Hermann Paul Maximilian Abendroth
Johannes Forner’s chronicle of the Gewandhaus concerts in Leipzig speaks of a time of “preservation and probation” in describing the situation of the Leipzig orchestra and its conductor in the Nazi years between 1933 and 1945.
“When the news of Hermann Abendroth’s appointment got around, there was a general sigh of relief. He had led the Gürzenich Orchestra from 1915 to 1934, founded the Cologne Chamber Orchestra and held a professorship at the Cologne Conservatory, and had already been under discussion as candidate for the Leipzig post once before: he was the orchestra‘s favourite in 1922, after Nikisch‘s death. (…)
It was astonishing that a relatively young conductor was even considered to succeed the singular Nikisch, yet Abendroth‘s merits, his knowledge of works beyond the usual concert repertoire, his solid and craftsmanlike technique, his unconditional striving to place himself at the service of the music, his self-assurance as a concert conductor (the field he concentrated on all his life) and not least his physical appearance made it entirely understandable that he should have been seriously considered. Wilhelm Furtwängler was appointed at that time.
In 1934, however, Abendroth was the conductor of choice: ‘The fact that Abendroth has given up his important and influential position in Cologne and taken up the Gewandhaus’s invitation allows us to assume that he is attracted by the unique quality of this institution and that the move to Leipzig means more to him than a mere change of position’, wrote the Zeitschrift für Musik when the new conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra assumed office in October 1934.”
It should not be forgotten that Abendroth‘s appointment had a bitter aftertaste: he succeeded Bruno Walter, who had been expelled from his position as conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra by Saxony‘s Ministry of the Interior because he was a Jew. Forner‘s chronicle goes on to praise the Abendroth era for “solid technique” and “unconditional striving in the service of the music”.
However, no-one could overlook the extent to which the programme policy was skewed by Nazi racist ideology. After the elimination of all works by Jews, those by composers from the “enemy states” were increasingly struck from the repertoire as well. “Therefore all that could be done was to present the remaining works of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in convincing interpretations”, states the chronicle. A search was also undertaken to find forgotten works and – in the middle of Goebbels’s “Total War” – to record them for the weekly Deutschlandsender radio broadcasts.
The Moorish Rhapsody by Engelbert Humperdinck was one such work. The fact that the Gewandhaus Orchestra was chosen by “Greater Germany Radio” to have its own programme slot can be explained by the inclusion of Abendroth’s name in August 1944 on the Gottbegnadetenliste, the “list of the divinely blessed” enumerating the nation’s most important artists that was approved by Adolf Hitler, which insured Abendroth’s presence. That made Abendroth politically suspect after the collapse of the Third Reich, but we should bear in mind that he exploited his fame to prevent the musicians from being conscripted, which could have meant the disbandment of the Gewandhaus Orchestra. Abendroth conducted his last concert as head of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra on November 29, 1945, since the Saxon regional authorities had ordered the Leipzig city council to dismiss him.
Although he was briefly on the US military government’s “black list” in 1945, he was made head of the conducting class at the Weimar College of Music and musical director of the German National Theatre, so that he now conducted the Weimar Staatskapelle and was appointed its general music director in 1947.
In 1949 he took over the direction of the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk and in 1954 that of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra.
He was buried in the distinguished service section of the Historical Cemetery in Weimar in 1956.
Text from Booklet
CD’s with Hermann Abendroth