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"Jewry and German music, those are opposites, which by their nature stand in harshest contradictions to each other." - Joseph Goebbels (Art, Culture, and Media Under the Third Reich, Richard A. Etli)

Music, Propaganda, and the Third Reich: 

Music has always been an important aspect of German culture. Music under the Third Reich was no exception. If anything, music took on a greater significance during the regime as the Nazis sought to create a "purified" national cultural identity, purged of “degenerate” Jewish and foreign influences. In 1933 the Nazis established a Reich Chamber of Music, which encouraged government sanctioned music, forcibly removed Jewish musicians from any official posts, and banned the playing of Jewish compositions. The Nazi government also attempted to eliminate the Jazz and Swing music that had become popular in Germany in the 1920’s, believing that its foreign origins tainted German musical culture. The government even created a museum exhibition in Düsseldorf, Germany titled “Entartete Musik,” (Degenerate Music) to educate visitors about dangers of Jewish and foreign music. This exhibition showed that the music the Nazis censored was not based on type or style, but rather the racial characteristics of the people who wrote and played it. 

Music was also closely linked to the Nazi's ability to persuade and control its people. This is particularly evident in their use of music in propaganda. Rallies, marches, and parades included popular songs such as Horst Wessellied (Horst Wessel song), the Anthem of the Nazi Party. Music and singing were also crucial tools for indoctrination and community building among children's programs, like the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth). Aware its popularity in German culture, Hitler and the Nazis were successfully able to intertwine music with the belief system of the Third Reich, and incorporated this music into spectatular displays of Nazi power to achieve the desired effect among German audiences.  

What Music was Approved by the Nazis?

The Third Reich appropriated many composers, musicians, conductors, and types of music as examples of Aryan achievements. One of the most prominent examples is 19th century composer Richard Wagner (1818-1883), a favorite of Hitler's. Other examples include:

  • Ludwig Von Beethoven (Composer/Pianist)
  • Herbert von Karajan (Conductor)
  • Walter Gieseking (Pianist)
  • Anton Bruckner (Composer)
  • Hans Hotter (Opera Singer)

 

Click on an image below to learn more about some of the approved composers and musicians.

       
What Music was Banned by the Nazis?

Policy makers of the Third Reich struggled to clearly identify what music was acceptable and what was banned. But even without clear criteria, it is evident that the following types of music were deemed "dangerous:"

  • Music written or performed by non-Aryans, in particular, Jewish people.
  • Foreign music
  • Jazz and Swing
  • Atonal music

The Third Reich attempted to eliminate these types of degenerate music and musicians through a number of highly bureaucratic policies, including:

  • The banning of Jewish and other non-Aryan composers and musicians from membership to the Reich's Music Chamber. 
  • Rejecting Jewish and non-Aryan applicants from obtaining music teaching licenses. 
  • Producing and distributing lists of undesirable music.
  • Creating propaganda, speeches, and museum exhibitions about the dangers of blacklisted music and composers.
  • Banning Jewish people from places of culture like cinemas, theaters, and concert halls. 

 

Among the composers, musicians, and conductors banned were Giacomo Meyerbeer (Jewish Opera Composer), Felix Mendelssohn (Jewish Composer), Arnold Schoenberg (Austrian Composer whose music was banned for its radicalism), Otto Klemperer (Jewish Conductor and Composer), Ernst Krenek (Austrian Composer of Jonny spielt auf, an opera about a Black jazz musician), and Bruno Walter (Jewish Conductor and Composer). To learn more about each musician or composer, click on an image below:




Pure Music


Richard Wagner, "Ride of the Valkyries"

Degenerate Music


Felix Mendelssohn, "Wedding March"

Bibliography

Applegate, Celia, and Pamela Potter. Music and German National Identity. University of Chicago Press, 2002.

“Degenerate Music.” Accessed December 30, 2015. https://fcit.usf.edu/holocaust/arts/musDegen.htm.

DeLora J. Neuschwander. “Music in the Third Reich.” Musical Offerings 3, no. 2 (December 2012).

Etlin, Richard A. Art, Culture, and Media Under the Third Reich. University of Chicago Press, 2002.

“Music.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Accessed December 26, 2015. http://www.ushmm.org/research/research-in-collections/search-the-collections/bibliography/music#h11.

“Music and the Holocaust: Home.” Accessed January 9, 2016. http://holocaustmusic.ort.org/.

“Music Approved of by the Third Reich.” Accessed January 9, 2016. http://fcit.usf.edu/holocaust/arts/musreich.htm.

“Music in Nazi Germany.” History Learning Site. Accessed December 30, 2016. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/nazi-germany/music-in-nazi-germany/.

Steinweis, Alan E. Art, Ideology, and Economics in Nazi Germany: The Reich Chambers of Music, Theater, and the Visual Arts. Univ of North Carolina Press, 1993.

“The Nazis’ Take on ‘Degenerate Music’ | Music | DW.COM | 24.05.2013.” DW.COM. Accessed December 30, 2015. http://www.dw.com/en/the-nazis-take-on-degenerate-music/a-16834697.

“The OREL Foundation | Articles & Essays | Defining ‘Degenerate Music’ in Nazi Germany.” Accessed January 9, 2016. http://orelfoundation.org/index.php/journal/journalArticle/defining_8220degenerate_music8221_in_nazi_germany/.

“The OREL Foundation | Articles & Essays | Recovering a Musical Heritage: The Music Suppressed by the Third Reich.” Accessed January 9, 2016. http://orelfoundation.org/index.php/journal/journalArticle/recovering_a_musical_heritage_the_music_suppressed_by_the_third_reich/.

“Third Reich Classical Music - Education & E-Learning - Yad Vashem.” Accessed December 26, 2015. http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/education/newsletter/17/reich_music.asp.

“University of Virginia Library Online Exhibits | CENSORED: Wielding the Red Pen.” Accessed December 26, 2015. https://explore.lib.virginia.edu/exhibits/show/censored/walkthrough/entartete.

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