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Popular Music in the GDR

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Popular Music in the GDR

Günter Mayer

Internationally the German Democratic Republic is very well known for its high standard of music culture, especially in the realm of classical music. Classical music has long traditions which were followed and improved in the last decades.

Composers such as Heinrich Schütz, Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Friedrich Handel, Philip Telemann, Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Richard Wagner were born in or lived within the territory which became the GDR in 1949. In 1985 Dresden, Leipzig and Halle will be celebrating the anniversaries of the 400th birthday of Schutz and the 300th birthdays of Bach and Handel respec­tively. The heritage of German classical music (including Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert) is an important part of the programs of concert halls, opera houses, radio transmissions and record produc­tions. VEB Deutsche Schallplatten, for instance, released the world’s first complete edition of Beethoven including more than 120 records.

There are many permanent professional orchestras in our country: 43 theatre orchestras, 25 state and municipal orchestras, eight radio orchestras, three ensemble orchestras and nine dance and light orches­tras. Some of them are very well known all over the world: the State Orchestra Dresden and the Philharmony Dresden, the Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig and the State Orchestra Berlin, which have toured the United States. The boys choirs from Leipzig (Thomaner Choir) and from Dresden (Kreuz Choir) are also known worldwide.

Among the amateurs in the field of classical music are about 250,000 people singing in more than 8000 choirs and playing in about 200 symphony orchestras and chamber music ensembles. And there are famous concert halls and opera houses with a full year repertory: the Neues Gewandhaus Leipzig (newly built, opened 1981); the Komische Oper Berlin; the Konzerthaus Berlin (the former Schauspielhaus, built by Schinkel, destroyed in World War II, reconstructed, reopened on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the GDR in Oc­tober 1984); and the Semper Opera Dresden (destoyed in World War II, reconstructed, will be reopened in 1985).

And there are many regular music festivals: the International Bach Festival (since 1966); the Händel Festival Plays (since 1952); the Tele-mann Festival (since 1962); the Berlin Festival (since 1967); the Music-Biennale Berlin (since 1967); the Music Days of the GDR (since 1974 especially for contemporary music); the Dresden Music Festival (since 1978). Many regional festivals and competitions for composers, singers, musicians and dancers take place.

It is impossible here to mention all the other activities in the field of classical music: in conservatories, music schools, by music pub­lishers, journals by the Eterna-department of the State Record Com­pany, VEB Deutsche Schallplatten, by the mass media radio and tele­vision, by music societies, organizations and clubs, by museums and archives and by music libraries.

But what about popular music? Of course, this is not the usual popular music. But there should be some information on this part of music culture, not least because it is one important principle of the socialist concept of culture to bring these treasures of music to the people, to make classical music “popular” by different social efforts: varying from economic decisions to various educational activities. Not­withstanding all the advantages sketched above in bringing the treas­ures of good music to the masses of workers and peasants, there are efforts to make them play music themselves, thus only some few pieces of classical music become “their” music. Only a small part of the large classical repertory in excellent live concerts and opera performances and/or technically mediated by radio, television, and records, has be­come “popular” among the small but increasing number of music lovers. Especially the new contemporary music written, for instance, by Hanns Eisler (d, 1962) or Paul Dessau (d. 1979) or by the younger composers Friedrich Goldmann, Siegfried Matthus, Georg Katzer, Friedrich Schenker and Reiner Bredemeyer—to mention only some of the most interesting names among the more than 300 composers of the Union of Composers—has only found a small audience. The same is to say about the international contemporary “classical” music in general, i.e., the advanced music of the 20th century. Quite the oppo­site has occurred in the realm of popular music. In the everyday life of the masses of workers and peasants, especially among the younger generation, popular music from all over the world is predominant; also popular music “made in GDR” is much more accepted by the masses than the new contemporary music from the “serious” sector.

Regardless of the questions “What is Popular Music for whom?” and “What are the general criteria of popularity?”, and regardless of the necessary distinction between variant sectors of popular music and between several degrees of popularity, it is obvious that people prefer “Schlager” (easy-listening dance music), rock, chanson and song, “folklore,” some forms of jazz or certain types of music for brass

bands, accordion orchestras etc. Most popular music is technically mediated; popular music is on the air. Especially among younger people, all international trends in the development of popular music are very well known in the country because a lot of radio or TV stations from other countries, including three TV channels from the Federal Republic of Germany, can be listened to and/or seen in the GDR. One also has to take into account the activities of our own music industry regarding international and national popular music—broadcast on vari­ous programme-types and available on records, produced by Amiga, another department of VEB Deutsche Schallplatten. It is impossible to mention all the international stars and groups who have given con­certs in the GDR and who have been on television and whose music is played on the programmes of our radio stations or has been recorded. To fully understand the function of radio for the development of music culture as a whole it is important to know that 65 percent of all national radio programmes in GDR are taken up by music. And music is part of 80 percent of the total of radio programmes. But more important for such an understanding is that most of the music broadcast by our stations is popular music. For instance, in 1980 the total of music programmes was (in hours): “serious” music was 5708 hours and popu­lar music was 25.875 (music for entertainment was 4782 hours; dance music was 18.394 hours and folk music was 2699 hours).

The technical conditions in the country provide that all kinds of music can be listened to by almost everyone in almost every situation. In 97.8 percent of all households there is a radio; in many there are two or three. The technical equipment has high-fidelity standard. More than 82 percent of the people between ages 15 and 23 have their own portable radios (more and more with taping-technique). The number of “walkmen” is increasing. The real popular use of radio is evident: more than 70 percent of the people in the GDR, older than 15, listen to the radio on workdays between four and eight o’clock AM. Most of such music is popular music. It is a fact—determined by sociologists— that—like everywhere else—people between the ages of 14 and 25 listen to music for an average of 2 or 3 hours a day, and often more.

Such a general situation in socialist musical culture, caused by the progressing development of mass media technology and with this the high degree of information on international trends, especially com­ing from the centers of popular music, has an enormous impact on the development of our national popular music—not only to copy what is “in” internationally. Such efforts are made by the musicians them­selves, by the gatekeepers of the mass media and by officials of all institutions relevant for cultural and musical policies.

In popular music the singers and musicians generally are more known than the composers, the writers of the lyrics or the arrangers. Often all this is done by the same person or group. We can compare

the number of professional and amateur orchestras in the field of classical music (mentioned above) with the number of groups in popu­lar music. There we had 88 professional—here we have 650 profes­sional orchestras and formations of dance music respectively (includ­ing the professional rock groups); there we had 200 amateur symphony orchestras and chamber music ensembles—here we have 4000 brass bands and folk instrumental orchestras. So in popular music some hundred thousand people are active in music making. Some examples for the international success of some pop musicians will follow later.

Similar to the famous concert halls and opera houses there are some places where especially popular music is performed. Take for example Berlin with the Metropol Theatre (for operettas), the Fried-richstadt Palace (for gig shows, revues —newly built, opened 1984), the Palace of the Republic—or in Dresden the Kulturpalast. In big towns there are also some newly built concert halls, for example in Karl-Marx-Stadt, Cottbus or Gera.

There are many regular pop music festivals and meetings: the International Schlager Festival in Dresden (since 1971); the national festival Days of Chanson in Frankfurt/Oder (since 1973); the National Competition of Singers and Entertainers in Karl-Marx-Stadt (since 1972); the Fair of Entertainers in Leipzig (since 1973); the interna­tional festival Rock for Peace in Berlin (since 1982; 1982 with 15 groups, 1983 with 40); the festival Solibeat in Berlin (the groups do­nated the money for international solidarity); the Political Song Festi­val in Berlin (since 1972 with participants from all over the world). Apart from political songs there is folklore, jazz-rock and advanced, political engaged music from the “serious” sector; the national work­shop Songs & Theatre in Dresden (since 1980: interdisciplinary, in­cluding new forms of chamber music, rock, instrumental theatre, ballet, painting, documentary film); the International Jazz-Stage Berlin (since 1977, modern contemporary jazz); the International Dixieland Festival Dresden (since 1971); Jazz in the Chamber in Berlin (since 1965, reg­ular series of concerts, contemporary jazz); Jazz in the Tip (Theatre in the Palace of the Republic, since 1977. Several days with interna­tional workshops). And there are central and many regional activities in all kinds of popular music, organized by song clubs of the Free German Youth Organization and by jazz clubs of the cultural organiza­tion (Kulturbund): concert series, meetings, discussions and work­shops.

Most of these events are realized in cooperation between the KGD (Central Concert Agency) and the Committee for Entertainment (cen­tral state organization for the development not only of popular music but also of circus, magic arts, etc.). The song movement is organized by the Central Council of the Free German Youth Organization and the folklore movement by the Central House for Folkart in Leipzig.

Many of these events are broadcast by radio and televison. Some of the popular music, played there from international and national musi­cians, is recorded and released by Amiga.

One of the recent events in this line was the 7th National Compet­ition of Singers and Entertainers in Karl-Marx-Stadt, March 1984 . Among the winners of various prizes were singers such as Jorg Hin-demith, H + N (Holger Flesch, Norbert Endlich), Ina-Marie Federowski, Maja-Katrin Fritsche, Conny Strauch, Anke Schenker; and the rock groups City, Pankow, Silly, M. Jones Band, Reggae Play, Rockhouse, Kerstin Radke and the groups Prinz, Scheselong, Zwei Wege, The Gaukler, Juckreiz, and Engerling. A special prize was given to the disc jockey Ingo Schulz. It has already been mentioned that there are many more singers of “Schlager,” more rock groups and many more disc jockeys. The dimensions of popular music in GDR and its popularity, for example, among young people, can be demonstrated by the fact that already in late 1981 the disco form of dancing and entertainment was realized by 6000-8000 amateur disc jockeys and about 106 professionals. They are active all over the country from the big towns to the smallest village—most of them working with their own portable equipment. In 1981 the total of youth dance events was 380,000 with about 76 million visitors. In 1983 the total was 700.000 with about 130 million (not taking into account the thousands of dis­cotheques—each of them with 70,000 — 200,000 visitors a year).

The above mentioned facts may give an impression of the dimen­sions in which the various forms of popular music —international and national—are part of our socialist culture of music.


Some more details and observations about the tendencies and perspectives in various types of popular music may complete the gen­eral outlines.


This is still the most popular part of easy-listening music, in short, mostly simple songs with tunes in quite conventional melodical and harmonical formulas. What has changed in the development of the schlager are the arrangements, where several national traditions and international trends make the sound on the basis of new technological potentials in which also the schlager fits in. There is the line from the old models of “Stimmungslied/’ “Geselliges Lied/’ of “Schunkel-Walzer” or Polka on the one hand—and there are the influences of blues, jazz, beat, rock, reggae on the other. Most important for changes in the sound of the schlager (which existed long before beat and rock came into being) was and is the new striking experience of rock, or better, a certain standardization and the sell out of rock elements—not least in disco music. The schlager have their individual starlets—with

their special forms of presentation on stage. And they have their audi­ences: very young people who prefer the quite abstract emotional patterns of love and pain—and people of several age groups who like the same in retrospective or conventional forms of “Gemütlichkeit.”

Predominant in the total production of “Schlager” is the so called “Tagesschlager.” These are the very standardized little things of short popularity in most cases, written by a relatively small number of people (lyrics, music, arrangement). In this field innovations are but few. The general standard of composition, arrangement and representation can be characterized as mediocre. The standards of expression, the musical patterns are as interchangeable as the singers. It is not necessary to mention titles and names. However, these little things are necessary for many people who like the international and national stars and starlets of this type

To find one’s own position, a kind of socialist identity in the field of “Schlager” has been and is still the most complicated, initiated by the officials in culture and the institutions responsible for this. Throughout the years the official institutions set up the demand of “Schlager” to be both innovative in content and form: close to the real everyday life, to the needs of the masses, and new authentical in music. Though out the years there is a continuity in criticism against the predominant mediocrity and routine, the platitudes and the bore­dom. And on the other hand there have been some outstanding titles as regards lyrics and music every year. Some titles—being very conven­tional—became hits: for instance, the fun-schlager “Sing, mei Sachse Sing”11 (Sing, My Saxonian, Sing), written by Jürgen Hart, sold 500,000 records. Or, the orchestra Jo Kurzweg (a James Last of the GDR) was able to sell two million copies with his Party Sound. More interesting titles were created especially when poets, composers, arrangers and singers left the old patterns and picked up new musical idioms from other genres. And they have been found by certain forms of cooperation with the singers, as, for instance, with Reinhard Lakomy and Angelika Mann. Lakomy’s second album “Lacky and His Stories” sold 200,000 copies. There are also the allround singers Jurgen Walter, Monika Hauff and Klaus-Dieter Henkler. These last two won the “Golden Pigeon” of Montreux some years ago. And there is Frank Schöbel, whose first seven albums and some singles sold two million copies.


As we know, it is typical for rock to be determined essentially by new technical means and conditions of production and reproduction. It is the electrification of sound and the innate potential of recording and the big equipment and sound on stage. It was and is a new quality

of collectivity in production: the group finds a maximum of resources at its disposal in the recording studios—a medium which encourages collective work. Particularly, improvisation can be and is transformed by subsequent decision-making into collective composition, mainly without notation. Predominant is the sound. The electro-accoustical innovations are not so relevant in the melody and harmony as in rhythm and timbre. And this is essentially based on the Afro-American folk tradition. In this line, rock has been and is a new quality in content and form, in the messages and in its multimedial representations as authentic expression of collective experience under conditions of urban life. Realized by young people in a new intensity, full of power and despair, of hopes and fear and, of course, of vitality and fun. Characteristic is the deep criticism of all forms of establishment in society and in music—what in turn always has been criticised by the establishment as aggressive and destructive.

These general properties of rock appear in various styles. They can also be found in the forms of rock “made in GDR.” The social criticism here is not a principal criticism of the aims of socialism or the society ruled by these principles. It is, on this general agreement, a critical position referring to the universal contradictions in the de­velopment of the socialist society itself. And from this difference in the general affirmative social attitudes (which includes criticism) some characteristic aspects of rock “made in GDR” derive.

In general one can find elements of blues in GDR rock. There is ska and rap, hard and folk rock, jazz rock and pop music for dancing. There are phenomena of “New Wave” and reggae, also rhythm and blues and synthesizer sounds. In other forms one can also find ap­proaches to classical music—adaptations of Mozart and Bach and, of course, influences of punk. There are also forms of “Schlager” rock.

The first includes a second general characteristic: in the lyrics ot many titles we can find the individual, engaged expression of collec­tive social experiences, especially of critical young people, close to various areas of every day life (job, school, spare time, nature, environ­ment, the menace of an atomic war—all kinds of human interrelations, of individual conflicts felt as general problems of social development).

A third specific point of rock in the GDR, therefore, and this is true for various styles, is a predominance of “Lied” characters, com­bined with the sound of modern rock. Because of this it is often more difficult than elsewhere to define the differences between rock and chanson or between rock and new forms of “Schlager”. This is the case with the already mentioned Reinhard Lakomy. We have several tendencies regarding these stylistic characteristics of rock: typical is a powerful rock, melodical in the traditon of the German folk song and the “Kunstlied”—not so fast in tempo. Examples of this line are

titles of the Puhdys, Prinzip, Karussel and Silly.

Another stylistic tendency is a kind of hard rock—fast in tempo, fresh and vehement. Examples for this can be found in titles of City II, Berluc, Formel I, Prinzip, Rockhaus and Pankow (one of the most interesting groups in the eighties, with some elements of “New Wave” and punk). More in the line of “New Wave” is the music of Setzei, Herzschlag, Brechreiz, Restbestand, Ausfluss, Maulsperre and the Himbeer-Band.

Another stylistic tendency is the interrelation between rock and folk elements. City I played Bulgarian rock. Folk characters can also be found in titles of Karussel, No 55, Bayon or Bromm Oss. And there is folk rock and country rock in the music of Express, Winni II, Simple Song or Peter Tschernig and Heinz-Jürgen Gottschalk.

It is often difficult to define the difference between rock and chanson and rock and “Schlager”. One finds the stylistic sound-scape of the “Schlager” rock, for instance, in the music of Gabi Rückert, Eva-Maria Pieckert, Petra Zieger or the groups Karat and Wir. The interrelations between rock and blues and rock and jazz will be men­tioned later.

In general, many groups are not fixed in their style of music mak­ing. The styles change in the development of the group or the groups realize several styles in their concerts. Many bands have a Beatle, a rock’n’roll medley (like Chuck Berry) or a solo for percussion in their


Another characteristic point of rock in the GDR is that many groups have complex programmes such as rock suites, cantatas, spectacles: as for instance Lift (“Che Guevara Suite”) or the Stern Combo Meissen (“Weisses Gold”). Pankow realized the rock spectable “Paul Panke”, (a story about a day in the life of an apprentice) and the play “Hans im Glück” (a trial-and-error play of how to become happy). And there are kinds of mini-operas as “Die Sixtinische Madonna” by Electra or “Rosa Laub” by Horst Krueger. Adaptations of classical music have been made by Stern Combo Meissen (Mussorgski) and Bayon (Bach).

In the GDR one also finds women rock bands in popular music. There is above all Mona Lise, and some women are also the leaders of their ensembles: for instance Angelika Mann with Obelisk, Brigitte Stefan with Meridian, Petra Zieger with the Smokings, Katrin Lindner with the Schubert-Band, Tamata Danz with Silly.

The sound of rock in the GDR comes from about 40-50 top groups in the country. There is a lot of live music, but only 200-300 titles (other figures say even 700 for 1983) are produced by radio and the State Record Company. About 50 become hits. More than 50 per cent of the record output of VEB Deutsche Schallplatten is popular music. Radio and its activities are very important for the popularity of rock. International rock and brand new titles of GDR groups are in several

special programs for young people. There is DT 64, the Notenbude, Hallo, the Beat-Box, Mobil, Rock-Radio, Tip-Disco, Trend, Treff or the Tipp-Parade. The Station Stimme der DDR (Voice of the GDR) presents five-hour programs called Rock Around the Clock, which begin at 10:10 p.m. Since September 1981 there is a daily nine-hour program for young people of Berlin and surroundings, beginning at 2:15. There is always a lot of rock and thus, young people like listening to the radio.

All the above mentioned groups—and there are more among the amateurs—present in various styles a special kind of rock. They have built up a specific GDR tradition of rock music. An increasing trend to creating some abstract reality in the critical relationship toward the everyday reality has become a general tendency in recent years: there are many “Lied” titles which have a touch of romanticism, a kind of abstract humanism, far away from the “prose” of reality in the lyrics and the music. This can be felt in some soft-rock titles about war and peace, environmental problems and several other subjects. Some cri­tics have called this the “domestication” of rock (i.e., the end of rock). On the other hand there are at the same time more and more groups, especially among the young amateurs (those who are impressed by punk and the “Ingenious Dilettants”) in whose lyrics and music one can feel an opposition against such “artificialization” of rock, against the perfectionism of idyllic soundscapes, against the patterns of disco music. Because of their provocative messages and their unusual kind of representation, the groups of this orientation sometimes have con­flicts with cultural institutions. Some are accused of imitating attitudes of similar groups in capitalist countries and thus are called destructive and nihilistic.

Many rock musicians become professionals. And some of them become really “popular,” as for example the Puhdys (since 196⅚9). They have put out the highest number of records and have been the first group to tour capitalist countries, including the United States. And they received the National Prize—a public honor for outstanding artists (1982). Between 1973 and 1979 the Puhdys put out about two million records; other statistics say that the first six albums and casset­tes (including exports into other countries) have sold 4.5 million copies. The album “Rock V Roll-Music” sold 720.000 and “Ten Wild Years” sold 300.000 copies in the first nine months. Similar figures have been sold by the soft rock group Karat. Even in capitalist countries millions of their records have been sold. The title “Over seven bridges you must go”—in the version of Peter Maffay (Federal Republic of Ger­many)—has sold 7 million copies.

Some experts say: “Really new manners of playing, new musical material, new techniques didn’t come from rock ‘made in the GDR’ into the international rock-scene… The domain of GDR-rock is the

development of the Lied-characters in pre-given or taken on manners of playing.” (Peter Wicke, 1980) But this is more assimilation than imitation (Olaf Leitner, 1984).

Song movement and chanson

In the mid-sixties many “Hootenanny Clubs” were founded by young people. One of them, called Oktober-Klub since 1966, became the center of a broad amateur song movement in the GDR. Many groups have written and sung their own lyrics and songs. These small groups expressed their actual social experiences in the development of socialist society, in relation to what happened all over the world. The young people didn’t wait for the professional poets and composers to write for them. (Some, of course, did, as for instance Gisela Steineckert.) They did this by themselves—using their voices and the instru­ments which they were able to play (mostly guitars). And they did it very flexibly—as immediate reaction to political events. Most of the clubs have been politically engaged. They made and make up the political song movement. From this point of view many old and/or new international political songs of democratic, revolutionary, anti-im­perialist character, also plebeian folk songs, etc. have been redisco­vered or taken from all over the world, wherever such songs came out and were part of progressive political movements in our times.

So the song clubs were and are at the same time musical and political groups: i.e., clubs where young people discuss political prob­lems, new songs, dance, meet a girlfriend or boyfriend. The character of these groups was and is quite different from the choirs in the trad­itional folk music movement, which is also part of the organized popu­lar music activities in the GDR. Those choirs and instrumental groups are mixed; made up by older and younger music lovers. Those amateurs drew and still draw the criteria of singing and playing from the standards set by professional ensembles. And they took and still take the music from the professional composers—from the famous classical and from the “serious” contemporary ones. The aim of these ensembles is to win a prize at one of the many competitions, and thus to count in the category of first class amateur ensembles.

Contrary to that the movement of political songs was and is the affair of the young people themselves. In general it is organized by the Free German Youth Organization. There are also forms of compet­itions and workshops, but they have another character. It is more important to make music together, to compare the various songs of the clubs which participate at a concert, especially at the Political Song Festival. This very interesting international festival was initiated by the Oktober-Klub. The chief organizers of the Festival (annually in February in Berlin) are former members of the Oktober-Klub. Other members now are high up in the State Record Company, in the Head­quarters of the Free German Youth Organization or in the Committee

for Entertainment. Some of the first members became professional writers and/or singers: Barbara Thalheim, Reinhold Andert, Jürgen Walter. A part of the Oktober-Klub became the first professional group in this field—Jahrgang 49 (no longer existing). And in general some of the best poets writing for rock groups started in the political song movement, as for instance Kurt Demmler and Werner Karmer.

Song clubs exist everywhere: in factories, in administrations, in schools, at universities, in the army. Some are very active, and some already existed a long time and are well known in the country, as for instance, Brigade Feuerstein (amateurs who are musically close to rock. They include elements of circus and variety in their programs). Very interesting are the new professional groups Wacholder (close to folklore), Gruppe Schicht and Karl Enkel (both are presenting a new kind of song theatre). Well known poets and solo-singers are Reinhold Andert, Kurt Demmler, Gerhard Gundermann, Bernd Rump, Dieter Beckert, Hans-Eckart Wenzel, Steffen Mensching and Wolfgang Protze.

There are many songs in this movement which could also be called chansons. They are in the tradition of the type of politically engaged solo songs, in which all kinds of problems are reflected—in­cluding the manner of singing. Many singers of chansons are not only singers but actors and actresses as well. Some of the best known are Gisela May (well known for her Brecht/Eisler, Brecht/Weill programs; she gave a lot of concerts in the United States), Vera Oehlschlegel, Thea Elster, Sonja Kehler, Gina Pietsch or Hans Radloff—to mention only a few.


As a specific manner of creativity and expression in music, the traditional jazz and the contemporary jazz are an important part of popular music in the GDR. Many outstanding musicians are involved in jazz. There are many single concerts, series of concerts and festivals, often organized by jazz clubs existing in many towns, especially in the south of the country (for instance Peitz, Leipzig, Glauchau, Weimar, Dresden and Freiberg). One trend in jazz is traditional jazz (Dixieland-Revival). This is the domain of the amateurs—sometimes with high musical standards (for instance the Berlin Jazz Col­legium).More important are two other trends: contemporary jazz and blues.

Contemporary jazz is the result of a development evolved from an assimilation of the early American forms after World War II (bebop, cool jazz, hardbop), international trends of the sixties (Free jazz) and new forms of rock, soul and tendencies in advanced “serious” music. Impulses for this development, in which the jazz musicians of the GDR found their own profile, came not only from outstanding jazz

musicians in the United States but also from new jazz in Czechos­lovakia and Poland. The styles are varied. There is one kind of rock jazz, represented by the music of Günther Fischer and the Modern Soul Band. Pop jazz is played by the orchestra Fusion. And there is contemporary, new jazz by Ernst Ludwig Petrowsky and Friedhelm Schoenfeld, Ulrich Gumpert and Konrad Bauer. The music played by Herrmann Keller and Manfred Schulze or by the Hanno-Rempel-tentett comes from the borderland between jazz and advanced “serious” music. Interesting adaptations of compositions of Hanns Eisler have been made by the Hannes-Zerbe-Blechband.

And there is blues in the GDR, with many outstanding musicians and concerts,and many blues fans. Stefan Diestelmann (now living in the Federal Republic of Germany) has been very important in the field of popular music as has been and still is Jürgen Kerth. The most outstanding of the groups are Engerling and Monokel. And there are and have been many others: Ergo, Travellin’ Blues, Jonathan Blues Band, Albatros, Freygang, Blues Vital, Morgenrock, Modern Blues, Erdmann & Co, Handarbeit and the Hof-Blues Band (some of which do not exist any longer). In jazz and blues there are many international links. Many American musicians have been to the GDR for concerts (at the already mentioned international festivals). Sometimes they have played together with jazz musicians from the GDR. Impressed by the blues scene here, Memphis Slim said on the occasion of one of his concerts: “Only two countries can be called the homeland of blues— the United States and the GDR.”

The musical life in the sphere of popular music is varied. More and more people become involved in the different fields of rock, the song movement, the neo-folklore, jazz and blues. There are even more—such as traditional folk dance and new trends of folk dance revival (which cannot be mentioned here). All these forms of popular music have their forms of organization and institutions. Results of music making, experiences and concepts for the further development are discussed and generalized in clubs, journals (Melodie und Rhythmus, Musik und Gesellschaft, Unterhaltungskunst), in work­shops and at conferences. And of course the general criteria for the political evaluation of various popular music, for decision on the pro­duction and the profiles of radio programmes or records, for financing and programmatic orientation of workshops, national and international festivals are laid down in the resolutions of the Socialist Unity Party on cultural policies, i.e. the main aims and concrete tasks for the development and improvement of socialist culture as a part of socialist society as a whole. Achieving these goals is a process in which new experiences are made and of finding new programmatic generaliza­tions for the next stage, a process in which many people take part, of course, with various standards of information, knowledge, scales of values and influence.

In this collective process of learning, common patterns of evalu­ation change very slowly. New ideas and achievements—at first per­ceived very sceptically, refused (even by administrative measures)— later have been accepted as a result of practical experiences and ideological discussions. This can be proved in the historical develop­ment of popular music in the GDR. In the fifties and early sixties, beat, rock and jazz were refused. It took a long time to come to a more differentiated consciousness among all those, who have been afraid that this music, coming from capitalist countries (unconventional and much more attractive for many young people than the traditional forms of popular music) would transport only bourgeois ideas into the upcom­ing socialist culture. And independent from the intentions of the musi­cians some kinds of these forms of popular music, under certain cir­cumstances, had political effects which encouraged such positions and made it more difficult for the people in administrations, schools and organizations to understand the general authentic, aesthetic values in the new international, and the new upcoming national forms of popular music. So some musicians sometimes had hard times. It is important to understand the contradictions between individual needs, desires, activities on the one hand and the centralized planning and leadership, which are historically necessary, on the other. Such contradictions belong to the complicated process of making a socialist society—and for that matter a popular culture which corresponds with this new type of social interrelations, a popular culture which should be and is indeed an active factor in finding new values, values from the viewpoint of the working people. As we have sketched there have been many good experiences and many good achievements in the 35 years of GDR. One of these is a rich musical life in popular music.


Several activities in popular music correspond with the various fields of popular music and their history. Thirty years ago the Arbeiter-lied-Archive at the Academy of Arts in Berlin was founded (run by Inge Lammel) to collect the musical heritage of democratic and re­volutionary movements in German history, especially the musical heritage of the German Workers Movement, and of course, of anti-fas­cist activities. For musicology this brought new impulses and results especially in musical-ethnology: research of democratic forms of mass culture in history (Wolfgang Steinitz, Erich and Doris Stockmann, Lukas Richter, Jürgen Elsner, Axel Hesse).

Parallel to the organized folklore revival (amateur choirs, instru­mental groups, dancers, theatres, etc.) the Zentralhaus Fur Volkskunst (Central House for Folkarts), an institution not only for the organization of this movement but also for theoretical research and programmatic generalizations has been founded.

The Song Center (for documentation, organization of workshops, theoretical seminars—Heinz Tosch, Karin Wolf) was founded when the political song movement became more and more important (located at the Academy of Arts in Berlin). During the political Song Festival theoretical discussions about various subjects take place.

Another line of popular music research is the activities of the < empirical sociology of music (and arts), and the radio, especially in

the Central Institute for Youth Research. Here we have important findings regarding mass communication and the use of arts (Lothar Bisky, Jochen Hahn, Dieter Wiedemann). Sociological research and analysis have been realized also at the universities of Leipzig and Jena (Günter K. Lehmann, Dieter Sommer, Bianca Tanzer).

Theoretical research on general problems of mass culture, mass media and arts, and popular music is realized at the Academy of Humanities, the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party (Hel­mut Hanke, Dieter Ulle) and at the Humboldt-University (theory of culture, history of culture, mass culture, aesthetics in modern societies, musicology: Dietrich Mühlberg, Wolfgang Heise, Arno Hochmuth, Günter Mayer, Peter Wicke).

In September 1983 a Centre for Popular Music Research was founded at the Institute for Musicology (run by Peter Wicke). Main aims are to collect and write books on the history of popular music, the physiognomy of rock, a handbook of popular music and a theory of musical mass culture.

As regards jazz there are only a few people active in research and publications: earlier on André Asriel, now Karlheinz Drechsel and Bernt Noglik. Several activities in popular music research (documen­tation, publication of papers, in addition to the journal Unterhal-tungskunst, and theoretical seminars) are organized by the Committee for Entertainment. Since 1981 international theoretical seminars on popular music research in socialist countries have been organized (Peter Wicke, Günter Mayer).

It is a logical consequence that representatives of the GDR took part in the foundation and the improvement of the International Associ­ation for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM). In 1982 a meeting of the Temporary Executive Committee of IASPM took place in the GDR. At the General Assembly of IASPM after the Second International Conference on Popular Music Studies (1983 in Reggio Emilia, Italy), the author of this paper was elected Chairman of this new international organization—which has a very active Branch Committee in the United States (Charles Hamm, Larry Grossberg, Peter Winkler and many others).


Professor Dr. sc. Günter Mayer, Humboldt-Universität, Berlin, GDR.

In: Journal of Popular Culture, Volume 18:3, winter 1984, 145-158

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