Forbidden Music: The Jewish Composers Banned by the Nazis

Forbidden Music: The Jewish Composers Banned by the Nazis

by Michael Haas

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With National Socialism's arrival in Germany in 1933, Jews dominated music more than virtually any other sector, making it the most important cultural front in the Nazi fight for German identity. This groundbreaking book looks at the Jewish composers and musicians banned by the Third Reich and the consequences for music throughout the rest of the twentieth century.


With National Socialism's arrival in Germany in 1933, Jews dominated music more than virtually any other sector, making it the most important cultural front in the Nazi fight for German identity. This groundbreaking book looks at the Jewish composers and musicians banned by the Third Reich and the consequences for music throughout the rest of the twentieth century. Because Jewish musicians and composers were, by 1933, the principal conveyors of Germany’s historic traditions and the ideals of German culture, the isolation, exile and persecution of Jewish musicians by the Nazis became an act of musical self-mutilation.

Michael Haas looks at the actual contribution of Jewish composers in Germany and Austria before 1933, at their increasingly precarious position in Nazi Europe, their forced emigration before and during the war, their ambivalent relationships with their countries of refuge, such as Britain and the United States and their contributions within the radically changed post-war music environment.

Editorial Reviews

Wall Street Journal - Norman Lebrecht

“A valuable compendium of untold stories, a corrective to standard histories of music and an essential reference point for anyone engaged in the culture and politics of the twentieth century.”—Norman Lebrecht, Wall Street Journal
Commentary - Terry Teachout

“An outstandingly fine piece of work.”—Terry Teachout, Commentary
Independent - Rebecca K. Morrison

“[T]his compelling exploration of the role Jewish musicians and composers played in the cultural life of the Prussian and Austro-Hungarian Empire. . . is rich in unexpected facts and quotes. . . Its greatest virtue is the unearthing of composers, critics, conductors and musicians destined for obscurity. Haas makes a pleasingly detailed argument for honouring a treasure trove to which the development of Western music owes a considerable debt.”—Rebecca K Morrison, The Independent

Opera Magazine - Peter Franklin

"This is a big and important book...that really must be read by anyone with even a passing interest in the music of this period. One closes it with a mixture of astonishment and admiration."—Peter Franklin, Opera Magazine
Association for Recorded Sound Collections - ARSC Awards for Excellence

Winner in the 2014 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Awards for Excellence for the best historical Research in Classical Music category.
The New Republic - James Loeffler

“Michael Haas makes [his] case powerfully in his important book.”—James Loeffler, The New Republic

"A tragic and epic story that Haas relates so magisterially well that this book will probably remain definitive on its subject for the foreseeable future."—Booklist, starred review
Kirkus Reviews
A veteran recording producer and authority on Jewish music debuts with a richly detailed history of Jewish musicians--not just composers--who were threatened by the Holocaust. The author set for himself some difficult tasks: telling riveting personal stories, providing historical and cultural contexts, explaining the types of music that composers were creating before and during the rise of the Nazis, charting the conflicts about music that raged among the musicians themselves. On nearly every page, Haas reveals his vast knowledge about the era and its principals, but his style is often thick and academic, and many long quotations block rather than enhance the flow of his narrative. Appearing throughout is critic Julius Korngold, early champion of Gustav Mahler; the author includes long passages of Korngold's writing. Haas describes the musical life in Austria and Germany before the Nazis and reminds us that many Jews in Germany were secular and defined themselves as German. He tells the story of the end of World War I and the "mass exodus" of intellectuals and artists from Vienna to Berlin. He follows the rise of expressionism and continually brings before us the names of artists unfamiliar to many--Ernst Toch, Hanns Eisler, Edmund Meisel, Hans Gál, Egon Wellesz and many more. Haas describes the conflict between the Romantics and the rising influence of Arnold Schoenberg, and he does not neglect Wagner's ugly influence. Many musicians who escaped the Nazis found employment in the film and other entertainment industries. Americans, writes the author, were glad to welcome into their orchestras the notables from Europe. Haas also spends some time on musical life within the death camps and charts the effects on the music world of denazification after the war. An important text whose dense design may dissuade some general readers but whose thorough research supplies some significant pages in the account of some of history's darkest decades.

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Yale University Press
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5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.40(d)

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Copyright © 2013 Michael Haas
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-300-15431-3



German and Jewish

And as I reached the country's border, I felt an inner tremble growing It moved within my deepest breast And wet with tears my eyes were glowing

Yet when I heard the German tongue A strange mood overtook my soul It seemed as if my very heart Though bleeding, filled with joy, was whole

Heinrich Heine, A Winter's Tale, Caput 1

Isak Schrecker, the Jewish father of the composer Franz Schreker, had been court photographer in Budapest to Franz Joseph, King of Hungary and Emperor of Austria, as well as to his son and heir Crown Prince Rudolf, since obtaining the royal seal of approval in 1871. In 1874, he divorced his Jewish wife, converted to Protestantism and changed his name to Ignácz Ferenz Schrecker before placing an advertisement in the paper in search of a new, presumably non-Jewish, wife. The success of this venture must have startled even him: with his marriage to the penniless god-daughter of Princess Eleonore Maria Windisch-Graetz, his new wife, Eleonore von Clossmann, was related to the families Thurn und Taxis, Fürstenberg, Lobkowitz and Waldstein, Austria's most blue-blooded aristocrats. Only a decade earlier, such a union would have been unthinkable, and seen in the context of the time, the marriage demonstrated the speed and degree of acceptance of Jewish assimilation.

Isak had been born in 1834 in Bohemia, which at the time was Austrian. Typical of Jews during these early days of Liberalism, he had become an early adopter of new technologies and by the late 1860s had based himself in Budapest where, in addition to royalty, he accumulated an impressive list of celebrity clients.

Equally characteristic of this new age of social emancipation was the fact that in 1912 Wilhelm Pickl von Witkenberg, the son of Eleonore von Clossmann's older sister, would compile a notorious directory of aristocratic families who had intermarried with Jews: Weimarer historisch-genealogen Taschenbuch des gesamten Adels jehudäischen Ursprungs – or simply known as the Semigotha.

As we shall see later, Franz Schreker, born to Eleonore and Ignácz in 1878 during a family sojourn in Monaco, would be the object of virulent anti-Semitic attacks in the immediate lead-up to Hitler. Schreker, whose works are only today returning to opera houses and concert halls, was a central figure in pre-Nazi musical life; the number of performances of his operas came close to those of Richard Strauss and, in the early 1920s, frequently overtook them. He was thus one of Germany's most performed living composers in addition to being a highly regarded conductor who had given the premieres of many important works, including Schoenberg's Gurrelieder in 1913. He was accorded the ultimate German accolade when in 1919 one of Frankfurt's most influential critics, Paul Bekker, announced that Schreker – among a number of other prestigious German opera composers including Richard Strauss – was the only credible successor to Richard Wagner. In 1920 Schreker left Vienna to take up the directorship of Berlin's Music Academy. In 1932, he joined his friend and colleague Arnold Schoenberg at the Prussian Academy of Arts, where he held a composition master class. The names of Schreker's pupils, both in Vienna and Berlin, represent a roll-call of central European musical life during the 1920s and 1930s. He was unquestionably one of Germany's cultural giants.

Schreker had nevertheless been the object of frequent anti-Semitic vilification even before the Nazi dictatorship of 1933, forcing his move from Berlin's Music Academy to the Prussian Academy of Arts. With Hitler's arrival, there followed a ban on Schreker as conductor and teacher along with a performance ban on his works. His complete removal from public life, his inability to emigrate and a vindictive cancellation of his promised pension resulted in a stroke that proved fatal only a few days short of his 56th birthday in 1934. He thus became Hitler's first high-profile musical victim.

Schreker, whose father Ignácz had died when Franz was still a boy of nine, most likely never set foot in a synagogue. With a Christian mother, he was by Jewish law not even a Jew. His musical education had been paid for by Princess Windisch-Graetz, and as a young man he had played the organ in his local parish church in Vienna. When in 1933 he stood accused of 'racially' being a Jew under Nazi law, his admittedly feeble defence was that his cousin had written the Semigotha. Yet when he completed his most popular opera, Der Schatzgräber, on 12 November 1918, the day that Austria, now bereft of its former empire, proclaimed itself a republic, he scribbled on the bottom of the final page of his manuscript that his most fervent hope was that his homeland would soon be annexed by Germany. It was a hope that would be fulfilled with tragic consequences only 20 years later.

Jews on a Journey

In the preface to the 1937 edition of his 1927 essay Juden auf Wanderschaft, the writer Joseph Roth, living in Paris, could conceivably have had both Isak Schrecker and Franz Schreker in mind while writing his attack on assimilated and inter-married German Jews – an attack that underlined the delusionary aspects of what they believed to be fulfilled aspirations:

The German Jew is absolutely not an Eastern European Jew. He's forgotten how to suffer, pray and up-root himself. He's only good at working – and even this is now denied him.... In any event, these émigré German Jews [in reference to the influx of German Jews in Paris after 1933] constitute a new nation: they've forgotten how to be Jews and must laboriously re-learn Jewishness. On the other hand, they're equally incapable of forgetting that they're German and cannot escape their fundamental Germanness. They're like snails cursed to carry two shells on their backs. They can't deny either their Germanness or their Jewishness since they can't lie. Ghastly how the outside-world thinks in lazy worn-out pigeonholes and stereotypes! It demands to know where the traveller is moving from rather than where he's moving to. However, for the traveller himself, the goal is far more important than the point of departure.

The main body of this essay, originally written in 1927, dealt with Roth's view of what he saw as the unwholesome eagerness with which Jews acquired 'Germanness' and its ensuing delusions: 'When Jews finally arrive, they do not, as they are so often accused, assimilate too slowly, but sadly, rather too quickly. ... They become diplomats and journalists, mayors, nobles, police detectives, and bank directors, and other assorted pillars of a solid and decent society. Only very few become revolutionaries.' And again, 'The impoverished Jew is the most conservative of all impoverished creatures. He is a guarantor for the safeguarding of social order. The Jews by and large form a class of solid citizens albeit with their own racial, national and religious idiosyncrasies.'

The misapprehension of being considered totally German despite having a single Jewish parent, as was the case with Schreker, is anticipated by the music critic Eduard Hanslick 40 years earlier in his memoirs from 1894. Hanslick would be the object of some of Wagner's most unpleasant anti-Semitic attacks. He faces them head on:

That Wagner managed to smuggle me into his pamphlet Jewishness in Music disturbed me less. Wagner didn't like Jews and therefore assumed everyone who didn't like him must logically be Jewish. I would have felt myself flattered to be burned at the stake alongside the likes of Meyerbeer and Mendelssohn by Pater Arbuez Wagner; sadly this privilege would have to remain denied to me as my father and all of his ancestors, at least as far back as I can trace them, were the sons of staunch Catholic farmers. In addition, they came from an area where the only Jews they would have encountered would have been tinkers plying their trade door-to-door.

These comments demand more clarification. Hanslick specifically mentions his father but not his mother, Karoline Kisch, who was the daughter of wealthy Jewish merchants. Under Jewish law, this would have actually made him Jewish, should he have wished to count himself as such

As Heinrich Heine and Felix Mendelssohn demonstrated, the choice facing German-speaking Jews at the beginning of the nineteenth century appeared to be one between full participation in German cultural life or continued religious adherence and exclusion. Wagner was only the first to articulate his paranoia that with conversions, assimilation and inter-marriage, Jews had masterminded an insidious deceit of racial camouflage that would eventually undermine German identity and its innate moral character.


How Jews in German-speaking Europe would become such enthusiastic chauvinists in the cause of German culture, particularly when seen through the prism of the Holocaust, demands a good deal of explanation. Jews would only achieve social and political emancipation with the creation of Europe's two German-speaking States: the German Reich (Empire), headed by the Prussian King in 1871, and the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary, headed by the Austrian Emperor in 1867. Emancipation was a result of guarantees made by the freshly drawn-up constitutions of both. It corresponded to the prevalent mood that Europe's many diverse people, with their various languages and religious confessions, were allowed self-determination within the structures of a uniquely individual nation state, such as the newly created German Reich. In Austria-Hungary, rights were accorded so that no cultural or ethnic community within the multi-cultural dual monarchy could gain an advantage over any of the others. Thus the German Reich along with Austria-Hungary guaranteed the rights of confessional diversity, and their new constitutions meant that Jews, long denied the rights accorded to other German-speakers, could finally become fully active participants in the culture, language and music of the German-speaking people. To Jews, who had lived among Germans for two thousand years, it was the long-awaited entry into the most élite, educated and cultivated 'club' on earth. Membership was an honour bestowed on only a few; after millennia of being kept outside, they embraced their new identity with an enthusiasm that frequently resulted in an exuberant rejection of their Jewishness. To sceptical anti-Semites, such exuberance appeared not only vulgar but potentially oppressive. Reactionary forces, along with the Roman Catholic Church, meant that rights guaranteed by the constitution would still need to be fought through the Austrian Parliament individually. For example, a Parliamentary rejection of an imposed concordat between Rome and Vienna in 1868 allowed Jews access to education and access to teaching positions, while the intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews in Austria was not made legal until 1869. Yet Parliament and the Habsburgs stood firm in their support, and once these essential rights were won, there were no theoretical barriers to Jews integrating into every part of Austrian society.

Why 'German' does not mean 'from Germany'

In the English-speaking, post-Hitler world, we see what we assume to be a clearly defined state called Germany populated by a collection of Europeans calling themselves 'Germans'. We speak of 'the Germans' as we speak of 'the French' or 'the English' and never assume that the confluence of state, culture and people should ever have been a subject of debate or misunderstanding. In today's transient and global society, we shrug our shoulders and assume that if one is born within the geographical borders of a country called Germany or France and speaks the language reflected in the name of the country, then one is obviously German or French. But 'Germany' as a place and, more importantly, 'German' as an adjective were different, and it was the insecurity surrounding what it was to be German that culminated in many of the horrors of the twentieth century. Only after the defeat of Hitler in 1945 has 'German' come to mean 'from Germany'.

What's more, when we speak or write of 'German' achievement, it is usually assumed that it took place somewhere within the regions of today's Germany. It probably never occurs to us that disparate German thinkers, musicians, writers, adventurers, politicians and artists should come from anywhere else. That such 'German' cultural and intellectual icons as Immanuel Kant and E. T. A. Hoffmann should hail from present-day Russia, or Sigmund Freud, Franz Kafka and Gustav Mahler from the Czech Republic; Arthur Schopenhauer, Günter Grass or the physicist Max Born from Poland; Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, from Hungary or Walter von der Vogelweide from Italy, seems contradictory – or even contrary. Why would such prominent individuals call themselves 'German' when all of them quite obviously hail from countries with very impressive cultural legacies of their own?

The Germany we know today is a very different country from the Germany of the nineteenth century and bears little resemblance to the Germany of earlier times. Today, it is a neatly defined country that covers the bit of central Europe occupied by those German speakers not in Switzerland and Austria. Until the latter part of the nineteenth century, however, Germanic Europe was not a single unified country but a network of independent fiefdoms, principalities, bishoprics and kingdoms, often reaching far into neighbouring regions. Nor was Austria the tidy German-speaking Alpine Republic of today, but a sprawling empire consisting of Slavs, Italians and Hungarians ruled by the German-speaking House of Habsburg. Austria's German-speakers were a volatile minority; German was the official language throughout most of the Empire and Austria's Germans, known as German-Austrians, saw themselves as being part of the greater German nation. Most of Austria's assimilated Jews, whether living in Hungary or in the Slavic regions, spoke German as a first language.

For centuries, the view was maintained that as long as the principal European nation states (France, the tsarist Russian Empire and Britain) could keep the Germans in their checkerboard of competing microstates, the status quo of a thousand years was maintained and the European balance of power was forever guaranteed. It meant that the largest single linguistic unit on the continent could join together or break apart as the situations and interests of the major nation states demanded. As an arrangement, it suited nearly everybody except the vast majority of German-speaking Europeans. Urgency was added to the need for German unification following the Napoleonic wars and a perception that only by living together in a single country could Germans provide a reliable defence against future foreign incursions. Despite a bewildering array of competing interests, Prince von Bismarck completed a partial unification in 1871 placing most, but not all, of Europe's German states under the Prussian king. For reasons that are explained later, it excluded the German-speaking holdings of the Austrian emperor.

Bismarck's Prussian Germany nonetheless provided more than a bulwark against future marauding French. Indeed, the realisation that the new country would be condemned to defend borders on nearly all sides began to add a degree of paranoia which itself turned aggressive. By 1914, it seemed to be aching for a fight so that it could confirm its geopolitical position as the most important country in Europe. With enormous wealth and a population that was the same as the United States, there was no reason to suppose that Germany couldn't become the leading country in the world.

After the First World War, the French understandably saw great advantages in trying to return to the pre-Bismarck network of competing German states. France had little enthusiasm for its robust neighbour that had been cobbled into a single political unit within the living memory of most of France's ruling élite. By the end of the war in 1918, the German-speaking people of Europe were still divided between the two principal states of Austria and Germany. The French intended that the occupied Rhineland would break away and become yet another separate German-speaking republic. With Austria's empire wiped off the map, there was concern about what might happen should its remaining rump of German speakers be folded into its much larger neighbour to the north. That such moves towards unification were thwarted by the French and Americans was deplored not only by the composer Franz Schreker, but also by millions of Austrians like him – Jews and non-Jews alike. To many Europeans, it was illogical to support national self-determination, while not merging these two unequal German republics. Indeed, it was seen by German speakers as vengeful, 'victors' justice' imposed through the Treaty of Versailles, which ended the war with Germany, and Saint-Germain, a separate treaty settled with Austria. The conditions of these treaties were harsh and harboured the unspoken French desire that inflation and economic chaos would result in many of the constituent parts of Bismarck's project splitting up. They nearly did.

Twenty years later, most Europeans, non-Germans and Germans alike, were resigned to the view that Austria's annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938 was simply fulfilling an inevitable cultural and national destiny. Within a decade after the Anschluß Austria and a large chunk of Eastern Germany under Soviet control returned to the status quo of separate German states. In the case of Austria, its much longed-for fusion with Germany had proved a disastrous union that only underlined the degree to which history had fundamentally determined separate European destinies for these two very different German-speaking nations. After 1918, however, many Austrians seeking German cultural identity within a distinctively German nation state felt betrayed by history and insurmountable political forces. It created a sense of being German that often exceeded anything found in Germany itself. One of the most obvious exponents of this malaise among disaffected Austrians was Adolf Hitler – but quite a few others were the children and grandchildren of recently assimilated Jews.

Excerpted from FORBIDDEN MUSIC by MICHAEL HAAS. Copyright © 2013 by Michael Haas. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Michael Haas is director of research at the Jewish Music Institute’s Centre for Suppressed Music, based at Royal Holloway, University of London. He lives in London.

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