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Forbidden Music

DW staff (kh)February 29, 2008

Numerous Jewish musicians across Europe were forbidden from performing or publishing their compositions during the Nazi years. Now, a new Center for Ostracized Music aims to recover these lost musical voices.

Close-up photo of a violin in front of a sheet of music
Many forms of art, including music, were forbidden by the NazisImage: BilderBox

After the introduction of race laws in 1933, the German Music Chamber (Reichsmusikkammer) established a registry of all German musicians. As a result, many talented composers and musicians had their work deliberately suppressed because their race or style of music offended the Third Reich.

Works by renowned composers such as Felix Mendelssohn, Gustav Mahler, and Arnold Schoenberg were among those forbidden by the Nazis.

As the Nazis occupied other parts of Europe, the numbers of banned musicians grew. However, many of these names are forgotten today. In some case, this is because they were murdered by the Nazis, and in others, their persecution meant they were unable to continue their creative work.

Revive forbidden music

Based at the Schwerin Music Conservatorium, the Center for Ostracized Music (Zentrum für Verfemte Musik), which opened last month, aims to bring these silenced works back to life.

The conservatorium has already been extremely active in the promotion of ostracized music; it holds an annual international silenced music competition, organizes concerts, and offers studies in the field. According to Jennu Swensson, one of the archive employees, the center was the next logical step.

"This music is such a huge treasure today," she said. "When you hear (it), then you realize that this could have disappeared."

Black and white head shot of Arnold Schoenberg
The Nazis banned the music of Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, who moved to the US in 1934Image: Alban Berg Society

The search for these forbidden compositions, scores and notebooks is a difficult and time consuming process. This is because many of the banned musicians were unable to have their work published or recordings, she said.

"You have to rely on contemporary eye witnesses or hope that their children have managed to hold onto some works," Swensson said.

It was the son of Italian composer Aldo Finzi who donated copies of his father's compositions to the center, allowing the musician's works to be reheard.

"Aldo Finzi is virtually unknown, but here in Schwerin, we have increased his visibility by showing off his work in many concerts," said Volker Ahmels, the director of the conservatorium.

Born in 1897, Finzi came from an established Milanese Jewish family. He was considered one of the most talented young composers of his generation. But forced into hiding before being finally imprisoned by the Nazis in 1944, Finzi's health suffered and he died of a heart attack in 1945.

The archive currently holds 400 works from 50 ostracized composers.