Forbidden Music: Composers banned by the Third Reich

January 6, 2017 by Stevie Whitmont
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Continuing the series by Stevie Whitmont of music banned by the Nazis.

Poster of a 1938 exhibit in Düsseldorf

Ernst Krenek

If you were Black, Jewish or jazzy, your music was banned.  This is the striking propaganda poster for the Nazi’s infamous “Degenerate Music” exhibition in Dusseldorf, a public event hosted by the Reichsmusikkamer in 1938. Its purpose was to inform the German public what type of music was  considered “degenerate”/dangerous, and to justify the Nazi policy of “purifying” German music.  Incidentally, it sought to name and disgrace those banned (Mahler, Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer, Debussy, Schoenberg, Křenek, etc., etc., etc…..)

The Entartete poster is a savage distortion of the image used for Ernst Křenek’s earlier opera:  Jonny spielt auf (1927).  Johnny Plays Out (English translation) was about a Black jazz musician and a young couple who discover the freedoms of Paris.  Decried by National Socialists as the “introduction of Jewish-Nigger filth” to the operatic stage, it was nevertheless a huge popular success in the Weimar Republic. Jonny spielt auf was performed over 400 times in its first season, over time was staged in 42 different opera houses around the world, and achieved celebrity status for Křenek.  A decade after its premiere it was condemned by the Nazis as the archetype of Weimar decadence. During the Third Reich, Krenek was often named as a Jewish composer and intimidated by the regime (despite the fact he was not Jewish).  When Germany invaded Austria (1938) Křenek was on tour in America.  He stayed and became an American citizen in 1945.

Jonny spielt auf, the title page of the 1926 vocal score (1st edition)

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