DREAMS OF BEATING TIME
The plays takes place between 1917 and 1944 in Theresienstadt (Terezin) Czechoslovakia, southern Germany, Mannheim, Berlin, New York and London. The scenes moves fluidly from one place and time into another as in a fevered mixture of dreams and recollections.
Dreams of Beating Time
, a down-at-heel Jew in his late 50s encounters Miriam
, a black American jazz singer, in a deserted, shabby concert room in the concentration camp at Theresienstadt. Singer recollects their time together in New York before the Second World War and vents his frustration on having allowed himself to be captured in Holland and taken to Theresienstadt by the Nazis. When the two are interrupted Miriam climbs into a crudely made wooden coffin and hides. A group of Jewish musicians arrives to set up the room for a concert to be filmed by the cabaret artist Kurt Gerron
. Gerron is also an inmate of the camp, but because he has had considerable experience making films professionally he has been commissioned by the Nazis, as a Jew, to make this propaganda film showing the comfortable life of the Jews in Nazi concentration camps, under the threat of death. Before the filming begins a young ambitious conductor by the name of Raphael Schächter
, is ordered off the set by the camp commandant, Karl Rahm
, and told he is being released back to his family in Italy. Despite Gerron's reservations, Kurt Singer
– the former head of the Jewish Kulturbund and a former second-string conductor to Wilhelm Fürtwängler
with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra - is ordered by Rahm to take over as a substitute. Unfortunately before the film gets made he is mistakenly beaten up by a subordinate and the filming has to be postponed.
In the mountains of South Germany the young ambitious conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler
, powerfully supported by his ambitious but physically unattractive Jewish assistant Berta Geissmar
(who has secretly fallen in love with him) outline their plans for him to leave his post in Mannheim and take over as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra as soon as the resident conductor, Nikisch, dies. Geissmar's father, a wealthy businessman in Mannheim who conducts a lively musical salon, plays host to Furtwängler and his followers at a reception following a successful concert. The reception contains a cross-section of upper-class German society from assimilated Jews to convinced Nazis and desperate businessmen worried about their future in the Weimar Republic. One of the more prominent guests is the right wing composer Hans Pfitzner. The reception is constantly interrupted on a nightmare level by Gerron and other Jewish artists performing at cabaret ridiculing Hitler and his followers; and on another level by Miriam flirting in America with a rather stiff inexperienced Singer. At a chamber concert recital of music by a young unknown Jewish composer Singer is ignored by Hans Pfitzner
, who is more interested to find out from Furtwängler why his opera is not being performed as often as he would like.
Because the artists are overwhelmingly occupied with their private lives and careers, they fail to realise that the political situation in Germany is being increasingly dominated by the Nazis.
, a powerful Berlin music impresario in her 60s who runs the affairs of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, calls on Furtwängler and after a row with her rival, Geissmar, she bursts into his room where he is working. To Geissmar's delight Furtwängler throws her out again. On the streets of Berlin she is hassled by some beggars who resent her not only for being rich but also Jewish.
Back in Theresienstadt, Gerron visits Kurt Singer whose face is still swollen from his battering by the Nazis, to urge him to get off his sick bed and conduct the concert for the film otherwise 20 Jewish artists will have to face the prospect of being sent to Auschwitz. Singer recollects his time with Miriam when she stripped off in her flat to take a shower. The beggars re-form as a group of grotesque Nazi agitators who mingle unrealistically with Furtwängler, Geissmar and cultural representatives of the Weimar Republic during a dispute about the worsening financial situation of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Out on the streets of Berlin Kurt Singer is attacked by a Nazi mob and narrowly escapes. Flashback to New York: Miriam entertains Singer with a private performance of an aria from Hindemith's comic opera “Neues von Tage”
in praise of warm water for showers and condemning the old gas heated water boilers. Gerron (Hitler) and two other cabaret artists (Goering and Goebbels) are outraged not only by the song but by the fact that it is being sung by a black woman. The negotiations between Furtwängler and the government continue and, despite his violent protests, Furtwängler is forced to agree to make his repertoire more conservative in exchange for the continuation of financial support.
Out on the streets of Berlin the Nazi brownshirts gangs are getting stronger; but when one of them, Horst Wessel, is shot by a protester the negotiations come to an end. Louise Wolff is forced to reduce her share of the commission on the orchestra's income 51%, whereas Furtwängler, strongly backed by Berta Geissmar, succeeds in negotiating himself an increased salary and expenses in exchange for committing himself principally to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for the next 10 years. The government authorities have now bought off Furtwängler as a cultural symbol of German civilisation as they see it. Furtwängler announces the 75th birthday celebrations of the orchestra and begins it with a beautiful rendition of the German national anthem, Gerron and the two other cabaret artists take over the show as Hitler, Goering and Goebbels and the orchestra is quickly transformed into a band playing the Horst Wessel song to the delight of the company which is by now almost completely dominated by Nazis. Gerron as Hitler kneels in the church to the background of the orchestra and prays to God to bless the German fight for freedom and the Fatherland.
In Theresienstadt Kurt Singer is lying in bed in a delirium, fantasising that Miriam is offering him a juicy red American steak, Gerron is prancing around like Hitler, and Singer's wife and children are being packed into a cattle wagon to be transported to the death. The train screeches away into the night leaving Furtwängler and Berta Geissmar alone in the compartment of another train. Here Furtwängler is approached by a member of his orchestra who expresses his fears that the Jewish members of the orchestra will be thrown out by the Nazis now that Hitler has become Chancellor. Whilst asserting his opposition to Hitler's politics, Furtwängler – with the backing of Berta Geissmar - refuses to accept this logic on the grounds that Hitler would never dare to undermine the best of German culture. In Berlin, Hitler (Gerron) and the orchestra's Nazi appointed official, Havemann, plan their strategy to promote Furtwängler’s position as a major artist, whilst at the same time removing the Nazis from his orchestra. The well-known Jewish conductor Fritz Busch is mobbed out of a concert in Dresden by a Nazi gang and forced to flee the country. Thereupon Kurt Singer tries to persuade Louise Wolff to join with him to protect Jewish artists by forming a Jewish Kulturbund. Louise Wolff is more concerned about the future of her business and reprimands Singer for unnecessary panic-making; up until now none of the Jewish musicians in the Philharmonic Orchestra have been forced to go, despite the fact that Furtwängler has agreed to the appointment of the Nazi Rudolf von Schmidtseck as an assistant conductor. Louise Wolff tries to persuade Singer not to split the nation into Germans and Jews, despite the worsening situation on the streets and the burning of the Reichstag. The row escalates and comes to an end when she breaks off the conversation. Furtwängler is persuaded by Geissmar against his will to conduct his orchestra at the state opening of the first parliament of the Third Reich, despite the fact that he has always refused to lend his name to political ceremonies. At the same time he hears of the fate of Fritz Busch, but plays it down as a storm in a teacup and returns to study the latest work by Pfitzner. One of the young women guests at Geissmar's reception is revealed hanging by the neck above a gang of Nazis, who now prevent the Jewish conductor Fritz Walter
, from returning to give a guest performance with the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra. Despite the urgings of Louise Wolff, Furtwängler refuses to stand in for Walter, and Richard Strauss
agrees to fill the gap, thereby proving that Jewish musicians are dispensable. Back in America, Kurt Singer bemoans the degeneration of public morality to Miriam, who tries to console him. Alone on stage and isolated, Furtwängler conducts Wagner's "The Meistersinger" whilst the stage is filled with pictures of famous German artists who have been forced into exile. Furtwängler continues to insist that wherever Beethoven and Wagner are played people are free, and that music takes them into realms where the Gestapo cannot touch them. His office is now being bombarded with pleas for help from persecuted musicians, but his hands are tied as the orchestra is once again threatened with the loss of funding from the government. Geissmar and Furtwängler agree to a continuation of funding providing the orchestra is now re-organised in favour of the Germanic race. In return for his concession Furtwängler is promoted even higher as the cultural symbol of Germany. Despite this, Singer backs him in his opposition to Hitler and the two insist on a meeting with Goebbels to discuss the protection of Jewish musicians – in Furtwängler’s eyes, not so much because of their race, but because of their artistic excellence. Goebbels rails against the organised propaganda of world Jewry and insists he is only trying to restore the balance. Despite this Furtwängler protests, to Goebbels anger, that Hitler has banned the music of the Aryan composer Hindemith on the grounds that is that it is “culturally Bolshevist”. Goebbels points out that no grant-giving body in the world can afford to finance organisations whose members might be seen to be in active opposition to it, and says that the only solution to the problem is to get rid of "destructive Jews", as Furtwängler himself once proposed. Furtwängler insists that he wrote about "rootless and second rate Jews and non-Jews alike" and that the whole dispute is merely a question of artistic standards. In order to rescue the future of the Berlin orchestra Goebbels abolishes the governing board and hands over complete control to Furtwängler. Kurt Gerron (Hitler) proceeds to mishandle Furtwängler in a grand guignol manner, whilst Goebbels simultaneously delivers a speech about the sacredness of German art. Kurt Singer tries to intervene unsuccessfully. Furtwängler is sworn in as a Prussian State Councillor and raised to his feet by Hitler before being presented to the mob like the Messiah. In desperation Furtwängler decides to invite leading international Jewish artists to perform in Berlin, and sends Berta Geissmar to London to negotiate with them. Whilst in London Geissmar is taken for tea at the Ritz by Thomas Beecham
who regards the Nazis as a somewhat trivial joke, whilst praising them for cleaning up the streets and putting a stop to homosexuals. Beecham agrees to accept Furtwängler's invitation to conduct in Berlin. Furtwängler is now becoming more and more the focus of protests by Jewish artists from abroad and his loyalties are becoming stretched to breaking point. Aware of this, Goebbels promotes him to the post of vice-president of the Reich Music Chamber (under Richard Strauss). Behind the scenes Furtwängler continues to try to protect persecuted musicians by writing letters of support to the government. Back in Theresienstadt the almost deranged Kurt Singer is convinced that Raphael Schächter is back in the camp and should conduct the orchestra for the film, but Commandant Rahm denies this and insists Singer play his part on the promise of being allowed to join his wife and children in a house where they are being protected. In his delirium Kurt Singer tells Rahm about his experiences with Miriam in the shower in New York, Furtwängler appears with a donkey's head and conducts his orchestra to the delighted applause of Goebbels and Goering. Nonetheless, in Hitler's name, they forbid Furtwängler from conducting a work he has commissioned from Hindemith, "mindful of the level of public feeling against him". Fürtwängler is outraged and insists on an audience with Hitler who chops him down with a vicious tirade against the Jews, closing with a demand that "Either you accept me: or oppose me. Think it over". Back in his office Furtwängler contemplates resigning from all his posts completely. When Geissmar expresses her amazement he backs down and decides to resign only from his political positions. Back in Theresienstadt Rahm, dismayed by Singer's continual protests, orders the fingers of Singer's right-hand to be cut off one by one. The Nazi commissar Schmidtseck announces to Geissmar that Furtwängler has indeed resigned from all his posts and advises her to leave the country as quickly as possible or she will be arrested and have her passport withdrawn. Furtwängler on the other hand will not be travelling with her, because the Führer has ordered him to stay within the borders of Germany. Fürtwängler has now been deprived of his life-long helper. Now Goebbels tries to persuade Furtwängler to undertake a tour of England with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. In vain. Fürtwängler insists on his right to remain in Germany and says that he intends solely to compose there, whilst conducting abroad, "and only abroad". In Theresienstadt Commandant Rahm rips up a stack of sheet music whilst humiliating the maimed Kurt Singer. Under pressure from Hitler, Goebbels and Goering, Furtwängler agrees to return to conducting "as an independent artist, whose only concern is music and the pursuit of excellence”. The capitulation is complete. Gerron (Hitler) and his accomplices have won the day: "the audience thought it was wonderful", and "there is only one thing missing to round off a perfect evening. The Jews are rounded up into an imaginary railway carriage and disappear into the darkness leaving Miriam alone in the room accompanied by Singer at a broken piano. She sings the American hit "I'll be seeing you in all the old familiar places….." ending with "I'll be looking at the moon, but I'll be seeing you".
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