I like Mark Swed’s writing a lot and find I normally agree with his tastes but I can’t make sense out of his review of the Carl Orff/Jefferson Friedman concert at Hollywood Bowl that we hyped a little last week.  I am particularly baffled by this line: 

As in “Carmina,” there is much to like musically in “Throne,” as long as you hold your nose. The political implications in both scores are troubling. Orff was, if not a Nazi sympathizer, at least a National Socialist opportunist.

Okay, but I can’t for the life of me see a parallel in anything else in the review that would make me think Jeff Friedman is an awful person.  What exactly are the “politics” of Friedman’s The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly?  Is Friedman some kind of closet skinhead?

Read Mark’s review and tell me what I’m missing.

16 thoughts on “A WTF Moment From Mark Swed”
  1. This is only a guess about what Swed really meant, but connecting a few dots creates a picture of our composer sucking up to the current regime in DC (where the piece was premiered, after all), by writing music designed to abet their well-known theocratic inclinations. Isn’t the “throne” of the title supposedly for Jesus in the original artwork? Etc., etc., etc. A really paranoid person might even go so far as to think that the work, appropriating as it does the work of an Afro-American, was especially meant to appeal to Ms. Rice, who is known the administration’s most frequent box-occupant at the Kennedy Center. If the piece references gospel music (does anyone know if it does?), the smell Swed detected might be clearly discernable.

  2. Steve, I admit that I don’t have the hard performance data to prove or disprove this point that was so very clear to Ms. Arendt. Perhaps you can provide it. I must say that the subject of Orff’s works are not the point here. This is –quote David B. Dennis — Carmina Burana was an artistic and public success. Indeed, largely on account of its popularity Orff enjoyed benefits from the [Nazi]regime, including support from the Reichsmusikkammer, a stipend from the propaganda ministry, radio play of his music, immunity from wartime service, and a commission for a new opera from Baldur von Schirach, Gauleiter of Vienna.

    Perhaps we must agree to disagree.

  3. I don’t think you’ll find Orff was the “most performed”, or really even had the highest profile. His works in the period were actually fairly few and far between, and none of which came very close to promoting the party line: Der Mond & Die Kluge (both rather good-natured folk-fairy operas, both with somewhat anti-authoritarian stances), Cattulli Carmina (borrowing the Stravinsky Les Noces 4-piano/percussion orchestra & setting sometimes fairly graphic Roman erotica), and a couple arrangements of Monteverdi operas. None of it really were widely performed or found much favor from the powers-that-were.

  4. I am not an Arendt scholar but I refreshed my understanding of her thesis. It was this; that the administrative features of the Nazi government were frauds; they had no power and were run by flunkies and yes men. Real power emanated only from Hitler and his circle. So it would not matter to Ms. Arendt who was the token leader of Nazi music composition. It would matter which composer was performed the most and had the highest profile. That would be Carl Orff.

  5. Thank you Steve for this new information. It seems that scholarship has moved on in recent years as it should. I don’t know what Ms. Arendt was thinking but perhaps this quote from Michael H. Kater’s National Socialism, the Third Reich, and the Music Scene explains it.

    “..and because Goebbels, in the hope of establishing a uniquely Nazi musical style, had found it imperative to grant some leeway to the more progressive of Germany’s composers. ”

    So Goebbels considered Orff’s music to be uniquely Nazi. Nuff’ said.

  6. Even further information on Orff and composing in Nazi Germany can be found in Michael H. Kater’s book “Composers of the Nazi Era: Eight Portraits.” Composers featured include Hindemith, Weill, Egk, Orff, Strauss, Pfitzner, and Hartmann. Things aren’t as simple as they seem, sometimes. I read it a few years ago, and I should re-read it again once I get it out of storage.

  7. Philip Fried wrote: Wasn’t it Mr. Orff who replaced Richard Strauss as the Nazi composition czar. I read this in On totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. I suppose they don’t mention it in his bio.
    After Strauss, the Musikkammer was run by Peter Raabe and Heinz Drewes, and the composer’s section was nominally run by Paul Graener followed by Wener Egk. For a good introduction to the messy details, with a clearer explanation of where Orff does and doesn’t fit in, you can read the first chapter of Michael H. Kater’s National Socialism, the Third Reich, and the Music Scene at this link:

  8. Wasn’t it Mr. Orff who replaced Richard Strauss as the Nazi composition czar. I read this in On totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. I suppose they don’t mention it in his bio.

  9. If anyone is interested in outsider art as musical inspiration or just for the heck of it visit the American Visionary museum in Baltimore. It’s a large collection of art ranging from the obsessive (a gigantic replica of the Titantic made out of matchsticks) to the eerily sublime (a vaguely human figure carved from a tree limb by a mental patient).

  10. It doesn’t make a lot of sense; the charitable thing is to go with David Rakowski’s guess of sloppy editing. But the sniping at Orff is in itself way too easy and condescending. Even a cursory look at Orff’s life and creative output shows nothing really that buys into any of the Nazi/Aryan agenda. This “guilt by association” for anybody who happened to hang around their home in Germany or Austria through the duration is a cheap and smug smear of the broad brush.

  11. Unlike Harry Partch’s and Lou Harrison’s experience with the Hollywood Bowl, American religious visual artist James Hampton’s “The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly” has been on display prominently and proudly at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art since soon after Mr Hampton’s death and his masterpiece’s recovery and restoration from Mr Hampton’s rented studio garage in Washington, D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood, just east of Dupont Circle. It is again beautifully displayed at the newly reopened national museum, near a temporary exhibition of works by leading Washington artist William Christenberry, which are folk, dream, and Southern Baptist church architecture inspired. (Mr Hampton worked as a janitor; while Mr Christenberry teaches at the Corcoran College of Art and Design.)

    Evan, I think that we must also consider that some composers, such as the German composer Wolfgang Rihm and several Austrian composers, have alleged, in writings and interviews, that they have tried, in creating their musical works, to replicate the mental or artistic processes of “visionary” artists. This, like the labelling of “outsider art” itself given the phenomena of much contemporary art (which also certainly doesn’t apply to contemporary Australian aboriginal artists) is perhaps more problematic.

    Here is a picture of the Hampton work and information on composer Alberty Glinsky’s piece inspired by the work, which premiered in Pennsylvania in 1989:



    Personally, I also find Mr Hampton’s found texts which he incorporated into his work, both biblical passages and fragments from the sermons and writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. who was alive during most of the work’s completion, to be highly moving.

  12. Well, the clue is here, for what it’s worth:

    “Throne,” which is to be the centerpiece of an outsider art orchestral triptych, is, of course, anything but outsider art and comes dangerously close to condescension. If you want outsider art at the Bowl, you hardly need to look far — California has been home to the world’s best. But Harry Partch and Lou Harrison remain outsiders at the Bowl.

    The whole thing is more than a little bizarre. While Friedman (who I met briefly six years ago and who was, at that point, certainly a nice enough guy, so take that) and I inhabit non-overlapping aesthetic universes, I can’t say that drawing inspiration from “outsider art” strikes me as inherently condescending.

    There are a number of pieces based on/inspired by Adolf Woelffli floating around out there as well, and I’ve never heard that charge leveled against them…

  13. Like Sequenza 21, I’m in Jeff’s bio, so I guess I should pipe in here. It looks to me like a connecting paragraph in the Mark Swed review was excised by an editor for length, thus destroying the continuity. I’m guessing something specific in the imagery of the outsider art implied to the reviewer a nasty political implication, but we don’t know what it is. Jeff isn’t a skinhead, closet or otherwise — he’s just fascinated by outsider art. Damn fine composer, too.

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