Missing German stereo tapes from World War II

Missing German stereo tapes from World War II
Now there’s a provocative subject!

A few weeks ago, I received a very interesting letter from Bernard O’Hanlon in Australia. He has sent a letter to the German Minister of Culture, Bernd Neumann requesting that the German government contact the Russian government regarding the disposition of more stereo tapes produced by the Reich Rundfunk (RRG) during World War II.

Instead of repeating his points (many taken from the Koch/Schwann CD of the Karajan Bruckner 8th), I have attached his letter below. If there is anyone who has more information on this subject or perhaps has some influence in this matter, please contact me.
Dear Minister Neumann,

As a group of music lovers, we seek your assistance as the German Minister for Culture to track down and save some historically important concerts of classical music that were made in Berlin during World War 2. Time is running out.

The Red Army occupied the Berlin Radio broadcasting House in May 1945 but it did not make a full inventory of the building until 1947/1948. When its personnel did so, they found hundreds of recordings by the RRG (Reich Recording Company) that featured some of Germany’s best known artists: Wilhelm Furtwangler, Herbert von Karajan, Edwin Fischer, Hans Knappertsbusch and many others. This cache was transported to Russia not long afterwards. Its fate was unknown at the time in the West.

In 1960, the Russian record company Melodia published some wartime recordings by Furtwangler, thus broadcasting to the West that these recordings had not been lost forever. A former producer of the Freies Berlin Radio Station, Klaus Lang, became obsessed with finding these recordings and made a visit to Leningrad in 1983, when he actually came across some additional Furtwangler performances in a record shop (the Bruckner Fifth and the Schumann Cello Concerto).

In April 1983, the Armenian composer Mikael Tariverdiev set up a meeting between Klaus Land and the head of the music department of Moscow Radio, Stanilas Stepnovski. Klaus enquired about the fate of the Furtwangler recordings. Later in October 1983, he received fourteen boxes from Moscow that contained twenty wartimes concerts featuring Furtwangler. These were, however, copies. In 1989, Klaus Lang made another trip to Moscow, and was driven in an official car from the Kremlin to Moscow-Medwedlowo, some 25 kms away. The building itself was old but it housed a huge archive. Neither Lang nor the officials who accompanied him had ever been to the building. After an extensive search, they found some boxes on the fifth floor that contained the RRG recordings. The original copies of the Furtwangler concerts were there. Even so, they were left in place.

After a round of negotiations, Russia generously donated some 1462 tapes of music to the Freies Berlin Radio Station. There were many treasures in this cache, and everyone was very grateful for such a decision. Even so, the donation did not include any of the two or three hundred complete concerts that had been recorded in stereo by Helmut Kruger the former RRG sound engineer. The cache did, however, include a 1944 performance of the Bruckner Eighth by Herbert von Karajan where the Last Movement was in stereo. Elsewhere, two other wartime performances have survived that are in likewise in stereo, the more notable being the Walter Gieseking performance of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto which was recorded during an air-raid. Mr. Helmut Krüger used an AEG-Telefunken K7 stereo tape recorder to make these 200 – 300 stereo recordings directly onto magnetic tape. At the time the technology was best-practice.

I daresay that the Soviet Military rightly took an interest in the technology and the tapes. For the last sixty five years, nothing has been heard of these recordings. They were not handed back in 1990. They are still missing.

The three surviving performances (Brahms' Serenade, the Bruckner 8th and the Beethoven Emperor Concerto with Gieseking) demonstrate that the importance of this collection. The music-making in Germany at the time was superlative.

Time is running out as these tapes will deteriorate. The German Government is rightly proud of its cultural heritage as a great nation. These tapes, if they still exist, are in the archives of the Russian Government. We seek assistance in tracking them down and ascertaining their fate. For this to occur, some a high level approach will need to be made to the Russian Government.

Additional information - Supplied by John Proffitt

This information was obtained from "Goldhor's Blog" in Germany:

Up to the fall of 1944, according to Helmut Krueger, about 250 stereo recordings had been made. Among these were the opera Romeo and Juliet, Margaret, Tosca, Tannhauser and the Mastersingers, each in Bayreuth in 1943 under Hermann Abendroth and 1944 under Wilhelm Furtwängler. As the Allied air raids on Berlin intensified in late 1944, the valued equipment and tapes were moved to the Central Laboratory of the Reichsrundfunkgesellschaft (RRG) in Wartheland (eastern Poland) for safe storage. Hans Joachim von Braunmuehl, the future head of the SWF, organized music evenings for the doctors at a nearby military hospital there, using the RRG tape recordings and equipment for entertainment (!). At this point, with the rising chaos of the end of the war, further tracing of the RRG stereo tapes and the equipment is impossible. Only five stereo recordings of the RRG probably survived the turmoil of the last days of the war.

John Proffitt adds, "There are several other German-language blogs and articles relating correspondence and conversations with Krueger, which seem to substantiate the number of 200 – 250 stereo recordings by late 1944."

(Posted 10/26/2011 by admin)