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Music

With symphonic music, punk band Die Toten Hosen honors works banned by Nazis

In a mixture of chaos and discipline, a new album by German punk rockers Die Toten Hosen showcases works once suppressed by the Nazis, so-called "degenerate music."

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Die Toten Hosen perform "degenerate music"

Two years ago, the German punk band Die Toten Hosen got together with the symphony orchestra of the Robert Schumann Music School in Düsseldorf. The unusual ensemble produced a series of concerts commemorating music once suppressed by the Third Reich.

Just as Jewish and non-Aryan painters were labeled "degenerate artists" in an exhibition showcased by the Nazis in Munich in 1937, another exhibition directly attacking music took place in Düsseldorf the following year.

Poster Exhibition Entartete Musik - public domain

Poster of the exhibition "Degenerate Music" organized by the Nazis in 1938

"Entartete Musik" (Degenerate Music) presented musical works that were to be banned from the acceptable repertory. The exhibition defamed a number of cabaret, jazz, and avant-garde pieces - above all, music by Jewish composers. These musicians had to flee the country or were sent to concentration camps.

To this day, many of these works are largely unknown, as they received little exposure even after the war.

In October 2013, 75 years passed since those works had been declared "degenerate." That's when Die Toten Hosen and the orchestra of young musicians gave a series of commemorative concerts in Düsseldorf titled "Willkommen in Deutschland" (Welcome to Germany).

Now comes the release of live recordings from the successful concert series.

Chaos and discipline

Turning the concert into an album was not initially planned. In 2013, Die Toten Hosen had just completed a big tour and had only a week to practice with the students.

Adding to the challenge, the rockers were used to a completely different musical approach: "We had to get accustomed to things like the conductor's cues. We can't even read sheet music," says band member Breiti in the documentary film accompanying the album.

Yet everything had been prepared so well that the self-taught musicians managed to navigate with the symphony orchestra, allowing the conductor Rüdiger Böhm to take the lead instead of the band's frontman Campino, who said: "We felt completely comfortable in this mixture of chaos and discipline."

From Kurt Weil to Arnold Schoenberg

The concert included an eclectic combination of film music, songs written in concentration camps, Yiddish music and works by Kurt Weill, including "Mack the Knife" from Bertolt Brecht's "The Threepenny Opera," as well as the dramatic piece "A Survivor from Warsaw" by Arnold Schoenberg, the creator of the influential twelve-tone system of composition.

The band has always taken a position against neo-Nazis, and some of its hits were also arranged for orchestral accompaniment.

Released on October 30, "Entartete Musik Willkommen in Deutschland - ein Gedenkkonzert" (Degenerate Music Welcome in Germany - a Memorial Concert) includes a double CD and an accompanying documentary on DVD.

eg / rf (dpa, http://www.rsh-duesseldorf.de)

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