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In 1937, Arnold Schoenberg said, ‘I have at last learned the lesson that has been forced upon me during this year, and I shall not ever forget it. It is that I am not a German, not a European, indeed perhaps scarcely a human being – at least the Europeans prefer the worst of their race to me – but I am a Jew.’
As the avant-garde exerted a greater cultural influence, so it brought new names to the public’s attention. Nevertheless, many such artists, including Schoenberg and Weill, were Jews, and after the Nazis enacted race laws in 1933 to prevent Jewish voices from poisoning the expression of ‘pure’ German art, the Reichsmusikkammer (Reich’s Music Chamber) decreed that all musicians must register. Consequently, hundreds of composers’ works were suppressed.
The first outright attack on the artistic community took place in 1937 at Munich’s exhibition of ‘Entartete Kunst’ (‘Degenerate Art’), followed in 1938 by Düsseldorf’s ‘Entartete Musik’. Directed by one of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels’ puppets, Hans Ziegler, this latter exhibition targeted composers, performers, musicologists, theorists and teachers whose photos were hung alongside vicious printed critiques and moral attacks.
Black American musicians such as Louis Armstrong were singled out for particularly harsh criticism. Jazz was considered by the Nazis to be an evil form of music, and people were cautioned to keep away from it at all costs. However, Bartók asked the authorities to label his own compositions ‘Entartete’ as a show of support for German colleagues such as Hindemith, Berg, Weill, Krenek, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Schreker.
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