“The only way I could grasp this period of German history was as a terrible dream,” wrote East German composer Georg Katzer (b. 1935) in the program notes to his electroacoustic collage Aide Mémoire.
Premiered on Radio DDR in January 1983 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Nazi Machtergreifung, Aide Mémoire was commissioned for a commemorative event intended to bolster East Germany’s foundational narrative of antifascism. But rather than a sonic counterpart to this official history of communist resistance fighters and Soviet salvation, Aide Mémoire is a fragmentary collage in which Nazi speeches clash with folksongs, jingoistic marching songs are cut alongside masterpieces of the Austro-Germanic canon, and the sounds of the Third Reich are presented in their original form, with no markers or explanation. In other words, Katzer used the framework of an official commemorative event to voice his own reading of German history. By examining Katzer’s piece as part of a forty-year history of antifascist works, this paper charts a significant and under-examined tradition of antifascism in music, and demonstrates how these pieces provided an expressively ambiguous space that offered multiple readings of the past, some of which ran counter to official narratives. Over the course of East Germany’s forty-year existence, antifascism emerged as a foil for composers to voice interlocking concerns within the expressive constraints of their state.