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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Brief Lives

'In the early years of the war she joined the National Socialist Party, according to Alan Jefferson’s punctilious but at times contentious biography of her. It caused a considerable stir when it was published in 1996 and certainly did not please its subject. Schwarzkopf appeared in a handful of propaganda films under Goebbels’ banner and sang too in a single performance of Die Fledermaus in Paris in 1941 put on for the benefit of the German occupying forces.

'These moves were purely pragmatic. Schwarzkopf was determined to get to the top and was not inclined to go looking for obstacles.


'During 1946 Schwarzkopf, in common with other prominent musicians including Furtwängler and Karajan, came under the scrutiny of the Allied Denazification Bureau.'

- from the Times' obituary of Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. Not exactly a flattering picture. But what does the Grauniad say?

'At this time [1942], the singer reportedly had connections with the Nazis, revealed in a controversial biography that appeared in 1996. The revelations, denied by her, caused a considerable stir. The truth is that as an attractive and impressionable young singer, she inevitably sought favour with the powers that be. The political affiliation probably went no further than that. At war's end she was active in Vienna, apparently with no stain on her character.'

So that's all right, then. It was inevitable. What else was an impressionable 26-year-old girl to do?

And the battling Independent, ever the scourge of oppression and hypocrisy?

'She made her début in 1938 at the Berlin Städtische Oper as a Flower Maiden in Parsifal and then sang coloratura roles such as Oscar in Un ballo in maschera, Adele in Die Fledermaus, Musetta in La Bohème and Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos. When she moved to the Vienna State Opera in 1942, it was as Zerbinetta that she made her Viennese début.

'For a while she continued in the coloratura repertory, with Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviolia and Constanze in Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail among her most successful parts; by 1947, when she first appeared at the Salzburg Festival, as Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro, she had become a lyric soprano.'

On the other hand, here's the Telegraph making the Thunderer look timid:-

'After the war she made her Covent Garden debut as Donna Elvira in 1947. She was lucky to be allowed to perform in Britain at all, for her involvement with the Nazi party had been at least as intimate as those of Karajan and Furtwängler. Its full extent was revealed in Jefferson's controversial 1996 biography, which made extensive use of the 200-page file on Schwarzkopf kept by the Nazis. From this it appears that she applied to join the party in 1938 and quickly attracted the attention of Goebbels; she also acted, sang and played the piano in propaganda films. When she was questioned by Allied authorities in Austria about her party membership, she produced a succession of lies and half-truths. These were swiftly uncovered, and Jefferson finds it strange that someone as intelligent as Schwarzkopf should have resorted to such "clumsy methods of fudging her past". He speculates that she was attempting to hide more than NSDAP membership: there were rumours that she was the lover of a senior Nazi.'

So there you have it. If you want a paper that calls a Nazi a Nazi and doesn't make excuses for her, the order of preference is not quite what you might have expected. But perhaps it shouldn't be altogether surprising that the papers which do best are those least likely to be found making excuses for Ahmadinejad the Holocaust-denier and his sidekicks.

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