Conference: Music, Oppression and Exile

The Impact of Nazism on Musical Development in the 20th Century: International Conference presented by JMI SOAS International Centre for Suppressed Music and the Institute of Musical Research, University of London
Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1
Tuesday 8 – Friday 11 April 2008

Conference Report

Article in Norwegian about the Music, Oppression and Exile Conference

Article in Norwegian about the Music, Oppression and Exile Conference

In association with The Royal Conservatory of Music, Canada

Music in Exile

Four concerts* and public lectures presented by
The ARC Ensemble (Artists of the Royal Conservatory, Canada)
and the English Chamber Orchestra Ensemble
Saturday 12, Sunday 13 April 2008
Cadogan Hall, Sloane Terrace, London , SW1X 9DQ

As Nick Kimberley wrote in The Observer, ‘Hitler tore a gaping hole in European culture, and the damage has not yet been repaired’. To understand what happened in the first half of the 20th century to the musical culture of Europe and its diaspora, the Jewish Music Institute International Centre for Suppressed Music together with the Institute of Music Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London will host an international conference exploring four main areas:

  1. Musical life in Europe before Hitler
  2. The mechanics of the Third Reich’s music policies
  3. Dispersal of composers and musicians
  4. Musical life in Europe after Hitler

Within these several smaller themes may be revealed

Invited speakers will include

  • Gottfried Wagner, great-grandson of Richard Wagner (will give a public lecture at the Cadogan Hall)
  • Michael Haas, producer of the Decca ‘Entartete Musik’ recordings; music curator of the Jewish Museum Vienna; and Research Director of the JMI International Centre for Suppressed Music, London
  • Bret Werb, Director of Music at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • Albrecht Dümling, Musica Reanimata, Berlin
  • Erik Levi, Royal Holloway University of London, author of Music in the Third Reich
  • Christopher Nupen, will introduce his remarkable film We Want the Light, which seeks to understand the meaning of music in human experience through the prism of its role in relationships between Jews and Germans.


Musical Life before Hitler, the first theme, includes Jewish composers who were both traditionalists and modernists. At the time of Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, it could be argued, Jewish musicians were perhaps Germany’s and Austria’s most important living, cultural assets. Furthermore, there was hardly a note of popular music that did not rely on Jewish artists for either the melodies or the words, and usually both. In the area of serious music, Jewish composers were equally active, enjoying considerable prestige at home and abroad.

The Mechanics of the Third Reich’s Music Policies poses some interesting and potentially conflicting agendas: for example, how does one ban Jewish composers without giving off the subliminal message that the traditional music with which most of them aligned themselves was somehow un-German? How does one ban atonal music and other avant-garde idioms by Jewish or non-Jewish composers, without presenting the message that National Socialism was a conservative, rather than a progressive, form of government? Here more than elsewhere is where one can look at and examine the idea of ‘inner exile’, whom it affected and its wider impact.

The third area is the most varied: the effects of transplantation were as distinct and individual as the people involved. A composer who landed in Rio had a different experience and affected his new homeland differently from a composer who landed in Adelaide or Singapore. The catalysts of musical life in every country were often (post 1933) musical refugees. This could encompass a whole variety of musical activities, including publishing or management in London and New York, early music scholarship at Oxford, music education in Tokyo or the Bossa Nova in Brazil.

Musical Life after Hitler inevitably had to grow out of the ruins of Hitler’s Europe. The effects are still felt today but there were also more tangible events that still have to be examined: the de-Nazification processes; the re-introduction of banned music to the arenas of Germany’s Europe, and the philosophical, aesthetic and cultural reaction to the years of suppression.