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The tradition of a New Year’s Day concert dates back to 1939, shortly after the outbreak of World War II, when the philharmonic began performing Strauss-heavy concerts around New Year’s Day. In 1939, Clemens Krauss, with the support of Vienna Gauleiter Baldur von Schirach, devised a New Years' concert which the orchestra dedicated to Kriegswinterhilfswerk ('Winter War Relief'), to improve morale at the front lines.

"Goldener Saal" (Golden Hall) of the Musikverein (Photo Credit)

As Vienna Philharmonic's Web tells us, the first New Year's Concert took place during the darkest chapter of the history of Austria and that of the Vienna Philharmonic. In the midst of barbarism, dictatorship and war, at a time of constant worry regarding the lives of members and their families, the Philharmonic sent an ambivalent signal: the net income from a concert dedicated to compositions by the Strauss dynasty which was performed on December 31, 1939, was donated entirely to the national-socialistic fund-raising campaign "Winter War Relief".

The idea of a seasonal Strauss gala really gained traction when the Nazi party's cultural commissars hit upon the idea of a unifying event that could be broadcast live across the Third Reich. The concert moved to New Year's Day in 1941. On January 1, 1941, a Philharmonic matinee entitled "Johann Strauss Concert" was performed. Taking place in the middle of the war, many regarded this as an expression of Viennese individuality, but it was also misappropriated for the national-socialistic propaganda of the "Großdeutscher Rundfunk". Clemens Krauss conducted these concerts until the end of the war. After World War II, this concert survived, as the Nazi origins were largely forgotten, until more recently.

As BBC reports, Baldur von Schirach, the Nazi gauleiter, or governor, of Vienna deported tens of thousands of Jews. He was awarded the orchestra's prestigious ring of honour in 1942. Staggeringly, after the medal was lost, he was given a replacement when he was released from Spandau Prison more than 20 years later.

That fact emerged after independent historians were allowed access to the Vienna Philharmonic's vast archive and their often shocking reports on its attitude during and after the war have now been published on the orchestra's own website. Since then, the orchestra has revoked awards it made to six leading Nazis including von Schirach.

The Spectator tells us, that the tradition, however, is decidedly pernicious. This concert came into being as a gift to Nazi criminals, a cover for genocide. The Vienna Philharmonic was quick to sack Jewish and leftist musicians when Hitler came to town. More than a dozen were sent to concentration camps; seven of them perished. The orchestra unanimously endorsed the Anschluss with Germany, exhorted by the conductor Karl Böhm to declare ‘a 100 per cent “yes”’, and proved a willing executioner of cultural cleansing, removing Mahler and other giants from its walls and histories.

But racist revisionism yielded no instant reward. Vienna was downgraded by the Nazis to a provincial capital and the Philharmonic feared losing status. So the players went wooing Baldur von Schirach, the Vienna Gauleiter, a lover of music who would send 65,000 Viennese Jews to their deaths.

The Vienna Music Association's concert hall in 2004 (Photo Credit)

Nowdays, the Vienna New Year's Concert (Neujahrskonzert der Wiener Philharmoniker) is a concert of classical music performed by the Vienna Philharmonic that takes place each year in the morning of New Year's Day in Vienna, Austria and is regarded by many as the most important classical concert worldwide. It is broadcast live around the world to an estimated audience of more than 50 million in 73 countries in 2012 and 93 countries in 2017.


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