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Luis Gago

Entartete Musik: Degenerate music? URL: http://www.march.es/conferencias/anteriores/voz.aspx?p1=2575&l=2

On May 24th 1938, an exhibition was opened in Düsseldorf with the simple, yet eloquent, title Entartete Musik (degenerate music), an unmissable follow-up of the exhibition opened in Munich a year earlier under the title Entartete Kunst (degenerate art). Although the exhibition was conceived and produced basically by a single person, Hans Severus Ziegler, it is the most revealing individual product showing the attitude of Nazi leaders towards music, which in words of Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda, was considered "the most German of all arts". Although the exhibition was opened at the same time as the celebrations of the Reichsmusiktage, the most important musical demonstration organized by the Nazi leaders, it had a limited impact, and after its reposition in Weimar, it was never exhibited again in any other German city. Nothing of what was presented in Düsseldorf allows reaching clear conclusions on the master lines of the Nazi cultural policies in regards to music. Goebbels even formulated and published on June 1st 1938 within the official statements of the Reichsmusikkammer (the organism in charge of grouping all music professionals that was initially headed by Richard Strauss) what he defined as the "ten principles of German musical creation". But reading this text only shows ambiguities such as the fact that the nature of music lies in the melody, or that musicians from the past should be respected as long as they were not Jew. The latter was one of the very few principles that was implemented regularly (though not extensively), through the prohibition of programming and executing music from Jewish compositors. Many of them appeared represented in the exhibition Entartete Musik, sharing prominence with other musical manifestations persecuted -sometimes only theoretically- by the Nazi regime like jazz and atonal music, exemplified by what was called the Second Viennese School and its promoter Arnold Schoenberg, an author doubly vilified for being the creator of the twelve-tone monster and for being a Jew.

The conference will show on one side how the Nazis never got to establish a clear profile for their music policy project, and on the other, how certain theoretical prohibitions were systematically ignored in practice. In the case of jazz for example, while the official bodies showed an absolute rejection against this music of innate freedom and unpredictability that clashed against the essence and legacy of the great German musical creation, its popularity among the population allowed it to be clandestinely listened, disseminated and played in the Nazi Germany, sometimes even with the approval of its leaders. The persecution of Jewish musicians also bumped into practical barriers, almost impossible to break. This is for example the case of the ample group of Jewish instrumentalists in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, which went from being a private institution, to become an official organ of the Reich. In this occasion, like in so many others, the Nazi authorities were obliged to apply a double standard that contributed to the confusion of the already fuzzy directives guiding the Nazi musical administration. Obviously there were many internal quarrels and confronted criteria between the different leaders (quite significantly between Joseph Goebbels and Alfred Rosenberg). Thus, "the most German of all arts" never got to know a regulation to the level of the importance that Goebbels gave to it, in many ways due to the fact that music is by nature a slippery and elusive artifact that resists the inclusion or retrieval of ideologies. Starting from the exhibition Entartete Musik, a greatly revealing disgrace of the many committed by the Nazi regime, this conference will address the contradictions of the Nazi cultural policies related to music, which are less known than in other fields like plastic arts, cinema, or literature.

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