#034 – Being a Musician in Germany, 1850-1960

with Martin Rempe

military band germany rempe podcast

A military band from Germany, 1913 (Wikimedia Commons)

A few countries can boast a musical heritage comparable to Germany’s. Yet, this tradition was made possible by rank-and-file musicians, whose position in society was far from stable and acknowledged. In this episode, we discuss a history of music in Germany “from below”. Applying the triad art, play, and work to music as an unresolved matrix to unpack what is often considered a “creative” category, we link the experience and perceptions of musicians to German political history and the musicians’ struggle for recognition. In the second part of the conversation, we approach the gendered dimension of musical professionalisation, the impact of musicians’ mobility on “national” traditions, and the challenges posed by new technologies to making a living with music.



Martin Rempe is a historian of Modern European and Global History. Currently, he is funded by the DFG Heisenberg Program and hosted by the University of Konstanz. Besides, he is a permanent visiting lecturer at the University of St. Gallen. He holds a PhD from Humboldt University, Berlin and habilitated at the University of Konstanz in 2017. He was fellow at the Free University Berlin, at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, and at the Deutsches Museum, Munich. His first monograph is entitled “Entwicklung im Konflikt. Die EWG und der Senegal, 1957–1975” (Böhlau: 2012) and he has co-edited volumes on regionalism in Africa and on musical communication in the 20th century. Martin’s latest book “Kunst, Spiel, Arbeit. Musikerleben in Deutschland, 1850 bis 1960″, has been published with Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht in the series Kritische Studien zur Geschichtswissenschaft. His next book project aims at a global history of the complex interrelationships between military music and society in the long nineteenth century.


rempe kunst spiel arbeit podcast


To cite this episode: Martin Rempe, Andreas Guidi (2020): Being a Musician in Germany, 1850-1960. The Southeast Passage #034, 22.09.2020, http://thesoutheastpassage.com/rempe-musician-germany-1850-1960/



Royal Festival Hall: Full orchestra tuning (BBC Sound Archive)

Saxophone-Orchestra Dobri: Tausend Worte Liebe (One thousand words of love, 1929 recording)

The Saxophone-Orchestra Dobri was among the most popular in the Weimar Republic (1918-1933). His conductor Otto Dobrindt pursued a career in the Third Reich within Radio Germany (Deutschlandsender). After World War Two, Dobrindt was employed by the Berliner Rundfunk in the Soviet occupied zone and later in the GDR until his death in 1963.

The opening quote is read by Max Friedrich.


Further reading:

Applegate, Celia, and Pamela Potter, eds. Music and German National Identity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Applegate, Celia. The Necessity of Music: Variations on a German Theme.  Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2017.

Banks, Mark. Creative Justice: Cultural Industries, Work and Inequality.  London / New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.

Blanning, Timothy C. W. The Triumph of Music: The Rise of Composers, Musicians and Their Art.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2008.

Ehrlich, Cyril. The Music Profession in Britain since the Eighteenth Century. A Social History. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985.

Florida, Richard. The rise of the creative class and how it’s transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life. New York: basic Books, 2004.

Fuhrmann, Malte. “Down and Out on the Quays of İzmir: ‘European’ Musicians, Innkeepers, and Prostitutes in the Ottoman Port-Cities.”  Mediterranean Historical Review
Vol. 24, No. 2,  2009, 169–185.

Hoffmann, Freia. Instrument Und Körper. Die musizierende Frau in der bürgerlichen Kultur.  Frankfurt am Main / Leipzig: Insel taschenbuch, 1991.

Nathaus, Klaus. “Popular Music in Germany, 1900–1930: A Case of Americanisation? Uncovering a European Trajectory of Music Production into the Twentieth Century.” European Review of History – Revue européenne d’histoire 20, no. 5 (2013): 755–76.

Osterhammel, Jürgen. “Globale Horizonte Europäischer Kunstmusik, 1860–1930.” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 38, no. 1 (2012): 86–132.

Rempe, Martin. “Cultural Brokers in Uniform: The Global Rise of Military Musicians and Their Music.” Itinerario 41, no. 2 (2017): 327–52.

Wipplinger, Jonathan O. The Jazz Republic: Music, Race, and American Culture in Weimar Germany. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2017.


rempe podcast germany music

A leaflet from 1929: “40.000 professional musicians are unemployed because of technology”


Postcard of the “Damenkappele Bundestreue”, ca. 1915





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