Military Music of the Bundeswehr…

Continuing the theme of widening out Tomahawk‘s WW-II German Archive to just before the First World War, then coming forwards to the German Democratic Republic up until the Fall of the Berlin to complete our story of that county’s military music, along with our post-war East German  CD ‘Behind the Iron Curtain’, we also released an exciting a CD containing military music from the West German Bundeswehr’s first Musikkorps and its maiden studio recording from 1957 to keep the balance:

The new German Federal Republic was created 8 years earlier on September 7th 1949 with the formation of the Bundestag under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer but it wasn’t until 6 years later that this new West German state was permitted by its former enemies to raise its own independent Armed Forces. However the first West German military in-take did not take place until November 12th 1955 and that primarily comprised volunteers from the Federal Border Guard, with all candidates pre-screened to prevent former Third Reich-era Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS members from re-enlisting in the new post-war military.

Nevertheless, I know from my various discussions with senior Bundeswehr military musicians that despite this tight screening, at least four former musicians from Hitler’s bodyguard division, the Musikkorps SS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler’ and a number of younger Wehrmacht musicians were known to have ‘slipped though the net’ and it was these experienced WW-II veterans that would help continue Germany’s famous military musical traditions into the early days of the fledgling Bundeswehr in the late 1950s and so keep the ‘Janissary’ feel of their pre-1945 counterparts, at least for a few more years.

However it would, sadly, eventually be the Germany’s Greens and their allies who would, in later years, almost single handily destroy the whole historic might & pomp of West Germany’s Prussian military music by watering everything down to an almost unrecognisable image of its former self.. and indeed it was those self-same politicians that were behind the decision to remove the most obvious German Military musical uniform accoutrement, the Schwallbennesten (bandsmen’s swallowsnests), as well as also initially banning the other great totem of the German Musikkorps: the Schellenbaum (’Jingling Johnny’) and of course the ‘goose-step’ with all its Third Reich connotations

So it was odd that their East German counterparts, (who had a pathological hatred of the Nazi era), retained not only the Schwallbennesten & Schellenbaum but also the ‘goose-step’.. in fact  NVA Musikkorps even retained the distinct-sounding musical instrument, the Schalmei that was a favourite of early Sturm-Abteilung & Hitler Youth bands of the 1930s… but whenever this was raised, the brusque answer was always: “these are Prussian Traditions, not National Socialist!” )

However back to 1957 and that early, brief window when the newly formed West German musical arm could still perform in its proud, pre-1945 janissary style and the creation of the Stabsmusikkorps der Bundeswehr (Staff Band of the Army) on February 16th 1957 under a training designation, or Lehrmusikkorps, at Rheinbach near Bonn, initially with 16 musicians.

Some 4 months later, on June 16th 1957, Hauptmann Friedrich Deisenroth took over musical command and just a month after that increased this new musical strength to 50 bandsmen, with their first duties being to play alongside the Bundeswehr’s Wachbataillon Honour Guard in the new capital city of Bonn. In September the Stabsmusikkorps gave its first  performance in public and then in November 1957 it undertook its maiden studio recording session…

Tomahawk’s stirring CD Mit Trommeln und Pfeifen..! is that very recording, played in the true, pre-war Janissary style that harked back to the musical glory days of the Third Reich and includes the wonderful Der Badenweiler and a differing rendtion of the newly de-nazified German National Anthem or Nationalhymn as it was known then.. and as I say a rare and very short-lived window in time before the Germany’s Green Party got their hands on the Bundeswehr’s re-built musical arm and, (according to those former West German musicians I have spoken with), totally neutered and effectively wrecked what was always a very proud tradition within the German’s military psyche…

Indeed when the ‘dust had finally settled’ after the massive upheaval surrounding the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a number of former East German NVA musicians enlisted in the Bundeswehr, but were absolutely horrified at how far their janissary style of music had slipped and were appalled at the ‘lightweight’ music they were now expected to perform in the musikkorps of the newly reunified Germany… and so it is that this 1957 West German recording lives on as a well-preserved example of how military music would still have been played in todays’ Bundeswehr, but for political interference…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

Memories of The World at War…

Somehow I just knew that mentioning the fabulous television series World at War would stir some happy memories amongst fellow collectors & students of German military music as for ‘my generation’ it was most probably the first time that most of us had any real or exciting exposure to this incredibly powerful music…but I wonder if any of us knew back then where it might lead us..?

Certainly I had absolutely no idea it would eventually point me towards a professional career as both a producer, and thence historian, within this exciting field of endeavour, for way back then my only goal was to actually to become a War Correspondent, (though now they are more politely referred to as ‘Foreign Correspondents’)… but as my good mates often joke, “you are a War Correspondent, Bri, it is just that it’s World War Two that you report on..!”..and they do have a point!

But back to the World at War and my subsequent post-television career within the field of Third Reich/Nazi-era music, most happily it has led me to some very strong & greatly valued e-mail friendships made across the Atlantic with fellow enthusiasts in North America; and in a response to my last posting here on the Tomahawk Films’ Blog by one of those good collector-pals ‘State-side’, I was reminded of just how many of us similarly came to the collecting world of Germanic military music, ostensibly via that stunning TV series..

I then thought that, with his kind permission, I might share a part of his e-mail with you as I am sure a number of other collectors out there will smile and instantly recognise the trip he also made to becoming a collector & enthusiast, and thence in his own right, something of an expert on pre-1945 German military drums and the beautiful Schwallbennesten (or Swallowsnests), that all Third Reich/Nazi-era military & Para-military bandsmen & musicians used to sport).

So here is just a taste of the early part of his particular collecting journey….

“The World At War series is what started me on collecting Third Reich music.. and in particular the sequence on ‘Operation Barbarossa’ that started off with the marching song: ‘Wenn die Soldaten durch die Stadt marschieren’.

That song, along with Wenn wir Marschieren from the same episode, ‘sealed my fate” as far as collecting music-related items was concerned as I remember how, towards the end of the episode, they played that track while showing German casualties & destroyed armour, except this time they added reverb & delay, giving it an almost haunting, ghost-like sound; something you so greatly did on Tomahawk’s ‘Channel Islands Occupied’ TV documentary which I think was towards the end, as they were singing “Erika”… 

Back then there were only a few record-albums of Third Reich songs about and I think they were simply entitled Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine, (though there may have been one or two more), plus the sound-track to the Third Reich propaganda movie ‘Triumph of the Will’.  Of course the few that I did manage to find didn’t have those songs on and I had no idea there were actually a huge amount of war-time recordings, instead thinking that the “greatest hits of the German Army” would be contained on just those few albums..!

Of course, several years later I picked up a cassette-tape at a Gun Show only to find out that those songs were actually part of a post war potpourri recorded by, (I think), a West German military band…. but then, several years later, while paging through a Military Modelling magazine, I came across this company called ‘Tomahawk Films’ who were offering several cassette tapes of Third Reich songs and……. well, you know the rest of the story..!

Amazing how those two songs cost me so much money, but also led to some great friends here and over the pond’ ..!!!!

This very welcome overnight reponse from a  good friend to my previous posting on The World at War has made me wonder just how many of our other collector friends & valued customers around the globe may have had a similar early experience in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s; that of scrabbling around trying to find original 78rpm schellack or 33/3 vinyl post-war recordings of Third Reich/Nazi-era records to match what they had just heard on the sound-tracks of that ground-breaking The World at War television series..?  Happy Days!

           Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2012