23 May 2005

Suppressed music

Entartete Musik was the label given by the Nazis to a wide variety of composers and musical genres to signify music that was supposedly abnormal and a threat to German society. The music targeted was varied, as were the lives and backgrounds of the composers. The criteria established by the Nazis included elements of jazz and atonal music, or anything written by Jewish composers. The policy of music censorship supported the ethnic and political cleansing of German society. Some of the targeted artists like Arnold Schoenberg and Kurt Weill were able to emigrate to the USA. Ernst Krenek, a Vienna-based composer, born in 1900, whose works were on the “Verbotsliste” once Hitler annexed Austria in 1933, emigrated to the USA in 1938. Others were not so fortunate and were imprisoned in concentration camps and murdered.

Theresienstadt (Terezín) concentration camp, north of Prague, incarcerated some of the best professional musicians of 1940s Europe. Thousand of Jews were transported to the transit camp in 1941-44, before being moved on to death camps. Despite the hunger, disease and cruelty of camp existence, prisoners staged solo and ensemble recitals and orchestral concerts. At first, these were held secretly in the attics and basements of the barracks, although musical instruments were contraband. The Nazis later co-opted these activities to deceive the international community: performances were staged for a visit of the International Red Cross and for a propaganda film.

Composers such as Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein, Hans Krása and Viktor Ullmann had been pupils and assistants of luminaries Janacek and Schoenberg. Notably, both the Philadelphia and Boston Symphony Orchestras had performed Krása's works. These Czechs and Germans all pursued promising careers as composers and conductors before their incarceration and murder by the Nazis. Only 21 when incarcerated in the Theresienstadt camp, Gideon Klein distinguished himself as a composer, pianist, conductor and educator in the camp’s cultural community. Shortly after composing his Piano Sonata No. 7 in Theresienstadt, Viktor Ullmann was sent to his death.

Today, the Andrusier Ensemble is one of the foremost exponents of suppressed music. Formed in 1995 in the UK, the ensemble performs music that was composed in Theresienstadt by, for instance, Klein and Krasa.

The BBC reported on a production of Krasa's Brundibar by German schoolchildren in January 2005.

The following CDs of suppressed music are available:

Haas & Krasa: String Quartets
On this CD the Hawthorne String Quartet plays Pavel Haas: String Quartet no. 2, op.7 (1925), String Quartet no. 3, op. 15 (1938) and Hans Krása: String Quartet (1921)

Chamber Music from Theresienstadt: Gideon Klein, Viktor Ullmann
The CD contains four pieces by Gideon Klein and one by Viktor Ullmann played by the Hawthorne String Quartet and pianist Virginia Eskin

Silenced Voices
The CD contains Ervin Schulhoff: String Quartet No. 1, Concertino for Flute, Viola and Bass, Sonata for Flute and Piano; Gideon Klein: Duo for Violin and Cello; Vítezslava Kapralova: Dubnova Preludia Suite for Solo Piano