Degenerate music

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Poster of a 1938 degenerate music exhibit in Düsseldorf

Degenerate music (German: Entartete Musik) was a label applied in the 1930s by the Nazi government in Germany to certain forms of music that it considered to be harmful or decadent. The Nazi concern for degenerate music was a part of its larger and more well-known campaign against degenerate art (Entartete Kunst). In both cases, the government attempted to isolate, discredit, discourage, or ban the works.

Racial emphasis[edit]

The Nazi regime promoted the works of German composers, especially those of Richard Wagner who was also much admired by Adolf Hitler as well as many others. Especial favourites were Rienzi and the Ring cycle with all its links to German mythology. Military marches were highly approved, and widely used as in the films of Leni Riefenstahl such as Triumph of the Will.[citation needed]


Felix Mendelssohn, one of the musicians described as "degenerate"

From the Nazi seizure of power in 1933 onward, these composers found it increasingly difficult, and often impossible, to get work or have their music performed. Many went into exile (e.g., Arnold Schoenberg, Kurt Weill, Paul Hindemith, Berthold Goldschmidt), retreated into 'internal exile' (e.g., Karl Amadeus Hartmann, Boris Blacher), or ended up in the concentration camps (e.g., Viktor Ullmann, Erwin Schulhoff).

Like degenerate art, examples of degenerate music were displayed in public exhibits in Germany beginning in 1938. One of the first of these was organized in Düsseldorf by Hans Severus Ziegler, at the time superintendent of the Weimar National Theatre, who explained in an opening speech that the decay of music was "due to the influence of Judaism and capitalism". Ziegler's exhibit was organized into seven sections, devoted to (1) the influence of Judaism, (2) Schoenberg, (3) Weill and Ernst Krenek, (4) "Minor Bolsheviks" (Franz Schreker, Alban Berg, Ernst Toch, etc.), (5) Leo Kestenberg, director of musical education before 1933, (6) Hindemith's operas and oratorios, and (7) Igor Stravinsky (Anon. 1938, 629).

From the mid-1990s the Decca Record Company released a series of recordings under the title Entartete Musik: Music Suppressed by the Third Reich, covering lesser-known works by several of the above-named composers.

See also[edit]


  • Anon. 1938. "Musical Notes from Abroad". Musical Times 79, no. 1146 (August): 629–30.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bryder, Tom. 1998. "Entartete Musik": The Political, Historical and Psychological Background to the Infamous Musical Exhibition by the Nazis in 1938. Arbejdspapir (Københavns universitet. Institut for statskundskab) 1998, no. 4. Copenhagen: Institut for statskundskab, Københavns universitet. ISBN 9788773933855.
  • Du Closel, Amaury. 2004. Les voix étouffées du Troisième Reich: entartete Musik: essai. Arles: Actes Sud. ISBN 9782742752645.
  • Dümling, Albrecht. 2007. Das verdächtige Saxophon: "Entartete Musik" im NS-Staat: Dokumentation und Kommentar, fourth, revised and expanded edition. Termine der Ausstellung, 3. November – 31. Dezember 2007, Philharmonie Berlin, 25. Januar – 10. März 2008, Tonhalle Düsseldorf. [Berlin]: Dümling.
  • Dümling, Albrecht, and Peter Girth. 1993. Entartete Musik: zur Düsseldorfer Ausstellung von 1938: eine kommentierte Rekonstruktion, third edition. Düsseldorf: Dkv. der kleine Verlag. ISBN 9783924166298.
  • Heister, Hanns-Werner (ed.). 2001. "Entartete Musik" 1938—Weimar und die Ambivalenz: ein Projekt der Hochschule für Musik Franz Liszt Weimar zum Kulturstadtjahr 1999, 2 vols. Saarbrücken: Pfau-Verlag. ISBN 9783897271265.
  • Heister, Hanns-Werner. 2005. Antimoderne, Faschismus, modernisierte Reaktion. Die Ambivalenz der Moderne 1; Musik/Gesellschaft/Geschichte 1. Berlin: Weidler. ISBN 9783896934345.
  • Huschke, Wolfram, and Claas Cordes. 1999. "Entartete Musik" 1999: eine Antwort auf Hans Severus Ziegler. Edition Musik und Wort der Hochschule für Musik Franz Liszt Weimar. Weimar: Universitätsverlag Weimar. ISBN 9783860681091.
  • Lambalgen, Bente-Helene van, Emanuel Overbeeke, and Leo Samama. 2004. Entartete Musik: verboden muziek onder het nazi-bewind. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press/Salomé. ISBN 9789053567159.
  • Ziegler, Hans Severus. 1937. Entartete Musik: eine Abrechnung. Düsseldorf: Völkischer Verlag

External links[edit]