During World War II, the Nazi Party banned a wide variety of art, literature, and music ranging from instrumental and chamber pieces to symphonies, operas, and jazz. Musical works by Jewish and leftist composers were censored, along with pieces that conflicted with Nazi ideology or the German romantic myths central to the aesthetic of National Socialism. As a result, the Nazis promoted the music of Richard Wagner and Anton Bruckner while suppressing works by modernist composers such as Paul Hindemith. A writer from the Deutsche Zeitung wrote disparagingly of Hindemith after seeing a performance of his Mathas der Maler symphony, stating that his “musical products were thoroughly at home in an atmosphere characterized by the names Alban Berg, Arthur Honegger, Bela Bartok, and the quarter-tone mixer Alois Haba.” Before taking power, the Nazis rioted after a 1928 performance of Ernst Krenek’s opera Jonny spielt auf in Vienna. Not only did Krenek’s work contain jazz compositions, but its artistic thesis was that the jazz traditions developed by African American musicians were the rightful heir to dying European musical traditions. The National Socialists used the term “degenerate art” to describe nearly every innovative feature in 20th-century music.
Ironically, many of the 20th-century composers working in the German romantic tradition—the official aesthetic of the Nazi Party—were Jewish; others had ties to socialist political parties. As a result, the Nazis suppressed a great deal of music that sounded exactly the way they believed music should sound. Thus they upheld Wagner and Bruckner as musical ideals while censoring the Wagnerian operas of Erich Wolfgang Korngold and his mentor Alexander von Zemlinsky and Mahler’s symphonic works, which were the direct musical descendants of Bruckner’s compositions. In addition to banning the works of these Jewish composers, the Nazis banned the Wagnerian operas of Franz Schreker because of his leftist politics. In addition, the National Socialists outlawed public performances of musical works by 19th century Jewish composers from the German romantic tradition, including Felix Mendelssohn, Giacomo Meyerbeer, and Jacques Offenbach.
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