Professor of Modern European Intellectual and Cultural History

Department Web Page

Email: dennis@luc.edu


  • Modern German History
  • History of Western Humanities
  • Music and History
  • Beethoven Studies
  • History of National Socialism
  • History of Computing


  • Ph.D. UCLA, 1991



Abstract: This book analyzes how the primary propaganda outlet of the Nazi party presented the History of Western art, literature, music, and thought according to the National Socialist worldview. It is a study of every major article the main newspaper of Hitler’s movement—The Völkischer Beobachter (Folkish Observer)—published about leading writers, composers, artists, and their works, including Germans like Luther, Dürer, Mozart, Schiller, Goethe, Beethoven, Schopenhauer, Wagner, and Nietzsche, non-Germans such as Socrates, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Byron, Rimbaud, Picasso, and Stravinsky, and minor figures they preferred over “enemies” such as Heinrich Heine and Thomas Mann. My extensive archival research demonstrates how Nazi Germany attempted to appropriate not only the Germany of “Poets and Thinkers,” but History of Western Humanities from Ancient Greece through the Second World War. Nazi leaders viewed their movement as the culmination of Western Civilization, and this book leads readers through their cultural self-justification. Indeed, it is the first comprehensive survey of the terms National Socialist propagandists used to discuss the great names of European culture.

This database is "under construction."  It is housed as a "Library" in a Public Group of Zotero.org. This will allow you to easily search the listings by tags, especially the names of major creative figures covered in the articles.  This will provide you with the author, title, and date on which the article appeared in the newspaper. You will then need to order a copy via ILL.  I am working to scan all of the articles, then I will add links to those PDFs. 

From the cover: This absorbing book chronicles the exploitation of Beethoven’s life and work by German political parties from the founding of the modern nation to the East German Revolution of 1989.  Drawing on a wealth of previously untapped archival resources, David B. Dennis examines how politicians have associated Beethoven with competing visions of German destiny, thereby transforming art and artist into powerful national symbols.  Dennis shows for the first time that propagandists of every persuasion have equated Beethoven’s works with dogma.  In the late nineteenth century, supporters of Bismarck and the German emperors endorsed a militaristic interpretation forged during the Franco-Prussian War, while opponents promoted portraits of Beethoven as revolutionary.  In the First World War Beethoven was drawn into the trenches where Germans countered enemy allegations that they had forfeited the right to enjoy his music.  Beethoven interpretations fragmented in the Weimar Republic, as every faction formulated its own variation.  The Nazi view of the composer as Führer was enforced in the Third Reich.  After 1945 German views of Beethoven corresponded to the division of the nation, but when the Iron Curtain collapsed in 1989 one sentiment rose to dominance: that all people could become brothers, just as the composer had wished in his Ninth Symphony.  By establishing connections between Beethoven’s art and public policy, Dennis has written a book of compelling interest to historians, musicologists, and Beethoven enthusiasts alike.

Reviews of Beethoven in German Politics, 1870-1989:

  • James R. Oestreich, "Beethoven as Idealist, Militarist, Whatever," The New York Times, 6 March 1996
  • "Beethoven's slippery politics give a sharp twist to musical history," The Seattle Post-Intelligencer (6 March 1996)
  • Peter Aspden, "Purist strike wrong note," The Financial Times (London), 28/29 March 1996
  • Maria Chiare Bonazzi, "Le mani su Beethoven," La Stampa (Turin),1 April 1996
  • Ian Buruma, "Hijacking Beethoven," The Sunday Telegraph (London), 26 May 1996
  • "An Ode Response: Alle Menschen werden Brueder?" The Guardian (London), 27 May 1996
  • Patricia Elliot, "Books for the General Reader," The Beethoven Journal (Spring 1996, vol. 11, no. 1)
  • Clive Davies, "Ode, dear, Ludwig pays the penalty," The Yorkshire Post, 6 June 1996
  • Nicholas Till, "Tunes of Glory," New Statesman and Society, 7 June 1996
  • Jeroen Koch, "Het gebruik van een genie," NRC Handelsblad (Amsterdam), 20 July 1996
  • Barry Cooper, "Beethoven's political uses," BBC Music Magazine (August 1996)
  • R. R. Smith, Choice (September 1996)
  • Steven R. Cerf, "Books" Opera News (October 1996, vol. 61, No. 4)
  • Eugen Weber, "Recommended Reading," The Key Reporter (Autumn 1996)
  • Dennis Bartel, "Cover to Cover," Chamber Music (December 1996, vol. 13, no. 6)
  • Michael H. Kater, "Hitler in der Oper?" Kurt Weill Newsletter (vol. 14, no. 1, 1996)
  • "Buecher von unsern Lesern," DAAD (No. 4, December 1996)
  • Michael H. Kater, American Historical Review, October 1997
  • Peter Pulzer, Music & Letters, May 1997
  • William Weber, Notes, vol. 53, no. 4, June 1997)
  • David Imhoof, Weimar Listservice, February 1997
  • Matthias Alexander, "Beethoven als Titan, Revolutionaer und nordischer Speer, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 14 February 1997
  • Celia Applegate, Central European History (vol. 30, no. 1, 1997)
  • Sanna Pederson, Journal of the American Musicological Society (Summer-Fall, 1997, vol. 50 no. 2)
  • Nicholas Vazsonyi, German Studies Review (vol. 20, no. 3, October 1998)
  • Mark Evan Bonds, The Journal of Modern History (vol. 70, no. 1, March 1998)
  • Christian Berger, Das historisch-politische Buch (no. 45, Nov/Dec 1998)

Electronic texts of some reviews of Beethoven in German Politics, 1870-1989:


Reviews of Wagner's Meistersinger: Performance, History, Representation

  • "Beethoven At Large: Reception in Literature, the Arts, Philosophy, and Politics" in Glenn Stanley, ed., Cambridge Companion to Beethoven (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, May 2000), 292-305. Other contributers include Roger Kamien, Barry Cooper, William Kindermann, and Scott Burnham. This chapter discusses Beethoven reception by non-musicians, whose potrayals of the composer and his music in belletristic criticism, in poetry and fiction, in philosophy, and in the visual arts have had a far greater impact on the establishment of an image of the composer and the work in general culture than the work of musicans and professionally trained music analysts and critics. Both high and popular reception and dissemination are treated, including the use (or misuse) of the man and the music for ideological and commercial purposes. 

  • "Brahms's Requiem eines Unpolitischen," for Nicholas Vazsonyi, ed., Searching for Common Ground: Diskurse zur deutschen Identitaet 1750-1871 (Weimar and Wien, Boehlau, 2000), 283-298. This article addresses what precisely is "German" about Johannes Brahms's Ein deutsches Requiem. Should it be considered an icon of late nineteenth-century German nationalism? What does it tell us about Brahms's identity and the extent to which it was "German"? As is so often the case with Johannes Brahms-not everything is as simple as appears. After reviewing the scholarly debate over his Requiem's "German nationalist" or "Liberal humanist" significance, this paper suggests that Thomas Mann's notion of a "non-political man," applied retrospectively, can help us better apprehend the paradoxical nature of Brahms's national identity.

  • "Honor Your German Masters: The Use and Abuse of 'Classical' Composers in Nazi Propaganda": Journal of Political and Military Sociology, special issue on classical music and politics, Volume 30, No. 2 (Winter) 2002. Using heretofore untranslated materials, I have detailed the terms by which Nazi propagandists incorporated the tradition of eighteenth-century German music into their system of cultural symbolism. Specifically, this article surveys the Voelkischer Beobachter's reception of Bach, Handel, Haydn, and Mozart. Above all, National Socialist reception exaggerated the proto-Romantic components of the eighteenth-century music. In their view, everything led to the "Iron Romanticism" they conceived as the cultural basis for uniting the volkish community and girding it for battle against enemies both internal and external. Implicitly, this outlook constituted a rejection of the ideals of the Enlightenment--but it was nonetheless communicated in terms designed to salvage the music greats of the period for National Socialist propaganda use.

  • "Crying 'Wolf'? A Review Essay on Recent Wagner Literature: Lydia Goehr, The Quest for Voice: Music, Voice, and the Limits of Philosophy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998); Stephen McClatchie, Analyzing Wagner's Operas: Alfred Lorenz and German Nationalist Ideology. (University of Rochester Press, 1998), and Joachim Koehler, Wagner's Hitler: The Prophet and his Disciple, trans., Ronald Taylor (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2000) for the German Studies Review, February 2001, 145-158.


  • "Their Meister’s Voice: Nazi Reception of Richard Wagner and his Works in the Völkischer Beobachter," in Joseph K. So and Roy Moodley, editors, OPERA IN A MULTICULTURAL WORLD: Critical Perspectives on Race, Culture and Ethnicity in Opera (University of Toronto Press. 
  • "Nietzsche in the Nazi 'Cult of Art,'” Humanities Magazine (NEH)
  • O Freunde, nicht diese Töne! First World War Beethoven Reception as Precedent for the Nazi ‘Cult of Art,’" in Musik bezieht Stellung: Funktionalisierungen der Musik im Ersten Weltkrieg (Universität Osnabrück Presse)


  • WFMT: interviewed about Beethoven and German politics, on occasion of Beethoven's Birthday, 15 December 2009.
  • “History Detectives”: interviewed for segment on film of Adolf Hitler attending the Bayreuth Festival.  Aired on PBS, 3 September 2007.
  • To the Best of our Knowledge, Public Radio International, interviewed by host Jim Fleming regarding Beethoven in German Politics, 1870-1989, 13 May 1996; broadcast nationwide 12 January 1997.
  • WLUW: interviewed in December 2002, by Dr. Paul Messbarger, Professor Emeritus, for the EVOKE radio series.