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Beethoven and the radio

During the war, despite complaints, BBC radio included many more gramophone
record programmes than would have been permitted before the war. The main source
of programmes was the BBC orchestras. The BBC Symphony Orchestra itself was
evacuated to Bristol on the assumption that it would be safer there than in London.
The bombing of the Bristol docks from June 1940 onwards scrapped that idea.
The audiences for classical music programmes on radio reached levels that were never
to be achieved under normal circumstances. On a randomly sampled Friday in May
1945, a lunchtime performance of Beethovens fifth symphony was listened to by one
and a quarter million adults, while an evening concert of music by Gilbert and
Sullivan reached a remarkable three and a half million.
Beethoven's Fifth, everyone knows it. It has been titled in several different ways, like
the Fate symphony (as during rehearsals for the premiere, Beethoven pointed at the
first motif and shouted 'Thus Fate knocks at the door!' Strengthening the Fate idea is
that a few years previously, Beethoven first revealed his hearing loss and stated in a
letter that he would "seize Fate by the throat; it shall not bend or crush me
completely," and so the opening bar is popularly interpreted as his worries about
becoming deaf.) So it's either called the Fate symphony or the Victory symphony.
During World War II, the opening motif of Beethoven's 5th Symphony became a
powerful symbol for the Allied forces, or the United Nations. Victory; 5 in Roman
numbers is V. There's the rise to triumph idea of C minor transitioning to C major. The
short-short-short-long rhythmic pattern corresponded in Morse code, dot-dot-dotdash, to the letter 'V' for Victory, which was an acknowledged symbol of the war
effort, most famously made by Winston Churchill forming a 'V' with the first and
second fingers of his raised right hand.
The question is, why would the Allied Forces choose Beethoven, a German
composer? This raised issues about the playing of works by enemy composers and is
subject to some academic disagreement, but what is clear is that the BBC was
reluctant to broadcast the works of living German, Italian or Finnish composers on the
grounds that their royalty payments would go to hostile nations (or could at least be
collected once the war had ended). Although it is perhaps ironic that a German piece
of music became a source of comfort, many people enjoyed the irony of German
music providing a spurred force for the war effort. Beethoven was himself a champion
of personal liberty and a symbol of resistance to dictatorship, turning away from
Napoleon in 1804 when he named himself Emperor of the French.
The French, too, adopted Beethoven's 5th Symphony as an icon of solidarity and
resistance. During the worst of the German blitz on London in the spring of 1941,
Maurice van Moppes wrote lyrics to the opening bars of the symphony, calling it La
chanson des V (The song of V). The song was broadcast on Radio-Londres, most
influentially on 1 June 1944, when the Allied forces sent the first messages to France
to prepare for attack. It was also included in a pamphlet entitled Chansons de la
BBC which was parachuted by the RAF into France in order to raise morale,
encourage resistance, and demonstrate support for the British.

Moving on to the other side. To add to its journalistic, scholarly, and educational
features, Nazi propaganda also used the newest technologies of mass communication.
The Nazi party useddeveloped radio broadcasting as a powerful method of
propagating ideology. By setting up common cultural experiences on the radio, the
Nazis would draw the German Volk closer together than ever before. Writing about
Beethoven's role in this process, Deutsche Musikkultur claimed the following:
"Like National Socialism, it is the carrier and herald of an idea
that demands neither individuals nor classes, neither high nor
low, poor nor rich, but rather the Gemeinschaft, the whole,
undivided Volk."
The "political mission" of Nazi-controlled radio, then, was "to reestablish a
completely united Germany."
Beethoven was given an important role in this effort; programmers loved the
suitability of his music for National Socialist broadcasting. According to Johann
Bachmann, author of a Deutsche Musikkultur mission statement, the best way for
radio to contribute to the volkish experiment was to circulate Beethoven's music.
Bachmann did not want radio broadcasts to be pedestrian; while it should not present
cultured and civilised material alone, radio should provide quality entertainment and
education. Sending Beethoven's works over the airwaves was the perfect way to do
"The important thing is whether the broadcast resonates in the
soul of the hearer, whether it releases free, joyous, and festive
feelings. That a Beethoven symphony can achieve this is selfevident, and will be constantly proven by the radio. ... Beethoven
for everyone? Absolutely! ... In selecting this healthy,
constructive, positive material, we have made radio what it
should and must be: a source of strength for the Volk."
"Beethoven will bring the Volk together. Let his works sound in
every house over the magnificent medium of radio!"
Working from these assumptions, Nazi radio authorities programmed a great deal of
Beethoven's music; his work was often featured on the most popular of the Nazi radio