Forbidden Music: Composers banned by the Third Reich

July 3, 2017 by Stevie Whitmont
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The last of a series by Stevie Whitmont of music banned by the Nazis…this month features Erwin Schulhoff   [1894-1942].

Erwin Schulhoff

Erwin Schulhoff’s music was informed by his several, sequential interests:   The Dada movement, Jazz/dance rhythms and Socialist Realism/Communism.  Born into a German-Jewish family in Prague, Czechoslovakia, he died in a Bavarian concentration camp for being a Soviet citizen.  Jewish descent and Jazz/Dada involvement notwithstanding.  His demise at the hands of the Nazi regime was overdetermined.

Following early influences from Richard Strauss and Claude Debussy, Schulhoff became involved with the Dada movement.  This was partly a result of his devastating World War I service in Hungary and Russia.  Disillusioned, he sought a musical parallel to Dadaism in the visual arts, using absurdist, irrational musical gestures .  Two works stand out:  1) The Cloud Pump (baritone, winds & percussion), set on a ‘nonsensical text by Jean Art’; and 2) Five Picturesques (movement Futurum) for piano, in which an ‘absurd’ silence replaces audible music.  This work preceded Cage’s 4’33” silent work by more than 30 years.

By the 1920’s Schulhoff had fallen in love with Euro-jazz, the European interpretation of American Black jazz.  His music from this period is infused with dance rhythms (tango, ragtime, etc.).  He wrote the following to Alban Berg in 1921:

I am boundlessly fond of nightclub dancing…I have periods where I spend whole nights dancing… out of pure enjoyment of the rhythm and with my subconscious filled with sensual delight….I acquire phenomenal inspiration for my work, as my conscious mind is incredibly earthly…even animal as it were.

Schulhoff had emerged from WWI disillusioned, angry and ideologically committed to Socialism.  He spent some time in Dresden and Berlin, but returned to Prague in 1923.  There his loyalties were divided between the Czech and German communities, and his professional life was increasingly tenuous. By contrast, his international status developed with strength. He composed prolifically for piano, orchestra and chamber genres and achieved successful concert performances in Paris, London, Germany and the Netherlands.  In 1930 he played his own Double Concerto with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. He was regularly broadcast over Prague Radio in performances of jazz and popular music (1930 – 1935).  His Socialist leanings also increased into the 1930’s.  He became a member of the Czech Left Front (1931) and joined a Workers theatre group.  Das Manifest (1932), Schulhoff’s cantata for voice, chorus and wind ensemble, was based on the Communist Manifesto.  He widely espoused Social Realism.

With the German occupation of Czechoslovakia (1938/39), Schulhoff was at risk threefold:  from his Jewish heritage, his ‘degenerate’ jazz/dance sounds, and his Socialist politics.  Seeking to escape, he obtained Soviet citizenship and applied to emigrate in June 1941; ten days later he was arrested for being a Soviet citizen.  Schulhoff died in 1942, aged 48, of tuberculosis in Wurzburg, a Bavarian concentration camp.  His father, Gustav Schulhoff, died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp in the same year, for being a Jew.

Schulhoff’s wind trio Divertissement (1927) comes from his Jazz period.  Here is the 4th movement, Charleston,  played by members of the Westwood Wind Quintet.




One Response to “Forbidden Music: Composers banned by the Third Reich”
  1. Adrian Jackson says:

    Did Stalin, in the USSR, ban musician too?

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