Gebirgsjaeger, Matrosenlied & Es geht um’s Vaterland, all of which are performed, under his musical direction, by the professional Third Reich Labour Service musicians of his Reichsmusikzug des RAD….  and course no self respecting Herms Niel collection would be complete without the military music enthusiasts’ most famous & most oft requested WW-II German marching & soldier song of all time… Erika..!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

 

Die Musikkorps der Wachbataillonen-Berlin…

Some while ago several Tomahawk Films’ customers contacted us, actually with the same query, regarding a new CD that had been released in the US which they had bought, purporting to be a compilation of military music tracks all performed by the band of the army’s elite Regiment, ‘Grossdeutschland’, (the army’s Wachbataillon during the era of the Third Reich)… but were bit confused when they discovered that this album also contained a number of tracks performed by the Luftwaffe’s Wachbataillon as well, and should this be the case..?

Despite not having heard this album myself, nevertheless from the track listings & credits read out to me over the ‘phone, my personal thoughts were, ‘absolutely not’..! The ‘Grossdeutschland’ was the army’s Berlin-based Wachbataillon or Honour Guard only, (as well as being the Wehrmacht’s elite combat unit in the field), whilst the Luftwaffe’s Wachbataillon was a totally separate elite Honour Guard belonging to Herman Goering’s powerful German Air Force so providing some of the best Luftwaffe musik ever heard in the capital.. thus being a case of: ‘never the twain shall meet’..!

However, it was certainly the case that from time-to-time certain military musicians within the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS Musikkorps did actually change their arm of service and transfer over to another Musikkorps, if a suitable musical vacancy came up within another regimental band or orchestra… and very often this was directly as the result of a Situations Vacant advertisement posted for the player of a certain required instrument in the pages of the German entertainment magazine ‘Variety’.

But such a move would be deemed a complete change of uniform & service regulations as these career-musicians were joining a completely new branch of the German Armed Forces: so as far as the ‘Grossdeutschland’s’ superb band was concerned, its full-time professional musicians may have moved in and out on odd occasions, but it was always an Army Musikkorps, and in turn the Luftwaffe Musikkorps stayed completely separate as an Air-Force military band..!

So I have to agree with those callers in that whilst this American-produced ‘Grossdeutschland’ CD offers some military music tracks performed by the Army’s elite Honour Guard Musikkorps, to then also include other tracks performed by the Luftwaffe’s Honour Guard does seem a little erroneous..!

I must admit our Production Office ‘phone only started ringing with these customer queries after Tomahawk Films had produced & launched our specific Berlin Honour Guard CD which combines the performances by both of the capital’s elite Musikkorps of the Luftwaffe & Army Wachbataillonen… and thus its title Die Musikkorps der Wachbataillonen-Berlin…The Wehrmacht’s Elite Guard Detachments 1937-1945...as it contains an exciting blend of seven tracks performed by the Musikkorps der Wachbataillon ‘Grossdeutschland’ supported by six from the equally skilled Stabsmusikkorps Wachbataillon der Luftwaffe..

But this whole question of Berlin’s Honour Guards during the period of the Third Reich is a quite fascinating one, for it was actually in 1921 that Berlin’s first Guard Detachment since 1918 was created with the Reichswehr’s Kommando der Wachtruppe, together with a Musikkorps der Kommandantur-Berlin led by the very famous military Musikmeister: Friedrich Ahlers.

Tasked with Honour Guard duties at the Neue Wache, (or New Guard House), in Germany’s capital city, manpower for it was drawn on a rotational basis from army battalions across the country and with the coming of the Third Reich in 1933, it was re-named Wachtruppe-Berlin.

Nazi Germany then re-armed in 1935 and the Wehrmacht was subsequently created and with it, a new three-battalion Wachregiment-Berlin came into being in 1937, with the band re-designated Musikkorps der Wachregiment und Kommandantur-Berlin and whilst peacetime military bands averaged 28-38 musicians, this elite army band now boasted some 48 members.

Nazi Germany’s new Air Force was also created in 1935 and a similar Luftwaffe Wachbataillon, tasked with guarding Goering’s Berlin Air Ministry, also found itself deputing, once a week, for the army as it stood in for the Wachregiment as the Wehrmacht’s Guard Detachment at the Neue Wache.

Meantime, Luftwaffe Inspector of Music, Prof. Hans-Felix Husadel had appointed the highly talented Stabsmusikmeister Hans Teichmann to head and lead a new Stabsmusikkorps der Wachbataillon der Luftwaffe which was only too eager to show off its prowess and panache at many open-air concerts around the Capital and also to the massed German audiences via the Sunday night Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmacht radio shows.

In addition, this superb Air Force military band was also an important staple of Germany’s wider commercial music industry and regularly recorded at Telefunken’s famous Berlin studios with many subsequent schellack 78rpm recordings produced on their label actually surviving through to today, if you can hunt them down!

Meanwhile yet further changes came in April 1939 with the army’s Wachregiment, still under the direction of Stabsmusikmeister Friedrich Ahlers, being renamed Infanterie Regiment ‘Grossdeutschland’ and its band, the Stabsmusikkorps der Wachbataillon Infanterie Regiment ‘Grossdeutschland’ und Kommandantur-Berlin; (rather unwieldy and something of a real mouthful, so not surprisingly many record labels simply shortened the name to simply Musikkorps ‘Grossdeutschland’..!)

At the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, many Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS bands were disbanded ‘for the duration’ and the musicians transferred to their war-time roles of radio operator, despatch rider or combat-medic. However, the army’s prized Musikkorps Infanterie Regiment ‘Grossdeutschland’ (along with just two other elite bands, Musikkorps SS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler’ & Musikkorps 12.SS-Panzerdivision ‘Hitlerjugend’), remained in operational… and in fact played almost up until war’s end in May 1945.

Today, some nearly 70 years on from their last performances, it was a real pleasure, (and another yet another fascinating history lesson), to produce & re-master Tomahawk’s Wachbataillonen-Berlin CD which, in my humble opinion, contains some of the very best Third Reich musicianship so expertly performed by the leading military performers of the day….just superb!!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2012