Leipzig Radio Choir Singers
in the Bruckner Choir of the Third Reich
Chronicle Leipziger Rundfunkchor The years 1933 – 1945
by Rüdiger Koch
→ “Grandiose plans” in the mist of war
→ Production venue for “greater German and European radio”
→ From radio choirs to Bruckner Choir
→ “Guns or singing?” – Setting up in Leipzig
→ The Leipzig contingent of the Bruckner Choir
→ Concerts in Leipzig
→ ” … that you are a personal creation of the Führer!”
Welcoming celebration for the Bruckner Choir
→ Further work in Linz
→ The end of the Bruckner Choir
As the Second World War took its course, the disbandment of the German radio choirs in September 1942 came as no surprise.
Such succinctly stated facts are commonly found in the literature on this topic. Would it not have been equally feasible to keep pooling the choirs together so as to preserve at least one radio choir, if not two?
The following evaluation looks to cast more light on the reasons for the disbandment of the radio choirs. This topic is difficult to address without some knowledge of the structure of the radio broadcasting system in the Third Reich and its director-general Heinrich Glasmeier.
Glasmeier initially worked as director of the United Archives of the Westphalian Nobility after the First World War and later progressed from the post of director of the local radio station in Cologne to that of Reich Director-General.
However, since the radio was increasingly being exploited as a propaganda instrument and controlled (at least in terms of programme content) by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, the powers of the director-general continued to dwindle until Glasmeier’s role was eventually reduced to a purely administrative one.
Glasmeier made up for this loss of power by opportunistically embracing one of Hitler’s ideas and pursuing it with great determination, namely the ambition to develop the city of Linz into a centre of European art and culture and, in particular, to convert St Florian Monastery into a “sacred shrine for the immortal works of Bruckner” and the site of an annual Bruckner festival, not unlike Bayreuth.
Production venue for “greater German and European radio”
At the heart of these plans was the idea of setting up a Bruckner Orchestra and a Bruckner Choir in St Florian, both of which would publicly perform for the first time on April 20, 1944, to mark Hitler’s 55th birthday.
Since Hitler had until this point constantly been engrossed in this project despite, or indeed because of, the futility of the war effort, Glasmeier could safely rely on support from the highest authority.
Although the plans to renovate Linz in line with Nazi ideals could not be initiated due to the tense economic situation in the first half of the 1940s, the plans to set up a Bruckner Orchestra and a Bruckner Choir were carried through, albeit with a reduced choir.
Glasmeier resided in St Florian as a kind of abbot, characterised by his clothing and special rituals. For instance, he would ceremoniously enrol members of the Bruckner Choir and Bruckner Orchestra at Bruckner’s tomb.
The emblem of the Nazi-secularised Bruckner Monastery demonstrates the brazen self-importance of the Nazi ideology, with the crest of St Florian Monastery (on the left) and Glasmeier’s crest presented on a level plain, flanking the swastika under the cover of the imperial eagle.
In humorous allusion to the affected behaviour of the Reich Director-General and the “glass” element of his name, the choir members nicknamed Glasmeier “Scherbelheinrich” (roughly: sharp-tongued Heinrich).
A timeline showing the key events from the disbandment of the radio choirs through to the first meeting of the Bruckner Choir is most interesting and insightful:
Disbandment of all the German radio choirs by Glasmeier
Letter from Glasmeier to the mayor of Linz:
I have, with effect from September 15, disbanded all the radio choirs and am currently pooling the finest and freshest singers to form the new Bruckner Choir, which will comprise some 48 voices. If possible, I would like to relocate this choir to Linz with effect from April 1, 1943 so that the choir can perform there independently and also as the basis of a greater choir of around 200 voices, made up of Linz’s residents.
Production director Wirz reports that Günther Ramin had promised to direct the Bruckner Choir on certain conditions.
• 17 & 21/12/1942
Auditions for the Bruckner Choir in Ramin’s apartment in Leipzig
Termination of contract for radio choir singers
• 11 – 14/1/1943
Further auditions at Ramin’s flat in Leipzig
Wirz reports that the selection process for the Bruckner Choir has “now been completed”.
First list of Bruckner Choir members approved by the Reich Broadcasting Corporation
Letters of appointment sent to the selected choir members
First meeting of the Bruckner Choir in Leipzig
What is striking about this timeline is the extremely short period of two months that fell between the legal disbandment of the radio choirs and the inception of the Bruckner Choir and also the immediate succession of events.
Glasmeier makes both these points in one sentence of the aforementioned letter.
Thomaskantor Günther Ramin, arguably the most eminent choral expert of his generation, was persuaded to direct the Bruckner Choir.
Of course, Ramin insisted on remaining Thomaskantor as a precondition of his agreeing to take up the baton for the Bruckner Choir.
Under the circumstances the only solution was to set up the Bruckner Choir in Leipzig and to move it to Linz at a later date.
The radio employees’ newspaper “Das leere Haus” (the empty house) reported comprehensively and favourably on the start of the choir’s rehearsals in Leipzig. The handful of radio employees left in Leipzig were pleased that the broadcasting studio on the market square had come to life again.
At the same time, the Leipzig public and press were rather suspicious of the new choir.
The founding of a new choir in Leipzig at a time of all-out war may have seemed particularly odd given that the Riedel Choral Society and the Teachers’ Choral Society had only recently moved into the city and Leipzig could hardly be described as a stronghold for the preservation of the Bruckner tradition!
Some Leipzig residents even complained to the public employment office about the establishment of the Bruckner Choir, prompting the office’s director to obtain written documents from the highest authority before allowing the choir to continue its work.
Drawing on documents from the archive of St Florian Monastery, Hanns Kreczi quotes Handrik, director of the public employment office, as saying:
“What really matters at the moment: guns or singing?”
As a result of these events and enquiries by the public, the press were instructed to report only on the Bruckner Choir’s artistic work.
The following explanation of the ensemble’s formation and development was approved for circulation in the press:
“The broadcasting corporation has disbanded its choirs at the Reich radio stations. Selected members of these choirs have been merged into an elite choir that has been named the Bruckner Choir.
This development does not amount to the founding of a new ensemble and should rather be seen as the setting of new objectives in the broadcasting corporation’s choral work.
The Director-General has appointed Prof. Ramin to train this choir. In view of Ramin’s duties as Thomaskantor and other responsibilities, the choir has been convened in Leipzig and will present samples of its work to the public.
By releasing this statement, Production Director Wirz, who had been instructed by Glasmeier to see to the practicalities of forming the choir, implies a link between the disbandment of the radio choirs and the creation of the Bruckner Choir.
A teletype message from Glasmeier’s Reich Broadcasting Corporation to all local broadcasters whose choir members had been engaged in the Bruckner Choir is clear proof that these singers were technically regarded as “delegates” and their employment contracts were therefore not deemed to have ended.
It follows that the Bruckner Choir must be seen as the direct successor of the radio choirs and the radio choirs had been disbanded only for the purpose of filling the Bruckner Choir with the most suitable singers as quickly as possible.
Around half of all the members of Leipzig’s radio choir had been enrolled into the Bruckner Choir:
|Eva Anschütz||Waltraute Groch-Männel||Walter Kretschmar||Erhard Neukirch|
|Käthe Jena||Leonore Eichhorn||Erich Purfürst|
|Ursula Thate||Emmy Daehne||Albert Schwarzburger|
|Inge Kahle||Charlotte Hein|
|Marie Kaete Herre|
Although Mary Trautner and Waltraute Groch-Männel later left the Bruckner Choir (while Albert Schwarzburger joined), the fourteen singers from Leipzig’s radio choir represented by far the largest contingent, followed by Stuttgart and Frankfurt (each with nine members) and Munich (with eight members).
The reason for the high number of Leipzig radio choir singers in this ensemble is not difficult to ascertain. Firstly, the Leipzig choir was not a small one, comprising around 30 members; secondly, it may of course have particularly appealed to those singers based in Leipzig to carry on, at least initially, doing the same job as before in their native city and for their local radio station. Since it was not possible to make up all the parts with former radio choir members, Ramin also recommended some freelance female singers for the Bruckner Choir and vouched for their quality. This contingent included Irmgard Roehling. [Hanns Kreczi however misread this name as Rochling.]
Irmgard Genzel-Roehling had frequently sung as a soloist in the programmes of the Central German Broadcasting Company (MIRAG) and the radio station in Leipzig, including the Bach cantata series that was broadcast from the Thomaskirche. It follows that her name must have been known to Ramin.
When the Leipzig Radio Choir was re-established after the war, Irmgard Genzel-Roehling was one of the singers who stood in to back up its regular members.
In this way the Bruckner Choir had a stimulating effect on the Leipzig Radio Choir.
The Bruckner Choir gave four concerts in Leipzig under Ramin’s direction.
The first concert on June 10, 1943, was given in partnership with the Gewandhaus Orchestra, featuring Bruckner’s Psalm 150 (for mixed choir, solo soprano and orchestra) and his Mass No. 3 in F minor.
The programme of the second concert on November 6, 1943, lists four graduals and the Ave Maria by Bruckner, four Italian madrigals by Gesualdo, five songs from Ernst Pepping’s cycle Das Jahr (the year) and folk songs for mixed choir.
The third concert on December 2, 1943, again in partnership with the Gewandhaus Orchestra, contained Hermann Simon’s Requiem in bello, Hans Pfitzner’s anthem Fons salutifer and Reger’s Psalm 100.
The last concert to be given by the Bruckner Choir took place in the Thomaskirche on February 23, 1944, featuring Verdi’s Requiem.
The concert was originally intended to take place in the Gewandhaus, but the destruction of the building during an Allied bombing raid on February 20, 1944, put an end to this plan.
The concert in the Thomaskirche also marked Ramin’s departure from the choir.
Since the St Thomas Choir had left Leipzig for safety reasons and continued its work in Grimma, it had become increasingly difficult for Ramin to carry on directing the Bruckner Choir. This situation would have been exacerbated even further by the choir’s inevitable relocation to Linz. For this reason Ramin did not extend his contract, which expired on March 31, 1944.
 Call sign for radio broadcasts of the Reich Bruckner Orchestra and Bruckner Choir
 From the welcoming speech of August Eigruber, Gauleiter of Oberdonau
 Words of thanks from choirmaster Michael Schneider
 The Bruckner Choir in action
Recording: Reich Radio on April 30, 1944
Original sound medium: tinfoil recording of broadcast [despite its poor condition the recording is an important and authentic account of its time]
Increased bombing made it too dangerous for the Bruckner Choir to remain in Leipzig, prompting a swift relocation to Linz, where the choir was introduced on April 30, 1944.
Work initially continued under the baton of Johannes Rietz, who had successfully assisted Ramin on previous occasions.
In May 1944, Prof. Michael Schneider, one of the finest organists in Germany, was persuaded to take up the position in Linz. The need for an organist who could play the Bruckner organ in St Florian Monastery was one of the reasons for his appointment.
Schneider had just been deployed in an air-defence unit in Berlin. The Director-General saw to it that Schneider was transferred to a flak unit in Linz where he was able to work with the Bruckner Choir “in his free time”(sic).
The months between May 1944 and the end of the war were a very difficult time for Prof. Schneider, the choir members and Johannes Rietz, who carried on as the new choirmaster’s assistant.
In September 1944 the propaganda ministry ordered that the choir was to be “decommissioned”, which essentially meant that all the able-bodied men were to enlist for military service while the other singers were to serve in the munitions factories. Yet they still managed to rehearse under Schneider’s direction in their free time.
Even those members who served at military bases in the area around Linz attended the regular rehearsals when they were able to.
Although the choir had given numerous concerts in Linz and St Florian in the weeks between Schneider’s assumption of office and the choir’s decommissioning, its only concerts in the autumn took place in military bases and military hospitals. That said, there are records of an Advent concert in December 1944.
Recordings of folk songs were still being made in Linz by the middle of January 1945 and these were broadcast by the national broadcaster in March and April.
Schneider and his flak unit spent four weeks in captivity as prisoners of war after American forces took the city.
After Prof. Schneider, leadership of the Bruckner Choir was assumed by the choir’s tenor Walter Kretschmar, who had originally been “delegated” from the choir of Leipzig’s radio station.
→ VITA WALTER KRETSCHMAR
Some of the choir’s members had left Linz after the war ended, but 34 singers remained in Linz until the autumn.
The bass Fritz Westermann, who had left Linz on September 5, 1945, wrote the following review of the end of the Bruckner Choir in Linz:
“When the Germans had to retreat from Austria, the choir was completely disbanded; what was left of the choir then moved to Korntal near Stuttgart.”
These remaining members of the Bruckner Choir clearly hoped to be reinstated as the choir of a newly established radio station in Stuttgart. Although these plans failed, the Bruckner Choir continue to perform for a few more years.
Among the new additions to the choir was Clytus Gottwald, who joined in 1946.
In 1947, Hans-Herbert Weigel, formerly a singer of the disbanded radio choir in Leipzig, became the new choirmaster.
Weigel persuaded Johann Nepomuk David to become the choirmaster of the Bruckner Choir in 1949.
In 1952 the baton was passed to the latter’s son Thomas Christian David. The choir soon split up, though.
While some of its members moved to the Teachers’ Choral Society, the others stayed on for a short time under the baton of Hermann Ruck before the ensemble discontinued its activities.
Although the Bruckner Choir is not a direct forerunner of the MDR Radio Choir of Leipzig, it has close historical ties with the present-day ensemble on account of its formation in Leipzig and its many members who previously sang in the choir of the local radio station in Leipzig and, in some cases, went on to sing in the Leipzig Radio Choir.
Translation: Janet & Michael Berridge, London
|→ I||Der Leipziger Rundfunkchor der Mitteldeutschen Rundfunk AG · 1924-1932|
|→ II||Der Leipziger Rundfunkchor in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus · 1933-1943|
|III||Leipzig Radio Choir Singers in the Bruckner Choir of the Third Reich|
|→ IV||Auferstanden aus Ruinen|
|→ V||Jahre der Nachhaltigkeit|
|→ VI||Die Doppelspitze: Kegel – Knothe|
|→ VIII||Personalia IN ARBEIT|
|→ IV||Internationale Ausstrahlung: Schallplattenaufnahmen|
|→||Berlin oder Leipzig? Der älteste Rundfunkchor Deutschlands · Ein Vergleich|
|→||Jahresübersicht zum Leipziger Rundfunkchor|
|→||Literaturverzeichnis I Quellen I Dank IN ARBEIT|