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

The Schellenbaum & Tambourstock…

Perhaps one of the most characteristic and instantly recognisable feature of the German military band was the Schellenbaum (literally ‘Bell Tree’), which, like the military bands themselves, could also be traced back to ancient Turkey. Nick-named ‘Jingling Johnny’, the Schellenbaum began its life as an actual instrument that could be shaken and rattled in percussive fashion; however, somewhat reminiscent of the standards carried by the Roman legions, it gradually evolved to carry a small banner at its top and so became the symbol of command in the Janissary armies of the period…

Having been appropriated by Turkey’s enemy Austria in the 18th century, the Schellenbaum became a feature of the armies of Poland and Russia. Ultimately adopted by the German army, the Schellenbaum was to eventually be regarded as the formal and official standard of the German military band under orders to be paraded, wherever and whenever it performed, and was to be seen in many differing forms and designs, until a form of standardisation took place in 1932, followed by a formal specification being laid down by the German High Command in 1936 shortly after the creation of the Third Reich’s new Wehrmacht in 1935…

Paraded with the band and displaying its name or unit designation, the Schellenbaum was often bought by the local military veteran’s organisation or indeed by the townsfolk of the band’s garrison or shore-based naval establishment and given as a gift to the band to cement the bond between band and the local population.

Despite a Wehrmacht order of 1936, which attempted to rationalise Schellenbaum design, individual ornamentation continued to vary from unit to unit and between the differing branches of service. However, the standard Schellenbaum consisted of an eagle & swastika, made from an aluminium-coloured, light alloy known as helumin; suspended on a hanger from the eagle’s beak hung the unit or garrison banner, whose individual decoration was left up to the unit concerned. Normally this small banner was made of silk and was elaborately decorated on the front by hand, with the town’s coat of arms or the branch of service eagle and swastika emblem, together with the name of the town or garrison hand-embroidered in gothic letters to the reverse.

Under this was fixed a large hollow sun in polished tombac with either a swastika or Kriegsmarine/Heer/Luftwaffe emblem in the centre. Under this hung a crescent, also produced of tombac, with an eagle’s head made of silver coloured argentine at either end. From both these beaks hung trails of brightly coloured red, white & black horse or buffalo hair, whilst hanging from the lower edge of the Halbmond was a row of silver-plated brass stars or swastikas, and under the Halbmond hung a large bell in tombac from whose argentine rim hung another set of small silver-plated stars or swastikas.

The whole affair was mounted on a long handle of black polished wood and whilst not heavy, the full Schellenbaum was certainly unwieldy. Therefore, the carrier had to wear a 2 inch wide black leather carrying strap over the right shoulder with a small cup at the front, into which the lower end of pole could be placed in order to keep the whole structure steady.

Due to its height, the Schellenbaum holder was usually a non-musician chosen from amongst the tallest men in the regiment; in the case of Adolf Hitler’s SS Bodyguard Division, the Leibstandarte, it was an SS-Mann by the name of Gerhard Staubel, who measured in at an awe-inspiring 6’8″ tall! As unofficial members of the band, the holders were not allowed to wear the musician’s swallowsnests, though the author has seen photographs where they were patently being worn against regulations!

Variations to the 1936 official regulations on design included that of the SS-Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, whose Schellenbaum was patterned on an older version used by the Imperial German army which sported an eagle holding lightning rods in its talons in place of a swastika, and those of some ship & shore-based bands who paraded Imperial German Navy Schellenbäume, displaying the Imperial naval eagle at the top instead of the eagle & swastika, together with an anchor to the centre of the sun instead of a swastika.

Other variations, (including this superb Luftwaffe example, left), included an eight-pointed star in place of the sun; but it was not unusual for a Schellenbaum to be paraded, unadorned, without the garrison or shore-base banner being displayed from the top eagle, (as in during musikkorps marching practice).

Not strictly a flag or banner, the Tambourstock was both a ceremonial mace & signalling device by which the drum-major issued orders & movement directions to the band under his command and it is an instantly recognisable feature of the German musikkorps.

The body of the Tambourstock was composed of a 51 inch length of brown Bengal cane, with a weighted ball and neck at one end and a point at the other, both of which were made of polished Argentine. Heer, Waffen-SS & Luftwaffe Bataillonstambourstöcke were decorated with two cords black/red/white wool each ending in a tassel with a fringe whilst the Kriegsmarine version was decorated with cords and tassels of a golden-yellow colour

During the pre-Nazi era, the army of the Reichswehr limited the use of the Tambourstock to military parades, guard duties and ceremonial tattoos (Grosser Zapfenstreich). At all other times the battalion drum-major would use his signalling bugle, held out in his right hand at arms length.

However during the Third Reich, the Tambourstock became a more regular and more commonly used item, though with its increased popularity came more stringent rules on its usage, with the German High Command ordering that it should only be used with ‘full military dignity’. Any ostentatious use, such as throwing it up into the air and catching it, was definitely frowned upon and resolutely discouraged!

The era of the Third Reich saw some drum-majors continuing to use older Imperial army, Imperial navy or Reichswehr Tambourstöcke, whilst several Prussian regiments were known to carry similar staffs that were captured from French regiments during the Franco-Prussian wars of the Napoleonic era.

In the German army bands of the new millennium, modern versions of both the Schellenbaum and the Bataillonstambourstock are paraded with pride and élan, as was captured here in the UK in October 1996 when the Bundeswehr’s Heeresmusikkorps 10′s Schellenbaum was paraded at Pembroke Castle, as a part of the military ceremonials marking the German Army’s Panzerkorps withdrawal from their long-time base at the Royal Armoured Corps Tank Ranges down at Castlemartin in South Wales…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2014

Cavalry Music of the Third Reich…

Over the many years that Tomahawk Films has been  renovating and restoring Third Reich-period archival recordings, we have received many a call asking if we could release a specific album devoted to this German musical subject or that and, enjoying this welcome interaction with our valued customers, we’ve always made a note of such interesting suggestions. Though, sadly, this original period, archival music does not grow on trees and so takes many months, (and some cases years), to track down, with the help of our colleagues in Germany we have been able to continue our search and on a number of occasions have been able to ‘come up trumps’ and produce an album, based on that very specific customer feed-back.

Our CD Reitermärsche was a good case in point and I am glad that we were able to source some of this stirring instrumental music through our German colleagues, for Prussian cavalry music, (with its distinctive trumpet and kettledrum instrumentation and its instantly recognizable ‘trotting cadence’), was an important part of the German military musical inventory and one of its leading exponents, though not Cavalry-based, in and of themselves, was the Spandau-garrisoned Musikkorps.3.Batl./9.Inf.Regt. originally directed by Adolf Becker.

Following the disbandment of the German Army in 1919 in compliance with the Treaty of Versailles, a new 100,000-man Reichswehr was eventually created for the new Weimar Republic, and with but a handful of regiments compared to those of Imperial Germany, new battalions would have to represent the previously hard-won honours & traditions of entire former regiments.

So it was that the III Battalion 9th Infantry Regiment’s Musikkorps became the new ‘Tradition-bearers’ for the old Kaiser Franz Garde-Grenadier Regiment Nr.2 and, often referred to up until 1945 as the ‘Franzers’, was initially led by Adolf Becker, who had been bandmaster of the old Kaiser Franz Regiment, and the very epitome of the Prussian soldier and one of the youngest ever Guard Obermusikmeisters.

On parade, Becker’s exhilarating and bombastic style of music thrilled the crowds in Berlin where he became known as ‘Adolf mit dem Paukenschlag’ (or Adolf with the Drumbeat), because he always had his drummers add special loud flourishes to their performances, particularly as the Unter den Linden’s Guard-Changing ceremonies were goose-stepped to their conclusions.

The original band members of the 3.Batl./9.Inf.Regt. were drawn from the old Prussian Guards ‘Franzers’ band and continued to be led by Adolf Becker, until Adolf Berdien took over the position upon Becker’s retirement in the mid 1930’s and now, along with two rare performances by the Wehrmacht’s mounted Trompeter-Korps Reiter-Regt. Potsdam supported by the in-house military orchestras of the Odeon & Grammophon record labels, this evocative album contains 14 superb tracks including: Der alte Dessauer-Marsch, Allen voran, Hohenfriedberger Marsch, Marsch der finnländischen Reiterei and Kavallerie-Parademarsch that all German mounted-Musikkorps buffs will instantly recognise - and hopefully enjoy..!

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