Back to index
Taylor-Jay, Claire Patricia

Politics and the Ideology of the Artist in the Künstleropern of Pfitzner, Krenek and Hindemith

Ph.D. University of Southampton, 1999
(ctaylorjay@crosswinds.net)

This thesis investigates the debate in early twentieth-century Germany about the place of the artist in modern society through examination of three Künstleropern or "artist-operas": Pfitzner's Palestrina (1915), Krenek's Jonny spielt auf (1926) and Hindemith's Mathis der Maler (1935). In each opera, the central character is an artist who is uncomfortable with his place in the world; the artist-character may be seen as functioning as a persona for the real composer of the work, indicating his actual or desired relationship to his society. Furthermore, by presenting a view of society, and showing art's place within it, the works are also engaged with inherently political questions. This aspect is explored further, as each opera is read in the light of the political context of its time.

I first explore the cultural and social context of the early twentieth century from which these operas emerged, and how this climate affected the composer-audience dialectic. This is followed by an examination of Pfitzner's Palestrina in the light of political conservatism circa World War I, using Thomas Mann's idea of the "political" and the "nonpolitical", as expounded in his book of 1918, Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen, to demonstrate Pfitzner's involvement in the conservative political discourse of the era. I read Krenek's Jonny spielt auf against attitudes towards democracy during the Weimar Republic, expressed particularly through Americanism. I also consider the influence on Krenek of the music critic Paul Bekker's concept of "community-forming" (gesellschaftbildende) art, and discuss contemporary reactions to the opera. Hindemith's Mathis der Maler is compared to the philosophies and rhetoric of National Socialism; I explore how political thinking at this time made possible a "crossover" between left and right wings, and suggest how this alters our view of the opera and its composer. In all of these cases, I discuss how the artist figure in each work represents his creator's aesthetic and political views. Seen against the changes in society of the early twentieth century, the conflict found within these Künstleropern between the fictional artist and his world crystallises the concern with the role of art in society which preoccupied many composers of the era.