DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Classical Music and Cold War – Musicians in the GDR (2012)

An interesting documentary on the life of the classical world within East Germany during the Cold War.

Published on October 21, 2012

Classical Music and Cold War – Musicians in the GDR (2012) 

Artists and contemporary witnesses: Kurt Masur, Peter Schreier, Helmut Schmidt, Theo Adam, Otmar Suitner, others
Director: Thomas Zintl
Studio: WDR/ORF/ArtHaus Musik 101 655 (Distr. by Naxos) [9/25/12]
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 B&W & color
Audio: German PCM mono and stereo
No region code
Subtitles: English, Italian, French, Spanish
Length: 52 minutes
Rating: ****

When WWII ended, Europe was split into East and West, with a dramatic political boundary thru the midst of Germany. This documentary explores the changes the Soviet  German Democratic Republic imposed in the cultural life of the area. While the ideology of the state was of course of primary importance, the Soviets immediately began to rebuild the ruined concert halls and opera buildings and to encourage an expanding cultural life. Together with sports, classical music was employed to advertise the merits of the GDR and the Soviet way. Those classical artists and composers who had the necessary talent and whose work did not gain them suspicion from the state security service often enjoyed extraordinary privileges. Some even were encouraged to travel and perform in the West, while Western performers were often welcomed in for cultural exchange.

One of the areas in classical performance that first irked the GDR authorities was that of Christian-based liturgical choirs and performances of Bach masses etc.  Even a few of those groups which had achieved major public acceptance on both sides of the Iron Curtain were accepted. One of the talking heads even speaks of the advantages of the Berlin Wall, in that many musicians left Berlin to perform elsewhere in Germany, opening up jobs for locals. At the start of the boundary disputes many members of the Berlin Philharmonic, for example, were from outside Berlin in the West. The shock of people on both sides at the beginning of the construction of the Berlin Wall is shown. In spite of some conflicts between the dictatorship and classical music, the latter actually thrived for the most part, and was one of the few successful areas of the Cold War period. The documentary ends with a production of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio, which had a strong message for the GDR’s rulers on their way out of the importance of freedom.

—John Sunier




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