IT is called "Entartete Musik." Literally translated, it means
"degenerate music," and it is the phrase coined by the Nazis in
the 1930s to refer to any music not fitting into their agenda to
maintain cultural purity. That included music that was atonal,
music that was influenced by jazz, and any music composed by a
member of the Jewish faith.
This wholesale policy of censorship in the name of ideology cut
short the careers, even lives, of many notable composers of the
day, effectively lopping off an entire branch of the tree of 20th-
century music. And for nearly half a century, music by composers
such as Pavel Haas, Erwin Schulhoff, and Hans Krasa, to name just
three who perished in the Holocaust, has lain quiet, the result of
ignorance, neglect, and time.
This month, Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., opened a
five-week retrospective of music banned by the Nazis called
"Silenced Voices," which features an exhibition, concerts, and
lectures, along with satellite events at the Longy School and New
England Conservatory of Music. The commemoration is the idea of
Mark Ludwig, a violist with the Boston Symphony and the
founder-director of Terezin Chamber Music Foundation, dedicated to
fostering an awareness and appreciation of music written by Jewish
composers who perished in the Holocaust.
The foundation is a cosponsor of the retrospective. "In terms
of social impact, showing the genesis of this music under such
horrible circumstances is a wonderful way to stimulate people to
think about the horrors of prejudice, racism, intolerance, and
censorship," Mr. Ludwig says.
Ludwig's commitment to this music began just over seven years
ago as the convergence of several interests. "I had already
founded a chamber music series that prided itself on diverse
programming, avoiding the well-trod path. I was also reading a
biography of Rabbi Leo Beck, the chief rabbi in Berlin before the
war. He was incarcerated in Theresienstadt and mentioned going to
a concert given by two composers who were also incarcerated. This
piqued my interest. I had never heard these names, and nobody else
I knew had either. I thought maybe if a few pieces had survived, it
would be interesting to put them on my series."
Ludwig concentrated his search on Theresienstadt, a transit
point to the Nazi death camps that the Nazis periodically spruced
up to use as a "Paradise Ghetto" for propaganda films. It became
the last home for many of Europe's most gifted composers, and a
surprising amount of impressive music was created there. "To have
a cultural community active in a concentration camp, it's such a
unique, bizarre thing," Ludwig says. "And not all this music is
depressing by any means. A lot of it is very uplifting or
reminiscent of a better time."
Ludwig used his own money for travel to Europe to get access to
the music that survived. …