Congratulations are in order, then – after a cracking game with Uruguay, Germany have finished third! And they completely deserve it, too.
As a direct follow-on from my little rant about the 2006 World Cup in yesterday’s blog, one of the things Italy’s success at that tournament proved is that you can win the competition without being the best team. Now, I’m not saying that’s the case in 2010 (Spain, of course, beat Germany when it really matters) but after their simply sublime 4-1 and 4-0 maulings of two of the pre-tournament favourites, Germany could certainly make a very, very strong case for having been the best team here. Certainly they’ve been the best to watch, with their extreme youth (experienced old head Bastian Schweinsteiger is only 26) adding a great dollop of fizz and adventure to their finely-tuned, well organized, hard-working tactics. Indeed, a full set of World Cup Oscars would almost certainly favour Germany more than anybody – Joachin Loew for best manager and best dressed, Phillip Lahm for best eyebrows, Hans-Jorge Butt for most childishly amusing surname (shared with Waldo Ponce), Thomas Mueller for best young player, and Mezut Ozil for both biggest revelation and greatest lookalike. Honestly, just look at the range of things this man looks like.
I spent far too long working on that.
Where to start with German music, then? How do you even begin to approach such a vast, famous, dominant entity? How do you narrow down a possible 25 or 50 videos which wouldn’t even tell the full story to just 3? You do it by posting the best cunting band of all shitting time, that’s fucking how!
But even if you take Kraftwerk – the band that invented 90% of all the good things about pop music – out of the equation, Germany’s contribution to electronic music is unparalleled. The Krautrock pioneers they left behind in 1974 – Can, Faust, Tangerine Dream, La Dusseldorf, Neu!, Amon Düül II, Cluster, Faust – were among the first rock musicians to really take to electronic influences, turning the first two Silver Apples albums from a one-off curiosity into holy texts, and fertilizing the soil that every electronic genre of the ’80s and beyond would grow from (not to mention some of the most important acts of the late ’70s, from Suicide to Donna Summer). It all, of course, goes back further than the first wave of experimental German rock – the benevolent, omnipotent force that drove right through the movement was Karlheinz Stockhausen, whose influence of electronic music of all kinds is beyond compare.
That influence is written about all much, though; what’s not written about so much is his importance to German culture. It should go without saying that World War II, and the atrocities committed by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party, absolutely decimated Germany’s standing in the world, and their proud musical history – perhaps the most impressive in the world – looked as though it was coming to an end. Why would anybody listen to anything German after what they’d done? And why would any Germans bother to make forward-thinking music, knowing it would fall on deaf ears? Stockhausen was the man that bucked that trend, eventually becoming as big a part of their contribution to music as Wagner, and this piece – Hymnen – is vital to that. A piece composed of various national anthems, all electronically treated, it was interpreted both as a horrified reaction to the Holocaust and as a tribute to the cross-cultural, inclusive nature of music. Coming at a time when the wounds of the war were still fresh, it was a bold, brave, vital statement.
And despite all the fine modern Germanic music, from Stockhausen, there is only one place to go. Germany’s position in western classical music is astonishing – name the five most famous composers of all time, and four of them are German. That is genuinely gobsmacking – they’ve got Bach, AND Mozart, AND Beethoven, AND Wagner. Only Tchaikovsky can really claim to be up there with them. It just doesn’t seem fair, does it? And then there’s Handel, Brahms, Meyerbeer, Pachalbel, Weber, Bruck, Mendelssohn (Felix and Fanny), Schumann (Robert and Clara), Strauss (only Richard), Orff….
It’s an outrageous list, and the truth is that I’m only picking Felix Mendelssohn out of a sort of pity. It’s been vogue to dislike Mendelssohn for longer than any of us have been alive, largely due to Wagner’s vitriolic dismissal of his work and life (fuelled in no small part by anti-semitism, as the essay Das Judenthum in der Musik proves), but his music, unusually traditional for its time, has survived and still sounds inspiring, fresh, and cinematic, without sacrificing any of the programmatic descriptiveness typical of his contemporaries. Look out for the animal noises late on in this composition.