Entartete Musik

A year or so after the opening in Munich of the exhibition "Entartete Kunst" (Degenerate Art), the cultural politicians of the Nazi regime put on another, much less well-known show: this exhibition, entitled "Entartete Musik", was staged in Düsseldorf in 1938.

The scientific term "degenerate" was adopted by the Nazis to defame atonal music, jazz arrangements and, above all, works by Jewish composers. The concept of "degeneracy" became fixed to a new norm, namely the ideal of a music dictated by laws of racial origin.

The music branded and decried by the Nazis as being "degenerate" embraces a wide variety of styles, for their single-minded aim was simply to ensure the integrity and pre-eminence of German musical life as a whole, from the most popular operetta through to the avant-garde. Béla Bartok considered the label "Degenerate Music" as a title which did him honour, and, in 1938, he courageously demanded that the Nazi government should include his own compositions in the Düsseldorf exhibition. Most of the musicians affected by this absurd censorship - performers, composers, musicologists and teachers - were forced to emigrate or killed, causing a serious drain of talent in European musical life, the consequences of which have scarcely been recognized or appreciated even today.

The plea for tolerance, for free speech and dialogue in the arts, is what constitutes the significance for Decca today of the historical concept of "Entartete Musik". From a purely musical point of view, the "Entartete Musik" series has, with unanimous international critical acclaim, brought back to life more than 30 forgotten key works from the first half of this century by composers such as Braunfels, Goldschmidt, Haas, Korngold, Krása, Krenek, Ullmann and Waxman. These recordings may help the listener imagine what the musical life in Europe was before its destruction by the Nazis, and what it might have been if these great branches had not been abruptly cut off.

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