Music Media Review Print

Jewish and German: The 20th Century's Ill-fated Condition

March 23, 2014 - Williamsburg. MA:

Michael Haas, Forbidden Music; The Jewish Composers Banned by the Nazis, New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2013, ISBN 978-0-300-15430-6, Pp. xii + 358, $38.00.

The subject of this book has interested me for years and I have done considerable reading about it, although I am not Jewish. I have found the music I have heard by these composers fascinating, interesting, and pleasing; there is some marvelous music, clever and creative, both comedic and serious in nature, music that reflects its time and music for all time that is never, or at best extremely rarely, performed/heard live. I own a copy of every release in Decca’s highly regarded and now much lamented (by me at least, but I believe also by many others) Entarte Musik series, for which NC native Michael Hass, now Research Director of the Jewish Music Institute for Suppressed Music, SOAS, University of London, was the Executive Producer. In the interim, while writing this book, he was the Music Curator at the Jewish Museum in Vienna. I therefore looked forward eagerly to reading his book with the anticipation of learning yet more about the subject from someone who has been intimately involved with it for many years, longer and more greatly than I, even though I'm quite sure he is considerably younger.

The time frame that Haas covers stretches from 1815, the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo and the Congress of Vienna, to c.1955, the Occupation of the Allied Powers that divided both Austria and Germany and their capital cities into four sectors each, i.e., a period of 140 years, with some threads extending beyond those dates in both directions. He charts the course, providing the cultural, legal, and political basis of their situation, of Jews in Central Europe (Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire) from segregation to integration to complete assimilation to officially restored discrimination and forced internment that preceded a massive exile and planned and partially executed extermination under Adolf Hitler, who rose to power in 1933 and set off the rapid reversal of the previous century's progressive accomplishments, further expanded and accelerated five years later in 1938 with the Anschluß of Austria.

The book has 12 chapters with a brief Preface and Introduction preceding and Epilogue following them. He devotes the first five chapters to the 19th century background, including Wagner's avowed anti-Semitism and Mahler's careful avoidance of admission of his racial heritage, leading up to WW I, by which time assimilation was complete, and in which Jews fought side by side with their compatriots. The next four chapters cover the post-WW I period, with chapters 10 devoted to the 1933-38 years, 11 the WW II years, and 12 the aftermath. The development of classical music is thus placed in the context and treated from the perspective of the history in the time frame covered, and also connected with some parallel contemporary developments in the visual arts – some composers, like Arnold Schoenberg, were also painters. Within this general chronology, strict internal chronology is not always followed, however, with the reason for this not always being apparent, and the result of increasing somewhat the potential for disoreintation in the mind of the reader. Haas gives details about the lives of the composers and the ethnic/national origins of their parents/ancestors, their education and careers, and the interconnections among them. He provides descriptions of their major works and their performance history (or in some instances suppression), with their press and public reception, of their styles, and of their perspectives and theoretical writings about music. Haas points out (pp. 102-3) that, in a curious irony, the first use of the term "entart" (degenerate) in the press was by the Jewish writer and critic Guido Adler in an article in the Neue Freie Presse (an esteemed Jewish-run Viennese newspaper) in an article on July 2, 1917, 20 years ahead of Hitler's famous Entarte Kunst (Art) and Entarte Musik exhibitions of 1937 and 1938 respectively.

In writing this work, Hass was confronted by what must have seemed the overwhelming task of organizing an encyclopedic quantity of information into a narrative covering an inordinately long period of time. He is a writer much like myself, with tendencies towards creating texts chock full of information, using quotations in order to allow the originals to speak directly to the reader, and being as thorough as possible – tendencies towards what some (many?) might call TMI (too much information). Haas uses an enormous number of quotations, many of them lengthy. This has the advantages of putting the primary evidence for his assertions before the reader's eyes, and of allowing the contemporaries of the composers under study to speak about them. But it has the disadvantages of creating a text that does not have the consistent personal voice of its author, indeed, to have any consistent voice at all, or a smooth, uniform flow. The author's voice is heard only in the portions that link the quotations together, and in some of the earlier chapters, those can seem to consist of many fewer words than the sources. I certainly appreciated this approach, but I missed something summarizing it all at the end of each chapter to provide the perspective and clarify the import of what had been presented within it before moving on to the next one.

Some logistical decisions whose origins are unclear also create a somewhat cumbersome reading experience. Rather than placing the notes for each chapter at its end, all are grouped at the end of the text (pp. 307-19), ahead of the supplementary material: the Bibliography (pp. 320-34) and Index (pp. 335-58), a much less convenient location. This is further rendered unpleasant by the decision to place the English translations of German titles in the notes rather than in parentheses within the text immediately following the original, thus imposing on the reader yet more back-and-forth flipping. This may be the result of an academic or the publisher's perspective, but it is one that ought to be changed for a text written for the general reader as well as the scholar, as this one clearly is, as evidenced both by its style and its format, illustrated by the nature and content of the notes; this is not to suggest that no scholarship is involved or that Haas' is in any way faulty. There are instances where this latter position for translations is used, and doing so regularly would have also eliminated the annoying inconsistency in the treatment of identical kinds of information. There is also inconsistency in the way facts previously mentioned are recalled to the reader's mind, sometimes by stating where they were given, others by actually repeating them; I would have worked a bit harder to make this uniform. I would also have given the original language first for the epigraphs with the English translation following, rather than the inverse, just as has been done for most work titles – another inconsistency in approach to similar material that should have been systematized.

I would also have included a two-part appendix with an alphabetical list of all the composers who suffered, whether discussed, merely mentioned, or not named, together with their life dates, in a first section, and a similar list of the major conductors, musicians, soloists (for example, Budapest-born pianist Lily Kraus [1903-86], whom I had the pleasure of hearing and dining with post-concert in Albany, NY, in the mid-1970s, fled the Nazis in 1940, only to be captured by the Japanese in Java while on tour and interned for three years; she ended her days in Asheville, NC), musicologists (one of whom, Alfred Einstein, taught [1939-50] at the institution with which I am currently affiliated), etc.. In addition to conveniently compiling this basic information in a single location, it would have driven home in a succinct and strikingly visible manner the vastness of the disruption of and damage to the trajectory of the natural development of classical music in the 20th century caused by the 12-year hiatus (1933-45) of Adolf Hitler's sociopathic Third Reich with its emphasis on racial genetics rather than shared language and ethnic and national origin, with no objective consideration of creative and intellectual merit. Those years changed the face of Europe and the course of all of Western civilization as dramatically as did the 16 of the reign of Napoleon (1799-1815), but they perhaps altered the trajectory of the development of music even more, having created what Hass calls a "lost generation of composers" (p. 6) "whose music remains unjustly neglected" (p. 4). The composers who escaped and survived in exile all had their original focus abruptly disrupted and their efforts had to be redirected in order to succeed and survive in their new environments, thus halting their developmental trajectory in its tracks. Because their countries of origin were left "Judenfrei" (devoid of Jews), and thus without any of the creative individuals who were previously responsible for their musical culture, the remaining residents had to start a new one from scratch (p. 5), which was in no way a continuation or outgrowth of what had gone before. Therefore, the center of the world of music moved elsewhere and much composition advanced rudderless and without sails. Consequently, much of the new music, unlike that of most of those of the "lost generation," ended up "turning off" classical music audiences and their succeeding generations.

Aside from the above considerations, I was not in the least disappointed by the book, and enjoyed every minute spent with it, although it is not an easy read. It is an extraordinary compendium of information. Its breadth and depth, and the nature of the materials and sources that Haas has consulted, read, and used/incorporated are striking and impressive. His use of items from the contemporary press, allowing their critics and writers to talk about the composers and their music, private correspondence, sometimes unpublished, of/among the composers, and even some personal contacts/interviews with some of them, all materials not readily available here, offers the reader a perspective not found anywhere else. I often donate review copies of books that I receive to a local library that has a major arts and music department, but I shall keep this one, treasure, and likely consult it even though it is not conceived as a reference work. It is a truly exemplary achievement, its imperfections notwithstanding.

The text would have benefited from a careful final proofreading: there are several instances of missing words, mostly little ones such as "a," "the," "of," or "to," forcing the reader to mentally supply them, some uncorrected typos: "mind" instead of "mine" (p. 296), a few not-quite-perfect word choices: an "unedited" on p. 78 where "unpublished" and a "bare" on p. 303 where its homonym "bear" are meant, for example, and an erroneous first name: "Albert" instead of "Alfred" Einstein in n. 57 on p. 318.

See also Haas' blog for numerous posts on specific composers, musicians, and events and links to yet more information. In a recent development concerning the subject, the Royal Conservatory of Music of Canada in Toronto has just announced plans to establish an institute to recover suppressed works. Simon Wynberg will be its director and it is expected to open in 6-12 months with an initial budget of $CAN 100,000-120,000. This will provide on our continent a basic equivalent for the two organizations with which Hass was/is associated.

Editor's Note: Residents of central NC may justifiably claim author and producer Michael Haas as one of our own. His family has roots in Warrenton and Goldsboro. His mother, Doug Haas Bennett, was the long-time owner of Raleigh's most important costume shop, and his brother Joel is one of our leading sculptors. As a teenager, Michael was torn between music and painting. His mother relates that he found visual art easier but could not imagine a day without music. Thus was the die cast, with the exceptional long-term results this new book reveals.