Sin and redemption among the ruins of Dresden

After World War II, Dresden lies in ruins. © G. Beyer/Bundesarchiv
After World War II, Dresden lies in ruins. © G. Beyer/Bundesarchiv

Easter is approaching fast, and while – for a number of reasons – I am not a regular church-goer, I haven’t lost faith in the message of the Bible. And music is a field where I can meet God. When I thought about a suited post for the Easter time, I did not hesitate a second. Since I wanted to surprise you, Schütz, Telemann, Bach, Mendelssohn and Händel – the usual suspects – did not make it into the selection. Instead you got Mauersberger, Rudolf Mauersberger. You don’t know him? Alleluja!

Leading Dresden’s renown Kreuzchor

Mauersberger is a controversial person, and that makes him excellent food for thought in a time when Christians are called up to reflect their behavior and repent. The German composer was born in 1889 in Saxony (Eastern Germany). He studied piano and organ in Leipzig and served during World War I as director of a military band. After the war, he took up posts as organist and choirmaster in Aachen and Eisenach. In 1930, he was appointed director of the choir of the Kreuzkirche in Dresden, the renown Dresdner Kreuzchor, and kept this position until his death in 1971. The choir would over time become his life’s work.

Joining the Nazi party in 1933

In May 1933, he joined the Nazi party. It is easy to condemn this with the benefit of hindsight. But one should not forget that many Protestant and Catholic priests also pledged allegiance to the Führer. Let him, who is without sin among you, be the first to throw a stone…

It seems certain that Mauersberger tried to reduce the influence of the Nazi youth movement on the choir, he refused to perform Nazi songs and performed music from Jewish composers like Mendelssohn despite an explicit ban by the German government. After World War II, during the Cold War, he toured Europe and the USA with the Kreuzchor. Under the impression of the total destruction of Dresden by an Allied air raid, he composed in February 1945 the hymn  “Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst” (How desolate lies the city), the Saint Luke Passion in 1947 and the Dresden Requiem in  1948.

A translucent Saint Luke Passion

Mauersberger became a strong advocate of contemporary choral music in Eastern Germany at a time when in Western Germany, the German tradition of the Lied and choral music was rejected by many composers led by the music theoretician Theodor Adorno. Adorno argued, that the Romantic spirit and its obsession with heroism and death, perpetuated by the Lied, and the tradition of choral music enabled the Nazis to hijack Germany’s song culture to perform a distinct militaristic nation branding.

The Saint Luke Passion, written for a choir without any instrumental accompaniment, is one of those pieces of liturgical music that move me deeply. It has been recorded in 1993 by Thüringischer Akademischer Singkreis under Wolfgang Unger. Those of my readers mastering the German language will be surprised how easy it is followed the text. The choral parts are extraordinarily harmonious, sensitive and translucent. And if Mauersberger has sinned during the Nazi era, I believe, he has redeemed himself with the Saint Luke Passion.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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2 thoughts on “Sin and redemption among the ruins of Dresden”

  1. Coincidence? Just yesterday I happened to read a short but harrowing memoir of a refugee from Eastern Europe, whose daughter and family were caught in the Dresden firestorm, and his search for them. Today, I first learned about Mauersberger here, and found a video online of “Wie liegt die Stadt so wuest” with pictures of destroyed Dresden. I found the music very poignant, beautiful, moving, at one with the text. I can’t help thinking about today’s world – “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.” Thanks for the info about the St. Luke Passion; I hope to hear this soon, too, with its message for our eternal salvation and peace. (And, we see it was indeed possible to write beautiful, sublime music even in the modern era 🙂 ) Happy Easter! 🙂

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