The Inclusion of “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg”

Scene 3 provides the audience with panoramic views of an early morning in Nuremberg. The camera starts by peering out of a high window onto the rooftops of the city, with smoke issuing from the chimneys of the surrounding houses. The scenery is very picturesque and the excitement of the Nazi Party rally is briefly forgotten as we tour the city in the quiet morning. It is during this scene that the audience hears the “Awaken Chorus” from Wagner’s opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The music matches the beautiful scenery of the medieval city with a lyrical and melancholy brass melody that symbolizes the peaceful morning and reflects the innocent character of the city. Nuremberg is an earthly city, but the music evokes the image of a celestial city, a heavenly place of blissful peace.

In Die Meistersinger, the “Awaken Chorus” is part of the prelude to Act III and interrupts a sorrowful string passage in the key of D minor by transitioning to a horn melody in G major. In the score, the beginning of the passage is marked with the German words Sehr feierlich or “very solemnly” in English. The passage is indeed deeply moving and, like many of Wagner’s low brass fanfares, conjures up a feeling of otherworldliness. It is worth noting, however, that the passage is extremely simple. The passage is only comprised of a french horn melody and a trombone accompaniment. The melody itself is mostly consonant and stepwise, there being only a couple of leaps of an interval larger than a third.

The use of this particular Wagner passage is a significant detail. Because Wagner had a tendency to write harmonically dense passages, the presence of a simple passage quickly catches the listener’s attention and should be considered important. For this reason, the presence of this passage in the film should be considered equally significant. Of all the musical excerpts from all the Wagnerian operas, this excerpt was the only passage chosen to be included in the film. At the point that the the “Awaken Chorus” is performed in Die Meistersinger, one of the opera’s main characters, Hans Sachs, is engrossed in the quiet reading of a book. According to opera critic Burton Fisher, “a solemn, broadly phrased theme suggests Sachs’ profound character: cobbler, poet and philosopher.” These characteristics are very similar to the traits of Hitler’s personality that Riefenstahl promotes in the film. Throughout the film, Hitler is seen, like the cobbler, as a hard worker and, like the poet and philosopher, as a visionary.

The similarities between Hitler and cobbler reveal something very important about the film: Hitler is made to look cheerful and personable. At this point in the history of the Third Reich, the German people have only come to know Hitler through his book, Mein Kampf, and his speeches. In these mediums, Hitler voices his frustrations with Germany’s past and his revolutionary ideas for the future, conveying a tough, intense demeanor. In this film, however, we see a much softer side of him, and the inclusion of music from Die Meistersinger helps to convey this gentler side. The choice to include the excerpt from Wagner’s opera was not made by Windt, but was instead made by Riefenstahl herself. It must also be noted that Wagner was one of Hitler’s favorite composers and one wonders whether or not Hitler’s influence led to the inclusion of the piece. Regardless of whose choice it was to include the excerpt, the result is the same.