The term “entartet” (degenerate) was already in use in criminology in the 19th century, it meant something like “biologically degenerate”. The Nazis made grateful use of this idea; that it was something to be wary of, a bad influence that had to be banned. Modernism, Expressionism, jazz … and Jews of course, they were degenerated from the start, they could make Aryan souls sick. They all had to be banned.
What had started as prohibition soon developed into exclusion and resulted in murder. Those who managed to flee to America or England usually survived the war, but at what cost?
Those who stayed in Europe were doomed. Many composers were deported via Theresienstadt to the concentration and extermination camps, many ended up there directly. After the war they were totally forgotten and thus murdered a second time. Those who survived were called hopelessly old-fashioned and therefore their works were not performed. The turnaround finally came in the 1990s, too late for most.
Michael Haas, then a very efficient producer for Decca, started an unsurpassed series called ‘Entartete Musik’. Unfortunately, it did not last: it did not sell. Haas was fired and most of those CDs are now out of the catalogue.
In 2004, Michael Haas was back, in Amsterdam of all places: together with Jan Zekveld and Mauricio Fernandez (respectively artistic director and head of casting of the Matinee) he put together a beautiful series for the Saturday Matinee in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, starting with a magnificent performance of Schreker’s Die Ferne Klang.
But the small German firms CPO, Cappricio and Orfeo assiduously continued to record special treasures of forgotten works. Orfeo even devoted a special series to that music, called ‘Musica Rediviva’. This included the opera Die Bakchantinen by Egon Wellesz (Orfeo C136 012H), which was also performed at the Matinee.
Schulhoff’s vocal symphonies (Orfeo C056031 A) are not to be despised either. Composed in the years 1918/19, they breathe the unadulterated atmosphere of the fin de siècle: dark and heavily melancholic they show us another Schulhoff, the romantic pur sang. The warm, dark timbre of Doris Soffel fits the melancholic melodies like a glove.
An absolute must is the DVD entitled ‘Verbotene Klange. Komponisten in Exil’ (Capriccio 93506). It is a documentary on German and Austrian composers who, as the commentator puts it, “instead of being revered, were despised”. And who, thanks to emigration, survived. With interviews with, among others, Ernst Krenek and Berthold Goldschmidt: the latter we meet at the very first recording (after 50 years!) of his string quartets. And the almost centenarian Krenek says something that could be called typical for that generation: “I am caught between continents. In America I don’t really feel ‘heimisch’, but I would never consider going back to Europe. There is no home for me anywhere. Not anymore.