How Berlin Rebuilt Its Classical Music Scene After World War II
Much has been written about the influence of World War II on literature, photography, and film, but classical music has not received the same attention. A recent book, Rubble Music: Occupying the Ruins of Postwar Berlin, 1945-1950, looks at how Berlin rebuilt its classical music scene amid the postwar Allied occupation.
Author Abby Anderton, a professor at Baruch College, focuses on the “rubble music” that emerged from the widespread destruction of the wartime Allied air raids that razed the city.
Anderton shows how central themes such as alienation, suffering, and despair made their way into composers’ new work. As a result, composing this postwar “rubble music” became a central way in which German composers channeled the trauma of their respective experiences, whether that was “spent … in a cellar or on a death march.”
Given that Berlin served as the capital of Nazi Germany, it’s “long been taboo” to discuss German victimhood. But while making space to consider the ways in which classical music conveyed that victimhood, Anderton takes care not to “establish a kind of continuum of suffering,” or argue for an “equivalency between the German, non-Jewish experience and Jewish victimhood.”
As she explains, “There are audible tensions and resonances between German and Jewish suffering (and even German Jewish suffering), which inform, complicate, and add nuance to rubble music as a genre.”
There was also “the tangible, physical work required to reconstitute ensembles, opera companies, and radio stations from debris,” she writes. “With rubble all around, how artists worked through, cleared away, or built over this debris would set the course of musical culture in both East and West Berlin for decades to come.”