Fritz Busch and Dresden [12/15]

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Fritz Buschs Dienstkalender mit dem Eintrag “aus” am 7. März 1933
© Dokument: BrüderBuschArchiv


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VIDEO How Fritz Busch was exiled from Dresden in March ’33
No “Hitler salute in Dresden’s Opera House”
“Not only disadvantages, but clearly provoked”
The “Busch problem”
„I left the rostrum …“
March 7, 1933 – A statement by Fritz Busch
Dresden’s Operahouse under the Nazi dictatorship
A handful courageous
Letter to Strauss
“Busch was lost to us!”


How Fritz Busch was exiled from Dresden in March ’33

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No “Hitler salute in Dresden’s Opera House”

In spite of all the splendid artistic achievements, areas of conflict developed in time. Busch’s programme policy was criticized in the Landtag (regional parliament): for the left it did not have mass impact or relate to society enough, for the centre it was not Classical enough, for the right it was not “German” enough. He was publicly accused of receiving a salary that was too high in relation to his achievements (the Dresdner Rundschau of 1931 spoke of “an outrageous waste of money”) and criticized his absences, although his contract entitled him to six weeks’ leave for guest tours each year. (To quote the Dresdner Rundschau again:
What then remains of Busch’s personal work? At all Germany’s other leading opera houses, the principal conductor is required to devote all his powers to the institution which pays him. If Busch cannot or does not want to do that, he must simply go.“)

Yet when the Dresden general music director accepted invitations to other German orchestras, to America, to various European countries, to the festivals in Bayreuth and Salzburg, he was certainly not damaging the reputation of his house. Animosity constantly increased, particularly on the part of the Nazis, who accused him of having private contacts with Jews, of employing foreigners and Jews and of rejecting the “national liberation movement”. The opera director had indeed prohibited the swastika, whether in the form of badge or flag, as well as the “Nazi salute” in the Staatsoper, he did indeed still play “Jewish music” like that of Mendelssohn and Mahler, and chose his friends not according to their party affiliation but “for their human and intellectual abilities”, and he did indeed refuse to support election events and engaged musicians according to their achievements and not the amount of protection they might bring with them.
When the NSDAP district official Cuno Meyer, owner of a fertilizer factory, complained to him after he had turned down a female “party comrade” at an audition, the “opera expert” Busch’s pointed reply was: “take care of your own crap and let me take care of mine!” The substance and style of such remarks did not of course win him his opponents’ sympathy. In the Landtag in 1930, a (Nazi-dominated) “Committee for the promotion and monitoring of the artistic and personnel policy and the business administration of the Staatstheater” was instituted. That finally made it quite clear to the artistic director and the general music director how restricted the scope of their activities was becoming.

In May/April 1933, the former orchestra director Theo Bauer, a lifelong friend of Fritz Busch who had played an essential part in his engagement in Dresden, drew up a memorandum listing the general music director’s striking qualities in phrases such as:
… a born arch-musician … a pianist dear to God … obsessive devotion to the art work to the point of exhaustion … orchestra trainer of the first order … sense of perfect pitch … spiritedness, inwardness, poetry, finest sense of tone-colour and tonal resources, sure instinct … fascinated audiences and performers … utterly perfect performances … orchestral culture exemplary in Europe thanks to most intensive, high quality work … opera performances with festival character … hopeless diplomat, now heart-winningly amiable, now abruptly quick-tempered, but in the main averse to conflict … great literary interest, good knowledge of history and languages … writes excellent German, gifted speaker … very good-natured, a mild person who often seeks to make good unintentional offences in redoubled affability …

He listed Busch’s negative traits as follows:
no organizational talent … profound discontentment among his staff … and the singers“ (about his lengthy absences) … programme and personnel policy not always successful … prone to not keeping his distance …

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“Not only disadvantages, but clearly provoked”

In the long run and notwithstanding his successes, various tensions could not be overlooked, even within his own working sphere, although they paled into insignificance compared with the politically motivated attacks from without. Some singers, for example, felt themselves dis- advantaged in the way roles were allocated (actually a common problem, not particularly connected with Busch). On returning from his tours, Busch demanded increased availability from his entire personnel for his projects, which sometimes resulted in disproportionate workloads and imbalances in the division of duties and in turn caused dissatisfaction and nervousness.


The conductors Kurt Striegler and Hermann Kutzschbach

Already overloaded generally, the conductors Kutzschbach and Striegler additionally had to take over their boss’s commitments during his absences; when it came to being consulted on artistic af- fairs, they felt ignored or neglected in favour of Busch’s chief répétiteur and closest colleague Erich Engel, whom several singers into the bargain disliked working with. When Busch then applied for the engagement of a celebrated principal conductor from outside (Leo Blech in Berlin was one of his choices) in order to lighten the load of all the conductors, but particularly his own extensive obligations, one of the two conductors, in their own way both very qualified and commendable men, is particularly supposed to have felt not only disadvantaged, but clearly provoked.

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The “Busch problem”

As the Dresdner Anzeiger reported on March 8, 1933, “there were huge Nazi rallies” in Dresden on March 7, aimed at “hoisting swastikas on the important public buildings in the capital of Saxony.” At 3 p.m. groups of storm troopers (SA and SS) marched in front of the city hall to cries of “Germany has awoken” from the aforementioned Cuno Meyer and hoisted the flags amid the “roaring jubilation” of the mob.
Dr Külz the mayor dared to protest and received a “long chorus of stormy boos”. After the marchers had done the same at the Georgentor (originally a city gate), the Landtag and the tower of the Ständehaus (in which the Landtag met), and had burnt piles of books and taken possession of public buildings, a kind of pogrom mood must have ruled in the city, even if the press, long since cowed by the Nazi Gleichschaltung, naturally reported nothing of counteractions, brawls and arrests (the report in the Dresdner Anzeiger of March 9 on the death of a storm trooper does however point to severe clashes).


Alexis Posse, the district art warden of the NSDAP, reflects on his actions of “removing” Staatsoper artistic members.

Alexis Posse, the district art warden of the NSDAP, reflects on his actions of “removing” Staatsoper artistic members.

The opera house was also festooned in black, white and red and with the swastika that day, in an action which logically began in the early eve- ning, after the events of the afternoon. The wellprepared plan included solving the “Busch problem” once and for all.

In the presence of Busch and artistic director Alfred Reucker and backed by 60 storm troopers, the NSDAP district art warden, an actor grotesquely named Posse [literally “Farce”], took the stage and relieved Busch of his office during a final rehearsal.

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„I left the rostrum …“


Advertisement for the opening night of “Rigoletto”. Fritz Busch’s name has been crossed out and replaced by hand with that of Kurt Striegler.

Then, when the performance of Rigoletto began, bawling and whistling hordes of storm troopers forced him to abandon the performance and leave the rostrum. Busch’s own account of how he experienced the evening is reproduced later in this booklet.
Arthur Tröber commented as follows: “Not having had the slightest idea of what was planned, we were paralysed.
Only he and his fellow violinist Kurt Strelewitz had the moral courage to leave the orchestra pit together with their boss.
The other members of the orchestra kept their seats and later performed under the baton of Kurt Striegler, who was not, as has repeatedly been claimed, standing at the ready, but was asked to take over by Reucker and Busch. It is understandable that Fritz Busch could no way comprehend, let alone accept, his orchestra’s behaviour – its “cowardly, passive silence” as he called it – and immediately knew he would not be able to continue working with it.
There will probably never be any convincing explanation for the orchestra’s lethargy; it quite definitely did not stem from a conscious and united anti-Busch attitude.
Were they paralysed by severe shock at the unexpected tumult that broke out around them, triggered by the “brown mob”?
Was it the over-zealousness of musical civil servants disciplined to accept authority without question that caused them to stay put?
Was it in the main no more than moral cowardice?
Was it pure fear of losing their personal livelihoods and collective security, now that the Nazi atmosphere which had been whipped up to fever pitch in the city during the day was taking hold in what they had believed was their inviolable, “hallowed hall of art”?

Whatever the case, anyone who has never lived in a dictatorship should reserve judgement as to what happened in that orchestra pit.

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March 7, 1933 – A statement by Fritz Busch

“On March 7, 1933, after returning from a fourteen-day performing tour (Copenhagen-Hamburg), I was to conduct Rigoletto in the Semperoper in Dresden. (Later claims by the press that I had been away on tour for four weeks hence do not reflect the facts.) As usual, I had scheduled a rehearsal with the singers 1 1/2 hours before the performance was to begin, and I arrived punctually.
During that afternoon, the swastika and the black, white and red flag had been hoisted at the town hall and the Landtag, and the storm troopers planned to do the same at the opera in the evening.
For that reason, at about half past six, just before the rehearsal was due to begin, I was asked by storm trooper Hegira to delay the rehearsal by 10 minutes, which I agreed to do. The rehearsal began punctually 10 minutes later, but was interrupted after about 5 minutes by a second storm trooper, who ordered me to come onto the stage. After pointing out that that would delay the rehearsal even more and requesting that he take responsibility should the performance start late, I complied.
In a speech on the stage in the presence of a squadron of about 60 storm troopers and some of the staff, the district art warden of the NSDAP, the actor Alexis Posse, explained that after their election victory he was assuming executive power over the Staatstheater and assigning the post of opera director to the conductor Kutzschbach. After the storm troopers had marched off, I asked Mr Posse what he expected to happen now and received the answer:
The performance will take place; you will conduct, won’t you?
I said “of course“, for I was not immediately sure whether Mr Posse’s actions were to be seen as legal or illegal. I went back and began rehearsing. In the meantime, the artistic director had arrived in response to my telephone call and was speaking to the ministerial counsellor Reuter.
After having dismissed the soloists to their dressing rooms at about half past seven, I was privately warned not to conduct. Storm troopers, who were turning out in force to attend the performance, had been overheard at the box office discussing how I would be prevented from conducting and beaten up.
I replied that I had done nothing wrong, had no reason to be afraid of anybody and would therefore conduct. As I mounted the rostrum I was met with loud whistles and cries, mostly from the dress circle, where many storm troopers were seated.
A large part of the audience responded with counterdemonstrations. Apart from the fact that it was impossible to make music, I did not want to be the cause of acts of violence in the auditorium. I left the rostrum and went to the director’s room, where I encountered the conductor Striegler, whom I bade to conduct in my stead. I remained long enough to hear Striegler being received with applause, in which – I was later told – several members of the orchestra also took part, whereas in response to the reception I had got, the orchestra had been visibly surprised and dismayed, but remained absolutely passive.
I set off home; the performance was eventually resumed without any further disturbances.

At noon on March 9, Mr Posse summoned me and asked whether I was willing to go on conducting operas and concerts at the Staatsoper under the altered circumstances, since he personally, like the general public, set store by my continuing my artistic activities.
Because Posse’s competence had not yet been confirmed, I reserved my decision, but did ask Mr Posse to state the reasons for acting against me. Mr Posse thereupon gave me the following reasons:
1. having private intercourse with Jews,
2. employing Jewish and foreign musicians and
3. being away on tour too frequently.

While my unfriendly attitudes to national politics had been one of the main arguments put forward by the press, Mr Posse did not reproach me with that at our meeting. Relating to the other points, I gave Mr Posse explanations whose objective correctness he acknowledged or at least did not contest.
Since so many accusations have been levelled at me in public, I would at this juncture like to summarize my responses as follows:
1. Concerning private intercourse with Jews, it is a matter of course for me to choose my friends on the strength of their human and intellectual abilities and, especially in emergencies, hold it to be the duty of every decent person not to betray friends.
2. As regards my “pro-Jewish and pro-foreigner personnel policy”, as an artist I take the view that achievement alone decides. In my eleven years in Dresden, I have auditioned over 6,000 singers in Dresden and elsewhere; 90% of them were German. Of those whom I declined, not a single one has found employment at another opera house comparable in rank with the Semperoper in Dresden in the course of these eleven years! In my opinion, that should lead to the conclusion that if suitable Germans could not be found, the engagement of foreigners was unavoidable. At any rate, the result of my “personnel policy” was an ensemble made up of the most beautiful voices, a fact that the press unanimously acknowledged for years.
My absences were without exception in accordance with a contractual entitlement which people are obviously completely unaware of or fail to recognize, namely, a six-week period of leave for the purpose of making guest appearances. (…)
As a matter of fact, during the times when I was present in Dresden in these 11 years, I have, as I spontaneously said to Mr Posse and as he spontaneously admitted, worked “like a dog”, doing twice if not three times as much work as others in a similar position.

Fritz Busch on March 9, 1933

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A few days later, on March 19, 1933, the following notice appeared in the press: “The entire management and the majority of the members of the Saxonian Staatsoper in Dresden have sent the acting minister of education a resolution in which the acting artistic director, privy councillor Dr Adolph is petitioned to prevent the return of general music director Fritz Busch to the Saxonian Staatsoper in any capacity. Busch is neither artistically nor personally qualified to serve at the Staatsoper. A memorandum to that effect will be sent to the government.”


“Memorandum” – Carbon copy of the letter to the acting Education Minister of Saxony

The petition against Busch was signed by:
Dr. Waldemar Staegemann · Kapellmeister Kurt Striegler · Friedrich Plaschke · Kapellmeister Hermann Kutzschbach · Karl M. Pembaur · Georg Brandt · Ludwig Eybisch · Ernst Hintze · Robert Burg · Heinrich Tessmer · Arthur Börner · Max Hirzel · Rudolf Schmalnauer · Willy Bader · Angela Koniak · Helene Jung · Robert Büssel · Eugenie Burkhardt · Hanns Lange · L. Ermold · Rudolf Dittrich · Curt Taucher · Horst Falke · Liesel von Schuch · Martin Kremer · Kurt Böhme · Rolf Schröder · Sven Nilsson ·Ernst Richter · Leo Wurmser · Elisa Stünzner · Tino Pattiera · Jesayka Koettrik · Maria Cebotari · Margit Bokor · Paul Schöffler · Elsa Wieber.

Very few people found the courage and the strength not to sign that petition.
As Alfred Reucker stated in retrospect, the majority of the members were probably motivated by “narrow-mindedness, overweening arrogance, resentment, envy, demagogical seduction, fear and genuine treachery“. There was sporadic resistance from within the orchestra itself, particularly against the way some members of the NSDAP had issued a memorandum of their own against Busch behind the orchestra’s back.

Theo Bauer wrote requesting support from Richard Strauss, who had praised Busch highly after the great world premieres and intended dedicating Arabella to him for the coming premiere in Dresden, but Bauer received no response. On March 15, the Munich conductor Hans Knappertsbusch wrote jovially and naively to Busch:
Strauss was with me yesterday – we can simply not imagine how it was possible to treat you in that way – Write to me when you have five minutes free – Or can I perhaps do anything at all for you? I am at your disposal! Strauss too! … I firmly believe that everything will right itself once the initial teething problems are over.
What a vain hope!

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Inflammatory article from the “Völkischer Beobachter” of March 1933

Dresden’s Operahouse under the Nazi dictatorship


Reichskommissar von Killinger

A plenary meeting of the Staatsoper staff had taken place in the meantime, in which the new slogans were propagated, by Reichskommissar von Killinger among others:
There will be no more pacifism and cowardice … Let us clean up German art again … We need German art to teach our people to be not pacifists but heroes and soldiers“, and, turning to the party members, “I know what you have had to suffer under the wrong leadership … The old heads of the Staatstheater are gone and we may trust that they will not dare to continue scheming against the new conditions!

The acting artistic director Adolph demanded of the staff that they henceforth take the lead from “Adolf Hitler, the admirer of Richard Wagner“, adding in an unmistakably threatening undertone: “The staff are free to join in. Those who do not choose to should say so and then go their own way.

It is obvious that Fritz Busch would never have fitted into such a world. He wrote to his Staatskapelle colleague Strelewitz in 1947:
It was perhaps just as well that it all happened the way it did. My wife, the children and I would have left Germany at any rate, since, as you know, I hated Nazism in the depths of my soul from the very start.

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Only five members of the ensemble had the courage to withhold their signatures from the “resolution”: the latest research by Fred Prieberg shows these to be Hilde Clairfried († February 13, 1945 in the fire-bombing of Dresden), Erna Berger, Marta Fuchs, Camilla Kallab and Maria Elsner   (l. to r.). Whether Erna Berger later gave her verbal agreement after all [Prieberg] has not been confirmed.


A handful courageous

A few musicians maintained their contact with Fritz Busch, although doing so was rather dangerous and could be seen as what the “Reichskommissar” had called “scheming”.

My wife has told me how you, Strelewitz and the splendid Theo Bauer are working indefatigably to help me and to establish the truth. I have never believed that I would one day have to defend myself against such gross absurdities and distortions … My greetings, dear Mr Tröber, in particular to Mr Strelewitz and to all those who still think well of me.

Reger was right:”There is nothing stupider than one’s contemporaries; pigs and artists are only esteemed after their death!”
For the time being I am still alive, and I will fight aslongasIamalive.


Fritz Busch to Arthur Tröber, March 30, 1933



Der Kapell-Musiker Theo Bauer
© Foto aus dem Booklet – Historisches Archiv der Sächsischen Staatsoper Dresden

have made abundant use of your permission to pass on to our friends within and outside the orchestra the reports on your glorious deeds and the enthusiastic and general acknowledgement they received from audiences and the press, and in the process have confirmed what I had actually never doubted: that only very few want to have anything to do with the misrepresentation of truth perpetrated in that mood of panic in March … I sometimes wish you had been a fly on the wall in the tuning and rehearsal room and had wit- nessed how the truth was twisted. Unofficially, one could certainly risk calling the last eleven years’ developments in Dresden’s opera and concert life particularly happy and extraordinarily productive. I therefore hope to see the day when chroniclers condescend to concede as much …

The film of the Tannhäuser Overture was presented before an invited audience comprising the orchestra and their families and friends. It is showing in many German cities and is said to have been warmly applauded in Stuttgart and Leipzig. Here, the major cinemas considered it too risky, but a suburban cinema in Striesen was more courageous.

Theo Bauer to Fritz Busch, October 26, 1933

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Please help us, but Strauss does not answer

For insiders the motives of most of the signatories to that shameful document are perfectly obvious. The political climate and the events of March 7 have either cowed or encouraged the ladies and gentlemen, depending on their disposition. Had a survey been taken six weeks ago, it is unlikely that anyone would have openly supported Busch’s dismissal. The whole affair, which is disastrous for the Dresden opera, has arisen out of the panic that has taken possession of all concerned.

From a letter drafted by Theo Bauer and Arthur Tröber and intended for Richard Strauss, March 1933


The Saturday papers reported that all members of the board and the entire solo ensemble of the opera had submitted to the acting artistic director a request that he prevent Fritz Busch from returning to the Dresden opera in whatever capacity, since he is personally and artistically not qualified to serve at this institution.

It is important to me to observe that the orchestra and its board of directors distance themselves from this petition, upon which a memorandum is to follow.

Without taking a stand on the individual reproaches which have been raised against Busch, I can assure you that even the general music director’s personal opponents in the orchestra deeply deplore this turn of events and feel that the solo ensemble’s statement that Busch lacks the artistic qualification for his position is nothing short of grotesque.

Although the situation demands discretion, I have no hesitation about saying that some of the signatories have attacked Busch as an artist out of personal annoyance and against their better judgement, and that for many others the fear of possible repercussions was decisive, while others again only know how to sing, have to be trained like parrots and are definitely not in a position to judge a conductor …

The acting artistic director is a lawyer, not an artist, and so the statement of the solo ensemble

unfortunately takes on fatal significance …
The orchestra originally pushed through Busch’s appointment against the will of the solo ensemble and would, had some of them not been incited or intimidated, still have the power even today to assert their will over the signatories of that submission and enable him to stay. But there seems to be no intention to consult the orchestra at all. As an old member near pensionable age, I have nothing but the wellbeing of the institution at heart as I respectfully approach you today as a disciple to his master and old acquaintance and ask you confidentially and from my heart to find some way to save Busch’s honour if possible.

Theo Bauer to Richard Strauss, March 20, 1933

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“Busch was lost to us!”


Auf dem Weg in die Emigration 1933:
Fritz Busch mit Sohn Hans Peter auf dem Dresden Hauptbahnhof
© Foto aus dem Booklet – BrüderBuschArchiv

The indefatigable Theo Bauer began making courageous representations to the orchestra director, demanding that he dissociate himself as quickly as possible on behalf of the orchestra from that “misleading declaration on the part of the managing committees and most of the soloists” to the effect that Busch was personally and artistically incapable of leading an institution like the Staatsoper.
Because they [the orchestra] had for 10 years lived with the conviction that they had one of the most important living con- ductors at their head, they would be eternally disgraced if they let this nonsense go unchallenged.
And: “It cannot be assumed that all the thousands upon thousands who have witnessed a great many splendid performances in the Dresden opera suffer from the same deplorable weakness of memory as the signatories of that declaration.



But that too brought no response. Arthur Tröber, a pupil and friend of Bauer’s, summed up resignedly:
All our efforts came to nothing. No martyrs arose from our ranks. We were in the same position as Fritz Busch himself depicts in his memoirs when he describes how, while seeking rehabilitation in an audience with Göring, he did not contradict him so as to not to run the risk of being prevented from emigrating and working abroad. Nobody was in a position to repair the damage done by the chorus of catcalls in our opera house. Fritz Busch was lost to us.

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next page 13/15


Fritz Busch • A multimedia portrait of a music-maker

  1/15    Introduction
→  2/15
    The Busch Family
→  3/15    “He is the right one!”
→  4/15    In search of great voices
→  5/15    Staatskapelle concerts
→  6/15    Correspondence between Richard Strauss and Fritz Busch [only in German]
→  7/15    First concert tours
→  8/15    First Gramophone recordings 1923  “Played into the horn”

→  9/15    In Front of a microphone for the first time 1926
10/15   “On Air!”
11/15    Cinema film with photographic sound “Fritz Busch conducts Richard Wagner”
   12/15   “Over!”
13/15    Only as a guest
14/15    Welcome home: Sinopoli’s “homage”
15/15    FACTS AND FIGURES The Busch era  [only in German]