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The success of the television production Babylon Berlin has once again demonstrated the undying fascination that we have with 1920s Berlin. In music too, undreamed-of energy was unleashed between the end of the First World War and the rise of National Socialism. In February 2021, the online festival “The Golden Twenties” will be dedicated to exciting works created during this period. After all, the Berliner Philharmoniker themselves contributed significantly to the vitality of the music scene in the era. Wilhelm Furtwängler, for example, frequently programmed contemporary compositions, and he was particularly committed to the music of Paul Hindemith.

The composer, pianist, conductor and theoretician Ferruccio Busoni, a passionate advocate of Modernism, also appeared with the Philharmoniker. He was a key figure of the time who is much under-appreciated today, and one of whose most gifted students was Kurt Weill. Weill gradually abandoned purely instrumental music in the 1920s in order to revolutionise musical theatre in his collaborations with Bertold Brecht and other poets.

Although the group connected with Arnold Schoenberg was closely associated with the Austrian capital, Schoenberg himself moved from Vienna to Berlin several times because he hoped for a more receptive audience for his radical experiments. Among the works of the Second Viennese School premiered by the Philharmoniker was the orchestral version of Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite which is included in this selection. Richard Strauss left Berlin in 1918, where he had worked for almost 20 years as an opera conductor and main guest conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker. In his autobiographical opera Intermezzo, the city nevertheless appears as a point of reference. In 2017, Christian Thielemann performed the witty symphonic interludes of the stage work with the orchestra.

As political and racial targets of Nazi persecution, many prominent musicians of the 1920s had to leave Germany. They included Kurt Weill, who was to have a great career in America. For the 2019 New Year’s Eve Concert, Kirill Petrenko performed a suite from the Broadway hit Lady in the Dark, which shows that Weill, in his reinvention as an American composer, remained faithful to the tonal language he developed in Berlin.  

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