Berlin Wall, Cold War, Eastern Bloc, German Democratic Republic, Hanns Eisler, Iron Curtain, national anthem, Risen from Ruins, Second World War, Song of the Germans, Theodor Adorno, University of Colorado, Wes Blomster
Since Wes passed away earlier this year, much has been written about his role as a music critic, and I, too, as both a performer and concert patron, have eagerly read each of his reviews with great interest, but my earliest and fondest memories of him are from the early seventies when I was a German student of his at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
Forty years ago the Cold War was raging, and the instruction that my classmates and I received from Wes had more to do with the role that Germany had played, and was continuing to play, in our middle-American lives than the mechanics of the German language. News reports were arriving from Europe almost daily, and Wes was certain that we needed to improve our understanding of history before we could appreciate the importance of these current events.
For me, a music major, Wes’s lessons on the politics of music were a revelation. First we examined the disdain that Theodor Adorno felt for the German Democratic Republic’s transformation of Bach into a “neutralized cultural monument” in 1950 during the bicentennial commemoration of the composer’s death. Then we considered how Oscar-nominee Hanns Eisler had been scrutinized two years earlier by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, deported, and subsequently celebrated in East Germany as the composer of its new national anthem, Risen from Ruins. Finally we analyzed the original 1841 text of the West German national anthem, The Song of the Germans, so that we might understand why, after the Second World War, it was only legal to sing its third verse.
This sample syllabus reveals that Wes Blomster contributed greatly to all of our University educations by serving as a professor of the humanities and the social sciences as well as a Professor of German.
I received an additional gift from Wes, one that he conferred on me the last time we spoke: an enthusiasm for taking an inquisitive world view whenever possible, whatever the discipline or topic of discussion.