"I have at last learned the lesson that has been forced upon me during this year, and I shall not ever forget it. It is that I am not a German, not a European, indeed perhaps scarcely a human being (at least the Europeans prefer the worst of their race to me) but I am a Jew."--Arnold Schoenberg
After the horrors of World War I, most Europeans expressed their sense of freedom by embracing the roaring twenties. A decadent lifestyle was emerging from the nightlife of jazz clubs and cabarets. Berlin was at the heart of the bold and innovative music trends of the 1920s and 1930s. Musicians experimented with their art by pushing away from accepted musical forms and finding new ones.
While many Europeans were celebrating new-found freedom in the arts, Germany was already beginning to fall under the shadow of the swastika. For almost 100 years, an atmosphere of antisemitism had been growing in Europe. Richard Wagner, the well-known composer, had spoken publicly against the Jewish people in his booklet, Das Judebthum in die Musik (Judaism in Music). The Nazi Party played upon these historic prejudices in their rise to power.
Nineteenth-century psychologists introduced the term degenerate or entartete to describe any deviance or clinical mental illness. Later a broader definition was applied to include scientific literature (medical, biology and anthropology). By 1933 Hitler's Third Reich referred to the mentally ill, communists, Gypsies, homosexuals and Jews as subspecies of the human race. The words "Jewish," "Degenerate," and "Bolshevik" were commonly used to describe any art or music not acceptable to the Third Reich. The Nazi propaganda poster at left is a crude exaggeration of the original poster for the opera Jonny spielt auf. This grotesque figure became the Nazi symbol for all they considered "degenerate" in the arts. Hitler envisioned the day when German culture would be free of "morbid excrescencies of insane and degenerate men."
After the race laws of 1933, the Reichsmusikkammer (Reich Music Chamber) required a registry of all German musicians. As a result, hundreds of talented composers had their work deliberately suppressed and careers ended simply because their race or style of music offended the Third Reich. By 1938, examples of degenerate music were on display at the Entarte Musik Exhibit for the public to view. Famous works by Mendelssohn, Mahler, and Schoenberg were used as examples of unacceptable music. A generation of incredibly innovative and promising musicians was virtually excluded from its place in music history.
The Reichsmusikkammer registry was completed in 1940 and included all musicians' race and religion. Those Jews who had escaped detection up until 1940 were now in jeopardy. It was easy to find and arrest Jews based on this list. The following composers were considered "degenerate" by the Nazi regime.
Berthold Goldschmidt (1903-1996) was a prominent Jewish composer and conductor who had experienced harassment as a Jew even before Hitler came to power. He escaped to England in 1935. He stayed in obscurity until the 1980s when his work was again recognized internationally.
A short biography of the composer.
Otto Klemperer (1885-1973) emerged as one of the leading German conductors of his generation. After conducting Tannhäser in 1933 on the 50th anniversary of Wagner's death, Klemperer fled to the United States to escape Nazi persecution. He became conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 1937. By 1955, after years of health problems, he was appointed the principal conductor of the London Philharmonic.
Otto Klemperer Web site.
Ernst Krenek (1900-1991) was considered a respectable German Catholic until he wrote a modern opera called Jonny Spielt Auf. The storyline of the opera featured a black man as the main character. The opera was a musical mix of jazz, spiritual, and classical. He employed special sound effects to depict traffic noise, trains, and sirens within the music.
Biography of Ernst Krenek and information about his music. Listen to String Quartet No. 8, op. 233.
Erik Korngold (1897-1957) was a Jewish child prodigy. By the age of ten, he composed "Der Schneemann" which was orchestrated and conducted by his teacher Zemlinksy. In 1934 he began writing musical arrangements for Hollywood films. While working in the United States in 1938, the Nazis seized his Austrian home and property. Korngold never returned to lve again in Austria. His lengthy Hollywood career produced two Academy Awards for film scores. He was a popular composer for films, generating music for more than 20 movies.
Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) Though Schoenberg emigrated to the United States just after Hitler came to power in 1933, he understood what it meant to be persecuted and what lay ahead for the Jews who did not leave Germany. He foresaw the decimation of the Jews, and tried to get the public's attention. His agenda stated 1) antisemitism must be stopped; 2) a united Jewish party must be created; 3) unanimity in Jewry must be priority; 4) an independent Jewish state must be created. It is no wonder he drew the hatred of Hitler and the Nazis. He was telling the world that Hitler was dangerous before Hitler had a stranglehold on the German people.
The Legacy of Arnold Schoenberg: his music, artwork, and writings along with photographs, a videography, bibliography, and related links.
Bruno Walter (1876-1962) was born Bruno Walter Schlesinger. Walter was the conductor of the Leipzig Orchestra and frequent guest conductor of the Berlin Orchestra prior to the Third Reich. In 1933 the Nazi government canceled his concerts due to the "threat to public order." They could no longer guarantee his personal safety. Walter fled to Austria and then to the United States where he became a well know conductor and music advisor.
The Bruno Walter page at Sony Classical.
Anton Webern (1883-1945) was a staunch follower of Hitler, though not a member of the Nazi party. He agreed with Hitler's writings, and felt that Hitler would moderate his policies concerning the Jews after the first display of power. He was friends with Schoenberg, an exiled German Jew whose music had been classified as degenerate and thereby banned. This friendship along with his advocacy of atonality in music got his works listed as degenerate. The Nazis burned his writings and forbade performances of his music after Hitler took over Austria. He retired to a life in the country toward the end of the war. He was accidentally shot to death by an American soldier in 1945 while smoking a cigarette outside his daughter's home in Mittersill.
The Anton Webern page at Classical Music Pages.
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A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
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