By Cynthia Chung
“No, there is a limit to the tyrant’s power! When the oppressed man finds no justice, When the burden grows unbearable, he appeals with fearless heart to heaven, and thence brings down his everlasting rights, which there abide, inalienably his, and indestructible as stars themselves. The primal state of nature reappears, wherein man confronts his fellow man; and if all other means shall fail his need, one last resort remains—his own good sword. The dearest of our goods we may defend, From violence. We stand before our country, We stand before our wives, before our children!
We want to be a single band of brothers, Never to part in danger or distress. We want to be free, as our fathers were, And rather die than live in slavery. We want to trust in the one highest God, And never be afraid of human power.”
– “The Rütli Oath”, Friedrich Schiller’s “Wilhelm Tell”
[This article was originally published on SCF in March 2022.]
On March 1st, Valery Gergiev was dropped by his manager and fired from his position as Chief Director of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra by Munich Mayor Dieter Reiter, for not denouncing Russia over its military intervention into Ukraine. Gergiev’s former manager Marcus Felsner stated to The Guardian that the Russian conductor is “the greatest conductor alive and an extraordinary human being with a profound sense of decency,” but he was unable to “publicly end his long-expressed support for a regime that has come to commit such crimes.”
The question is, who is the biggest loser in all of this? That is, who will suffer the greatest loss culturally from the voluntary dismissal of “the greatest conductor alive”?
No decent human being longs for war. War has historically been recognized as the weapon, the tool of the tyrant. To threaten force upon a people, a civilization and risk its destruction, only to usurp a temporary and precarious throne is rightfully seen as the ambitions of a mad man.
The question is, to whose mad ambitions and designs of war are we, as a global populace, held hostage? That is, who is the tyrant? And who are the upholders of liberty, who have a right to “defend from violence” by their “own good sword”?
Many of you may be wondering what is the “Rütli Oath” and who is Friedrich Schiller?
Well, that is exactly the point. If you do not know, you have been robbed of something and it was done consciously so that you should not know, or remember such things. A citizenry that wishes to be free and would “rather die than live in slavery” and “never be afraid of human power” is certainly not acceptable storytelling for children, let alone adults, in a world where we do not have a right to choose what the future holds.
Schiller is in many ways, the forgotten Shakespeare of Germany.
Today, we can still hear the name of Goethe mentioned frequently, but rarely do we hear the name of his dear friend, collaborator and in many ways mentor, Friedrich Schiller.
Goethe and Schiller were recognised in the 19th century as the two most revered figures in German literature. Both men had lived in the city of Weimar located in central Germany and were the seminal figures of the literary movement known as Weimar Classicism.
Weimar Classicism, contrary to what Wikipedia would have you believe, was never a new humanism which emerged from the ideas of Romanticism.
In fact, it was the mythologies of the Romantic movement that launched a form of cultural warfare against the German classics. From Nietzsche, to Wagner, the “Romantic” protest movement of the Jugendbewegung [German Youth Movement], to the Romantic cultural pessimism and existentialism of the post-WWI period known as the “Lost Generation,” all of these waves of “thought” were essentially a part of the same uninterrupted tradition that ran counter to German classicism, since it was Germany who had become a leader in creating geniuses of the Classics.
All of these so-called “Romantic” movements promoted forms of “heroic nihilism” as seen with such individuals as Ernst Jünger, Oswald Spengler, Arthur Moeller van den Brück and others, who helped shape the ideological environment of the Nazis.
The attack on Weimar Classicism began with the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815). Many historians in fact recognise that the Congress of Vienna, which was responsible for the inhumane carving up of Europe after the Napoleonic Wars, was largely to blame for the political foment that led to WWI a century later.
The Carlsbad decrees were adopted by the German Confederation in 1819 as an offshoot to the vision for Europe as defined by the Congress of Vienna which upheld the rule of empire and monarchy. It established severe limitations on academic and press freedoms and set up a federal commission to investigate all signs of political unrest in the German states. This was in reaction to the wave of republicanism that was sweeping throughout Europe after the success of the American Revolution against Britain’s monarchy. Thus, the organizers of the Congress of Vienna saw this spirit of republicanism as a form of revolutionary sedition which had to be crushed at its cultural root at all costs.
What is Weimar Classicism?
The “Weimar Classical” period, beginning around 1772, was named after the place in which much of the leading thinkers lived at the time, such as Goethe, Schiller, Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt, among others [The Humboldt educational reforms became heavily attacked under the Carlsbad decrees and many of the best teachers in Germany ended up migrating to the United States due to heavy censorship].
The Weimar Classical period was defined by a revolutionary spirit for creativity in literature and culture. It was not just about creating anew, but about building upon the richest classical traditions of the past and was very much influenced by Greek Classicism.
Goethe (1749-1832) and Schiller (1759-1805) became the leaders of the literary dimension of this movement. Goethe would be appointed the Director of the Weimar Theater (the National Theater today) in 1791, and it was during this period that Schiller’s epic dramas such as “The Wallenstein Trilogy,” “The Maid of Orleans” (about Joan of Arc), “Maria Stuart” and “Wilhelm Tell” were first performed on the stage.
Schiller, known during his time and beyond as the Poet of Freedom, wrote “Wilhelm Tell” in 1804. It is considered a masterpiece to this day and is especially loved by many in Germany and Switzerland. It is a story of how tyranny and empire were defeated by a people who upheld and defended their dignity and liberty.
The folk story is set in 14th century Switzerland during the Habsburg rule of the Austrian Empire. According to historical records, referenced in the White Book of Sarnen, written in 1474 as a collection of medieval manuscripts, the Rütli Oath was a conspiracy to overthrow the Habsburg tyranny and is what launched the Burgenbruch rebellion. Among the names mentioned in the medieval manuscript is that of the hero, Wilhelm Tell.
This small grouping of Swiss people from just three cantons (townships) at the time, which grew to 26 cantons, went on to oppose the tyrannical rule of the Austrian Empire and form the Heveltic Confederation. The Rütli Oath was the first declaration of independence for Switzerland.
Germany during the time of Schiller’s writing “Wilhelm Tell,” was not a sovereign nation but rather was ruled between the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy and the Kingdom of Prussia. After the Napoleonic era, the Congress of Vienna founded the German Confederation (as a replacement to the Holy Roman Empire), loosely made up of 39 states. The Emperor of Austria held the permanent “presidency” of this German Confederation until the Seven Weeks’ War between the Kingdom of Prussia and the Austrian Empire in 1866. Prussia won and took over the “inherent right” to rule the German lands.
Thus, the effects of Schiller’s controversial choice of historical setting for his epic drama “Wilhelm Tell” during his life and beyond, should not go unnoticed. Schiller had chosen to stress this period in history, very much like what Shakespeare had done, as a lesson for the people of his time, that no one should subject themselves to the folly and whim of a tyrant. In turn, Schiller defined the spirit that would be required to oppose the bondages of empire and imperial rule. It is for this reason that “Wilhelm Tell” is among the most loved dramas by Schiller.
It is no coincidence that Beethoven (1770-1827) would choose a poem by Schiller, “Ode to Joy” to culminate his own life’s work in his 9th Symphony.
Beethoven was also for republicanism and his 9th Symphony is clearly a call for the voice of the people to rejoice in the recognition that all men are brothers and that all humankind was destined to live in harmony and peace. Ode to Joy was originally titled “Ode to Freedom” by Schiller. Alexander Thayer in his biography of Beethoven wrote “the thought lies near that it was the early form of the poem, when it was still an ‘Ode to Freedom’ (not ‘to Joy’), which first aroused enthusiastic admiration for it in Beethoven’s mind.”
This was the spirit that had come under attack by the Carlsbad Decrees and the Romantic movement, as epitomised by Richard Wagner (1813-1883) and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900).
It is also no coincidence that Wagner was Adolf Hitler’s favourite composer. You may think this unfair to Wagner, but it is nonetheless very relevant.
Hollywood movies have long projected the idea that a deep appreciation of classical music is connected to Nazis or psychopaths, especially where the music of Johannes Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is concerned.
Besides countless movie scenes of SS officers playing classical music on their gramophones right before doing something heinous, there are also scenes like this one in Schindler’s List where Bach’s Prelude from English Suite no. 2 is played while horrific acts of violence are conducted by Nazis.
We also see this in Hannibal Lecter’s love for Bach’s Goldberg Variations along with scenes of cannibalism, seen in the original and the 2013 tv series remake. And once again in Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange where Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is played during the “brainwashing scene” with Nazi references and symbolism, and in another scene where the protagonist is having violent visions and fantasies.
Pairing classical music with Nazis and psychopaths is no coincidence. It is part of the ongoing cultural warfare against Weimar Classicism and classicism in general as something akin to totalitarianism. Whereas in fact, it was the very opposite. Totalitarianism viewed Weimar Classicism with its revolutionary bent of liberty for the people as a mortal threat to its existence.
Hitler made it known who were among his favourites, including “Germanic” composers such as Wagner and Anton Bruckner who were both paragons of the Romantic movement. During the Nazi reign, heavy censorship and cultural controls were enforced to uphold what Hitler identified as a strong Germanic identity, heavily influenced by artists from the Romantic movement.
The legendary and extremely gifted German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954), stands out during this period of heavy censorship. He not only refused to become a Nazi adherent, but the Gestapo was aware that he was providing assistance to Jews and giving much of his salary to German emigrants during his concerts outside of Germany. (1) Georg Gerullis, a director at the Ministry of Culture remarked in a letter to Goebbels, “Can you name me a Jew on whose behalf Furtwängler has not intervened?” (2)
Furtwängler was the principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic from 1922-1945. In 1934, Furtwängler publicly described Hitler as an “enemy of the human race” and the political situation in Germany as a “schweinerei” (meaning literally swinishness). (3)
In 1933, Furtwängler met with Hitler to try to stop the antisemitic policy in the domain of music. Berta Geissmar, a close associate of Furtwängler, wrote “After the audience, he told me that he knew now what was behind Hitler’s narrow-minded measures. This is not only antisemitism, but the rejection of any form of artistic, philosophical thought, the rejection of any form of free culture...” (4)
So many years later, Furtwängler would be a major target for destruction by the new CIA-run cultural witch-hunt known as the Congress for Cultural Freedom (the new Congress of Vienna) founded in 1949 to launch a post-modernist assault on German classical culture.
Furtwängler wrote in his diary in 1935 that there was a complete contradiction between the racial ideology of the Nazis and the true German culture, the one of Schiller, Goethe and Beethoven. (5) He added in 1936: “living today is more than ever a question of courage”. (6)
It is this question of courage that will define what will dictate the future culture of Germany. Would Culture and Art be ultimately judged by the standards of truth, beauty and goodness? Or would such things be buried in the ground, and forgotten, as what largely happened to both Schiller’s works and his mysterious and abrupt death in 1805 which led to his body being dumped in a mass grave before a proper funeral service could be held?
[For more on this story, refer to Irene Eckerts’ beautiful paper “Schiller vs. the Congress for Cultural Freedom.”]
An Ode to the “Pearl of the Desert”: the Ancient City of Palmyra
Palmyra is an ancient city in Syria that dates as far back as the second millennium BC. It grew in wealth from the trade routes along the Silk Road. This wealth enabled the construction of monumental projects such as the Great Colonnade, the Temple of Bel and the tower tombs. Greco-Roman culture influenced the culture of Palmyra, which in turn produced distinctive architecture that combined eastern and western traditions. Palmyra is considered one of the most important historical sites in West Asia.
Syria is located within the cradle of civilization. For this reason, it is immensely rich in a diversity of cultures, religions and schools of thought. It has many ancient cities, many ancient memories.
In 2015, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), occupied the city of Palmyra and began executions of hostages within the amphitheater. They also detonated explosives that destroyed the iconic Baalshamin Temple among other ancient architectural treasures.
As the ancient city was being destroyed over a period of two years, the west used ISIL photos to boost their news ratings as clickbait. It should also not go unmentioned, that the United States in particular, but several western countries in total, have been responsible for the backing of terrorism in West Asia.
ISIL was clear with its intention, they were not just attacking anyone who did not fit into their idea of what they thought a Muslim world should look like, attacking both Muslims and non-Muslims who did not fit into this narrow and barbarous view. They were also attacking the history of all civilization itself. For in their eyes, it was all of civilization that was at fault and would have to be wiped off the face of the Earth so that the new world could be built anew. ISIL, though very much a war against the people, was ultimately a war against whole civilizations and their ancient cultures.
During this tragedy, as with countless others, the west was largely unaffected. On March 2, 2017, the Syrian Army, along with support from the Russian military, were successful in taking back Palmyra.
Extensive damage had been done during the ISIL occupation and much of the ruins of Palmyra have been lost forever. There was also the painful memory that was now associated with the ancient city, that of death and terror, for public executions were displayed in the amphitheater for a two-year period, including that of Khaled al-Assad who was the director of antiquities and had been tortured for days for information on hidden artifacts.
It seemed like the memory of Palmyra would be stained with this tragedy for many generations. ISIL may have left, but its spirit of terror and destruction remained.
The response to this destruction was one of the most beautiful displays of courage and dignity that I have ever seen in my lifetime. And of course, many in the west have likely never heard of it or understood its strength and magnitude in face of what was occurring in West Asia.
In response to the attempt to erase all memory of civilization, the Mariinsky Symphony Orchestra from St. Petersburg traveled to Palmyra’s Roman Theatre and performed for an audience of Syrian people and some western dignitaries. The date of the concert coincided with the handover for the burial of the remains of special forces officer Aleksander Prokhorenko, who died after ordering an airstrike on his own position after he was surrounded by IS fighters.
The concert “Pray for Palmyra” was conducted by none other than Valery Gergiev, and the first piece that was chosen by Maestro Gergiev was Bach’s Chaconne piece performed by Pavel Mulyukov (his performance starts at min 7:44).
[Since the viewing of the Pray for Palmyra concert has been banned in certain countries. Refer to Hilary Hahn’s beautiful performance of Bach’s Chaconne piece if you are unable to view the above recording of the Palmyra concert.]
For anyone who has not seen this performance, it is really a must. It speaks to both the pain and sorrow from such horrific tragedy. But, it also speaks to hope and optimism, to beauty and strength. There were no words that could respond to what happened in Palmyra, it was only through the beauty of the music from the German classic composer Bach, that was profound enough to both acknowledge the level of pain and despair as well as the immortality of the soul and the sacredness of the individual. That no matter the level of carnage and mayhem, it could never eradicate the sanctity of human life.
This beautiful message was a Russian initiative, and we should all thank Russia for reminding us of this.
Munich Fires “the Greatest Conductor Alive”
Valery Gergiev, who was the chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic from September 2015, was fired on March 1, 2022, for refusing to denounce President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. That is, Maestro Gergiev was fired for what he wouldn’t say, and not for what he said.
Alongside this, 20 year old pianist Alexander Malofeev who was scheduled to play a Vancouver concert in August was “postponed” indefinitely. Why? Because Malofeev is Russian. It is as simple as that.
Leila Getz, Vancouver Recital Society’s artistic director felt that hosting a Russian performer might impact Vancouver’s large Ukrainian Canadian community. In this case, it did not even matter if Malofeev was willing to publicly criticize Russia’s intervention.
Anna Netrebko, a famous Russian opera singer was withdrawn from her future performance at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera because she refused to denounce President Putin, although she did publicly denounce the war. In this new McCarthyite atmosphere, that was not enough. The Met General Manager Peter Gelb acknowledged that Netrebko “is one of the greatest singers in Met history…”
This purging of Russian artists in the music domain also coincides with the smearing of 15 year old Russian skater Kamilia Valieva during the 2022 Olympic Games. Valieva was vilified after the suspicious and unprofessional handling of details around possible doping, which was a carefully-timed set-up in order to manipulate the relative standings of the figure skater. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) bent their own rules and guidelines in order to baselessly ostracise and vilify Valieva.
Valeria Nollan and Alexandra G. Kostina write in their article “Has the West Lost Its Soul and Feelings for Beauty and Fairness?”:
“For the envious elites, it is precisely Valieva’s otherworldly beauty and innocence, especially when connected with Russianness, that must be destroyed. [Finnian] Cunningham notes, ‘Such a beauty could not be tolerated for it destroyed the US media campaign to otherwise demonize Russia and instill enmity towards that nation.’ They detest the Russianness that manifests sheer joy and freedom from their control, at the same time envying the culture that could provide such fertile soil for beauty to flourish. How, they say, can a nation of barbarians and Untermenschen grow such magnificent flowers? Ultimately, they want to banish the “alien” country that dares to remind them of what they have lost—the feelings for beauty and innocence. Because beauty is both an aesthetic and spiritual category in which perception of something outside the self can resurrect the human being, it also encompasses feelings for one’s homeland, its flag, and its national anthem. Perhaps this tearing away of these sources of pride and inspiration for Russian Olympic athletes is part of the carefully curated humiliation imposed on Russia as a result of dubious charges of doping, both individual and institutional.”
Although much of the witch-hunt against Russian artists, performers of beauty and optimism, is clearly an attack on Russian culture, where now even Russian art will be subjected to censorship for the mere fact that it is Russian, with the goal of causing shame and humiliation for merely being Russian. The loss is not one sided and the greatest loser in all of this will not be the Russian people.
As seen in the historical case of Germany, any artist that is a vehicle for beauty and optimism is considered a threat to the status quo within a system of empire. For it is beauty and optimism which allows a people, a culture, to find the courage to oppose the shackles of the censors, and dare to fight for liberty. For if one recognises the sanctity that lies within all human life, the unnatural bondage and humiliation of that life becomes intolerable. Thus, when a people, a culture, would rather die to fight for this liberty from empire than live a life of drudgery, forever the servant of another; this is obviously unsustainable to the status quo and an empire will always seek to crush such a spirit.
Thus, any culture, any art that represents such an idea, is a threat to the western system of our present day.
This can be clearly seen with the attack on anything deemed “classical” by the Frankfurt School (7) and the Congress for Cultural Freedom. The removal of these Russian artists is not only being done as an attack on the Russian people and Russian culture, it is an attack on all of us, for it is robbing us all of that beauty and optimism needed to fight for true political freedom.
If we are to believe that the Russians are inherently villainous by nature, it can no longer be tolerated that high standards of Russian artistry be permitted to be shown to the world, for it would stand in stark and sublime contradiction to what the censors would have us believe. That perhaps, the Russians actually remember something that we here in the west have forgotten, but once knew.
When Maestro Gergiev was fired from the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra for refusing to denounce President Putin, his manager, Marcus Felsner said in a statement to The Guardian that dropping Maestro Gergiev was “the saddest day of my professional life.” He called Maestro Gergiev “the greatest conductor alive and an extraordinary human being with a profound sense of decency,” and yet this was apparently not enough. If you are not with the censors, you are against the censors, and a powerful influencer of beauty and optimism like Maestro Gergiev thus had to be banished from their lands.
Who truly looses from such a banishment?
Perhaps the German people would do well to remember the attack, that is ongoing, on their own classical culture, which was among the greatest in the world. The German people would also do well to remember that their country has never truly been sovereign; once again cut up into pieces by the Versailles Treaty, which led to the crippling of German industry and the slow starvation of the German people.
However, most importantly, the Germans would do well in remembering that it was never their choice to join NATO, but that West Germany was an occupied country by the UK, USA and France from 1945 to 1955. And that this direct occupation only ended after West Germany agreed to join NATO in 1955. It was never Germany’s choice but rather was an offer by gun point for a piece, a crumb of “liberty.”
“Independence” on a short leash.
However, the occupation never truly ended, and Germany in all of its history has never truly been free.
It is time Germany break free from its Stockholm Syndrome, for it is their own classical cultural heritage that is at risk of being entirely erased.
Cynthia Chung is the President of the Rising Tide Foundation and a writer at Strategic Culture Foundation, consider supporting her work by making a donation and subscribing to her substack page. Originally published by Strategic Culture Foundation.
(1) Prieberg, Fred K. (1991). Trial of Strength: Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Third Reich. Quartet Books.
(3) L’atelier du Maître “, article by Philippe Jacquard
(4) Geissmar, Berta (1944). The Baton and the Jackboot: Recollections of Musical Life. London and Edinburgh: Morrison and Gibb ltd.
(5) Wilhelm Furtwängler (trad. Ursula Wetzel, Jean-Jacques Rapin, préf. Pierre Brunel), Carnets 1924-1954 : suivis d’Écrits fragmentaires, Genève, éditions Georg, 1995, p. 39.
(6) Wilhelm Furtwängler (trad. Ursula Wetzel, Jean-Jacques Rapin, préf. Pierre Brunel), Carnets 1924-1954 : suivis d’Écrits fragmentaires, Genève, éditions Georg, 1995, p. 11.
(7) While many have come to realize that the rot within the western education system is tied to the growth of Critical Race Theory, few have come to realize that the school that birthed this perverse analysis of sociology and history is found in a group called the Frankfurt School that emerged out of a sick network of Marxist academics in Frankfurt Germany who envisioned curing society from the tyranny of its traditions which they concluded were the source of fascism. Using a mix of Freudian and Marxist theories applied to sociology, these nihilistic reformers shaped the entire Congress for Cultural Freedom, promoted relativism and destroyed the classical humanist foundations in education that had formerly governed western schooling relegating the study of the classics to obsolete “dead white European males”.