FT Interviews the “Wholesaler of Entertainment”

Bertrand Benoit of the Financial Times tries to penetrate the mystery of German Volksmusik:

Ten years ago I spent an evening with German relatives in a vast beer hall housed in a tent overlooking a snowy valley. The beer was good, but the musical accompaniment – bouncy, folksy brass- and-accordion fare played by four moustachioed men wearing lederhosen – was a violent assault on good taste. Or so I thought until I discovered that my companions were immersed in a powerful trance, tapping their feet, hugging strangers, and raising their tankards skywards every 20 seconds.

This was my first brush with Volksmusik, a melodic form whose mysteries are beyond the reach of anyone not born in Germanic culture. To the unitiated, it is the pinnacle of kitsch, bucolic nonsense put to simplistic, sickly sweet music. It is the tonal equivalent of wooden cuckoo clocks.

Like most non-Germans, he comes to the conclusion that an ability to tolerate the many forms of German Volksmusik is probably an inherited genetic predisposition that non-Germans will never be able to acquire. He interviews Volksmusik impresario Hans Beierlein, who charmingly refers to himself as a "wholesaler of entertainment," and who has interesting things to say about why Volksmusik sounds the way it does, and why certain Germans love it so.

I learned from the article that Beierlein rescued the career of one of my personal favorites, Heino, "who, because of his strange albino looks and persistent (but incorrect) rumours about his reputedly right-wing leanings, had suffered from a near universal media boycott."

5 thoughts on “FT Interviews the “Wholesaler of Entertainment”

  1. I am by no means an amateur of Volksmusik and switch channels whenever the Musikantenstadl comes up. But just look at the the tone and choice of words M. Benoit uses – a very good example of “mit den Deutschen kann man’s ja machen”.

  2. Has Heino suffered from a boycott? Poor one! That´s not fair with the Lord of Bad Münstereifel.

    I think any culture has some crap that only the locals will like and understand: If you want some popular corny brasilian music I recomend to google “Sertanejo” “Pagode” and “axé”

  3. But just look at the the tone and choice of words M. Benoit uses – a very good example of “mit den Deutschen kann man’s ja machen”.

    I hadn’t noticed it while reading the article, but you’ve got a point there. Not so much in that we somehow get singled out. But imagine a German magazine published an article about American country music in a similar tone of voice (certainly no unrealistic conception) … and you can almost hear the cries about the anti-Americanism and about how they would never write in the same style about Icelandic folk music etc. etc. 😉

    I would like to reinforce Norbert’s point, however: German genes may be necessary to like Volksmusik, but they aren’t sufficient. Personally I suspect a widespread birth defect.

    Has Heino suffered from a boycott?

    I don’t know that, but I do know that he had a prime-time TV show in the early 90s which was called “Hallo Heino,” and which was subject to much ridicule among us teenagers then. (Now, looking back, we aren’t too proud of our Hasselhoff obsession at the time either.)

  4. One thing to add: if talking about German folksy musik, one should always distinguish – and my earlier post shows that I didn’t – between the various forms of instrumental music that is traditionally played in the rural areas of Southern Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Northern Italy (“Volksmusik” strictu sensu), and the more commercialised, singing and harmonica-based pop version you can witness in prime-time TV shows (the exact term for the latter is “volkstümliche Musik”). Although volkstümliche Musik is somehow derived from Volksmusik, it probably makes the “assault on good taste” feel more painful for people like M. Benoit.

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