Forbidden Music: Composers banned by the Third Reich

May 4, 2017 by Stevie Whitmont
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Continuing a series by Stevie Whitmont of music banned by the Nazis…this month features Bertholdt Goldschmidt (1903-1996).

Bertholdt Goldschmidt

String Quartet No. 2 (1936) was the first piece written by Berthold Goldschmidt in London, after fleeing from Nazi Germany.  Norman Lebrecht, British music commentator, writes of this work that it was “…the finest piece of music written anywhere in the world in 1936.”  And importantly, that “it was written neither in rage nor in retrospect.  It looked, instead, ahead to a new life”.   Goldschmidt himself wrote of this personal and highly charged music, that it expressed “fear, flight, and grief, combined with feelings of joy at arriving in England”.

Goldschmidt had achieved a brilliant early career in Germany.  He studied with the famed Franz Schreker, won the Mendelssohn Prize at age 22 for his composition Passacaglia, and was hailed in 1932 by a Mannheim music critic as “the white hope of German music” for his tragicomedy Der gewaltige Hahnrei (The Cuckold).  Nevertheless, in 1933 he was dismissed from work at the Berlin State Opera and his music classed as degenerate.  It was too progressive (and he was Jewish).  On advice from an SS officer, he emigrated to England in 1935.  By the end of WWII, 22 members of his family had perished in Auschwitz and Belsen.

The anticipated “new life” in England failed to materialise:  Goldschmidt’s music was “stunted” by British attitudes and lack of acceptance.  He found work during the war at the BBC as Music Director of their German Service, but faced with the British attitude of indifference to his music he decided to stop composing altogether in 1958.  Goldschmidt subsequently collaborated on a new edition of Mahler’s 10th Symphony (and conducted its world premiere in 1964 with the London Symphony Orchestra).  After a long silence of 25 years he wrote Clarinet Quartet (1982); he was fully “rediscovered” in the 1990’s, when The Decca Record Company decided to record his works as part of its Entartete Musik project.  At the age of 87, String Quartet No. 2 was Goldschmidt’s first – ever recording.  Between 1982 and 1996, his writing flourished with a late, rich collection of at least 15 major works (see the timeline of his works provided by the Boosey and Hawkes website, ).

Here is the second movement of his String Quartet No. 2 (Scherzo. Molto Allegro..), performed by the Mandelring Quartet.

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