Even before Hitler came to power in 1933, the situation was becoming uncomfortable for Jewish composers in Germany. During the time of the Weimar republic, after the Greta War, the liberalising of thought and ideas, epitomised by the Berlin Cabaret scene, was producing a backlash against the advancing styles of artists like Schoenberg in favour of more traditional German music.
As a result, the ground was already fertile when the new Chancellor set out the cultural ground which reflected his personal tastes. Wagner and Beethoven were in, anything modern or discordant was out, and the Jewish school was excluded for racial reasons. To begin with, performances were made difficult, but it took some time for Jewish musicians to be eased out of the orchestras because there were few of their ability to replace them. Through the 1930s, many left the country for Austria and Czechoslovakia, where events caught up with them.
The soprano, Judith Sheridan, has made a special study of the subject and writes an excellent 17-page essay, for a new compact disc released on the Divine Art label. She is an ex-student of the Royal Northern College of Music and Lancaster University and spent more than a decade singing leading roles in German opera houses. It was hearing a performance of Zemlinsky’s opera, The Dwarf, in Hamburg, that fired her interest in Entartete Kunst – Degenerate Art as the Nazis called it.
Now she gives a song recital, with pianist Craig Combs, entitled Forbidden Voices. Some of the composers on this disc left Germany in time. Erich Korngold, whose five songs are here, followed great success in Europe with a film music career in Hollywood, although it is only in recent years that his serious work has once again been appreciated. Berthold Goldschmidt failed to have his early success recognised by the musical establishment when he arrived in Britain, and he had to wait until nearly his 90th year before emerging from a hard-working life to receive his due, particularly from Simon Rattle, and found his work being recorded.
Franz Schreker, a Catholic with a tenuous Jewish ancestry, was so harassed that he died from a heart attack in 1934. Pavel Haas, who died in Auschwitz, was a Moravian born in Brno and was influenced by folk music and the teachings of Janacek. Something evident from the seven songs recorded here. His countryman, Viktor Ullmann, also died in Auschwitz and, like Haas, spent time in the famous Teretzin camp which fostered a lively musical life, on which the Nazis capitalised for propaganda purposes.
Finally, we have Prague-born Erwin Schulhoff, an anti-establishment eccentric, who joined the Communist party and became a Russian citizen to try to avoid his fate, only to be caught by the invasion of Russia, and died from pneumonia in a camp.
A sad chapter of German history is brought to light by this song recital, which includes texts and translations.
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