Violist Recovers Nazi-Banned Music
Exhibit honors works by composers lost in the Holocaust, others
BOSTON — IT is called ``Entartete Musik.'' Literally translated, it means ``degenerate music,'' and it is the phrase coined by the Nazis in the 1930s to refer to any music not fitting into their agenda to maintain cultural purity. That included music that was atonal, music that was influenced by jazz, and any music composed by a member of the Jewish faith.
This wholesale policy of censorship in the name of ideology cut short the careers, even lives, of many notable composers of the day, effectively lopping off an entire branch of the tree of 20th- century music. And for nearly half a century, music by composers such as Pavel Haas, Erwin Schulhoff, and Hans Krasa, to name just three who perished in the Holocaust, has lain quiet, the result of ignorance, neglect, and time.
This month, Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., opened a five-week retrospective of music banned by the Nazis called ``Silenced Voices,'' which features an exhibition, concerts, and lectures, along with satellite events at the Longy School and New England Conservatory of Music. The commemoration is the idea of Mark Ludwig, a violist with the Boston Symphony and the founder-director of Terezin Chamber Music Foundation, dedicated to fostering an awareness and appreciation of music written by Jewish composers who perished in the Holocaust.
The foundation is a cosponsor of the retrospective. ``In terms of social impact, showing the genesis of this music under such horrible circumstances is a wonderful way to stimulate people to think about the horrors of prejudice, racism, intolerance, and censorship,'' Mr. Ludwig says.
Ludwig's commitment to this music began just over seven years ago as the convergence of several interests. ``I had already founded a chamber music series that prided itself on diverse programming, avoiding the well-trod path. I was also reading a biography of Rabbi Leo Beck, the chief rabbi in Berlin before the war. He was incarcerated in Theresienstadt and mentioned going to a concert given by two composers who were also incarcerated. This piqued my interest. I had never heard these names, and nobody else I knew had either. I thought maybe if a few pieces had survived, it would be interesting to put them on my series.''
Ludwig concentrated his search on Theresienstadt, a transit point to the Nazi death camps that the Nazis periodically spruced up to use as a ``Paradise Ghetto'' for propaganda films. It became the last home for many of Europe's most gifted composers, and a surprising amount of impressive music was created there. ``To have a cultural community active in a concentration camp, it's such a unique, bizarre thing,'' Ludwig says. ``And not all this music is depressing by any means. A lot of it is very uplifting or reminiscent of a better time.''
Ludwig used his own money for travel to Europe to get access to the music that survived. He then started the Terezin Chamber Music Foundation as an archival researching and presenting organization. ``It became apparent that this music and its history deserved an organized commitment. It's not only of surprisingly outstanding quality but also of a very compelling history. There is no other organization doing what we are.'' The foundation also has developed children's programs, which incorporate visual arts and poetry, and a lecture series.
Though Ludwig has done the majority of the foundation's research over the past years, he is slowly making contacts with Holocaust scholars in Europe and South America, and materials are turning up in a variety of unusual places. ``A couple of years ago, we found a whole stash of this music in a trunk in someone's attic,'' Ludwig recalls. ``People often aren't aware of what they have.''
The foundation is now run out of Ludwig's apartment. ``We're now at a point where we need a full-time staff and more space,'' he says. ``Our long-term goal is to assure the permanence of this music and its history by grafting this creative limb back onto the tree of 20th-century classical music. We're not merely curators. It's an active process, bringing it back into the mix of humanity.''
On a broader scale, the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II has sparked a number of other commemorations by various music organizations, including major orchestras such as the Chicago Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra. But nowhere has the commemoration flourished on such an extensive scale as in Boston, with the current Brandeis retrospective and the work of the Terezin Chamber Music Foundation and the acclaimed Hawthorne Quartet, which Ludwig formed with other members of the Boston Symphony. They now have three recordings, with a fourth to be released later this month, featuring music by these nearly forgotten composers.
In addition, the Boston Symphony has made a major commitment to the cause, programming Pavel Haas's ``Study'' for orchestra last season and featuring a season-long commemoration of the war's end this year.
Ludwig says his own dedication as musician, advocate, and foundation head is both exhausting and exhilarating. ``There are very few things in your life that grab and take hold of you.... So little material has been collected, and the survivors, who are a valuable resource in providing testimony to their history, are dying off. Also the music is not on the best quality of paper, is over half a century old, and has not been properly archived, so we're trying to get some of it published. It's really a race against time.''
* The exhibition ``Silenced Voices: Music Banned by the Nazis'' continues at Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass., through Nov. 9.