Friedrich Hartmann

cartoon: Dollfuss vs Hitler

‚Und wenn du noch so doll den Fuß dagegen stemmst, glaub nicht, daß du die Zeit in ihrem Laufe hemmst‘ is the caption of the accompanying photo. It’s a series of puns on the name of the Austrian dictator Engelbert Dollfuss, who tried to stem through force the tide of Nazism spilling over from neighbouring Germany post 1933.

‘Aufarbeitung’ is an intriguing and important word in German that has no single concept in English. On a purely literal level, it means ‘refurbishment’ but in its more common historic meaning, it refers to the process of objective assessment of the past. In the ‘Aufarbeitung’ of the legacy of 12 years of Nazism – not forgetting the important years that preceded it – we crash into numerous unexpected ethical hurdles. Professor Timothy Jackson from North Texas University presents us with a new one in the guise of Friedrich Hartmann. His website provides us with a short biography: ‘Friedrich Hartmann (1900-1973) studied in Vienna with Joseph Marx and others. He published three books on music theory, harmony, and theory pedagogy in Vienna in the late 1930s. Outspoken in his opposition to the Nazis and with a part-Jewish wife, Hartmann was forced into hiding after the Anschluss in 1938. The family managed to leave in 1939; plans to go to Brazil or elsewhere did not materialize, and Hartmann fled instead to South Africa, where he was appointed Head of Music at Rhodes University. In 1960, he moved back to Vienna, where he was deputy head of the Musikhochschule. Hartmann’s works include The White Fan, a mime-drama to a text by Hofmannsthal.’ It doesn’t give us much to go on, and we can only hope that Dr. Primavera Gruber of the Orpheus Trust can offer some clarity following her research and resultant article on this intriguing figure.

Yet the problems started with a conference in Johannesburg a couple of years ago when Thomas Sanderling conducted an astonishingly powerful work by Hartmann called ‘The Song of Four Winds’. It is a work that is modeled on Zemlinsky’s ‘Lyric Symphony’ but even more consciously on Joseph Marx’s ‘Herbstsymphonie’. Marx was Hartmann’s teacher. The musical language is opulent and is remarkable in its – there is really no other word – Austrianess: its love of nature, as expressed in sounds, similar to Mahler’s ‘Das Lied von der Erde’ with a richness of orchestration that reminds the listener of Austria’s cultural, historic and geographical ties with Italy.

And this is where some of the ambiguities start. The ties with Italy were not just cultural, but between 1933 and 1938, also political. The regime of Engelbert Dollfuss and Kurt Schuschnigg was fascist, clerical and corporatist. It was supported by a lot of notable musicians, both actively and passively. The same holds true in Italy where many, possibly most of the country’s best composers were open in their support for Mussolini. Hartmann was an active supporter of Austro-Fascism and his flight from Hitler – similar to that of the sentimentalised von Trapp family, or indeed any number of monarchists and devout Catholics – was because of his resistance to Nazis from the political right. The question that is rarely debated in Austria, and difficult to answer, is how much ethical weight can be attached to resistance from the political right to National Socialism? History has judged National Socialism as a right-wing dictatorship in its most extreme manifestation. At the time, this was not necessarily the received view and certainly not the way it was seen by conservatives who saw little difference between the economic and social methods of Stalin and Hitler. One need only read the diaries of Viktor Klemperer for confirmation. Austrian Social Democracy today squirms uncomfortably when presented with the paradox of right-wing resistance to Hitler. It blocks an ‘Aufarbeitung’ of this fascinatingly contradictory period of history.

Prof. Jackson’s present issues with Hartmann – after initiating the performance of the ‘Four Winds’- is the provenance of the work’s crowning text. It appears to be ascribed to the Nazi, SS-Gruppenfürher poet Hanns Johst. Neither Timothy Jackson, after careful research, nor other specialists in German 20th century literature, can find the text set by Hartmann. But its mere presence causes problems: Did Johst write and give it to Hartmann privately? Was it mistakenly attributed to Johst? Did Hartmann write it himself and claim it was by Johst? Any eventuality betrays sympathy towards a man whose support of Hitler’s extreme views raise uncomfortable questions. In one of my previous short-essays, I raise the question of composers who stayed in Germany while possibly having little sympathy for the regime. With Hartmann, we potentially encounter a strangely reversed situation: a composer in exile who – with his questionable inclusion of Johst – more than hints at some sympathy for a historically discredited writer, much fêted by the Nazis. Hartmann’s open loyalty to Austro-Fascism raises further questions of exactly what the relationship was between this period of history and Hitler.

The work, as with many works by Marx, is outstanding if unrepentant in its reactionary, late-Romantic musical language. Should we cold-shoulder it, or leave it for future generations to puzzle over? If we cannot separate the composer as individual from his work, we shouldn’t really be listening to very many composers. Wagner obviously springs to mind, but even Stravinsky and Sibelius can be tarred with similar brushes. This would be more the pity for music.