Magazine article Gramophone

Forbidden Music

Magazine article Gramophone

Forbidden Music

Article excerpt

Forbidden Music

The Jewish Composers Banned by the Nazis

By Michael Haas

Yale UP London, HB, 336pp, 25 [pounds sterling]

ISBN 978-0-30015-430-6

'My parents were deported from Nice in the autumn of 1943, first into the notorious camp at Drancy. From there, we lost track. I hope they didn't have to suffer too much.' The words are George Szell's, written to the composer Hans Gal on May 30, 1946. The tragic acceptance in Szell's tone, his characteristic reserve and, in another letter from a few days later, his candid confession that 'I haven't the slightest sense of nostalgia for my former corner of the world' typify two aspects of this revelatory study that will haunt you long after the closing images of Korngold's heart-rending return home have faded: namely pathos and loss.

Michael Haas's greatest achievement as a recording producer was as the prime mover behind Decca's groundbreaking Entartete Musik ('Degenerate Music') series, a venture that died long before its time, and my only regret is that Forbidden Music didn't come first. If it had, then perhaps interest in (and support for) the recording venture would have survived a little longer.

This is in essence a beautifully written history book that places the tortuous advance of Austro-German anti-Semitism in a musical context, starting with the 19th century and leading through two world wars to the Cold War, and the shocking but predictable fact that even the horrors of the Holocaust did little to stem the flood of racist bile among (largely) ex-Nazi agitators. Making music has always been central to the Jewish psyche, and the fact that gifted Jewish composers were deemed dispensable by the Nazis on racial grounds not only threw hundreds of lives into disarray (or worse) but deprived the German people themselves of much that is artistically rich. Haas's enterprise aims at redressing the balance in memory of a lost generation.

As to stated attitudes, one only has to read the works of the noted American cultural and literary historian Sander Gilman to learn how through the centuries Jewish self-esteem has had its highs and lows, and Haas's book is full of what at first glance might seem like contradictory attitudes from various Jewish musicians and intellectuals. Some of the most interesting observations relate to Mahler, especially those from Erich Wolfgang Korngold's feared and revered critic-father, Julius. …

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