MUSIC / The banned play on: Behind an innocuous-looking CBSO concert tomorrow lies a sinister history. Mark Pappenheim reports

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The Independent Culture
TOMORROW night at Symphony Hall, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra presents a standard- looking Austro-German programme of Mendelssohn, Korngold, Hindemith and Weill. Typically safe programing, you might think. And yet, if this were Germany 1943 rather than Britain 1993, such a programme would be unthinkable. For all four composers were banned by the Nazis and their music branded as 'degenerate', tainted as it was, in Aryan eyes, either by jazz, Jewish blood, atonality or left-wing leanings.

The Nazi attacks on non-Aryan art, which began even before Hitler assumed power, culminated in the notorious 1938 Dusseldorf exhibition, Entartete Musik (Degenerate Music), in which slogan-daubed displays of scores, photographs, caricatures and press cuttings were accompanied by recorded extracts from such 'degenerate' composers as Weill, Stravinsky and Toch. Ironically, the German public flocked to sample what it was officially forbidden to see or hear.

In 1988 that exhibition was recreated and toured through a Germany still coming to terms with its dark pre-war past. In 1991 it reached Los Angeles, which is where the American-born conductor, Lawrence Foster, originally devised the accompanying concert programme which he is repeating with the CBSO on Tuesday and Wednesday (before bringing it to London on Friday and Warwick on Saturday). It is intended as something of an exercise in alternative history - 'just to show how amazing it is that these composers would all have been banned if the Nazis had won the war'.

Foster admits he played safe with his choice of repertoire. 'I could have searched out various obscure bits of Schoenberg - and lesser-known composers than that - but the force of the programme is that these four are all bread-and-butter composers - they're all now part of the standard concert repertoire. If we had filled the programme with difficult works by Krenek or Schoenberg, we could well have had some of the audience thinking, 'Well, yes, maybe those Nazis weren't so wrong after all.' '

It is an understandable fear. The now prevalent post-modern attitude that sees serialism as an aberration from the tonal norm is not, perhaps, that far removed from Nazi concepts of musical degeneracy, while at least one of the Nazis' favourite composers still enjoys widespread popularity. Foster can't stomach Carl Orff: 'not because he was a Nazi - I have a great love for the music of Richard Strauss, who was also a Nazi to some extent - but because his music is just so crass, so overly simplistic'.

The point, however, is not to condemn the art that the Nazis approved: 'It's not what came out that I object to, but what didn't - the fact that they so severely limited the potential of what might have been.' Sixty years after Hitler's rise to power, one might think the world had nothing to learn about the corrosive effects of ignorance, prejudice and hate yet, as Foster suggests, even a concert such as tomorrow night's can still teach us a thing or two today. 'In America we've just had some incredibly crass attacks by people in Congress on our National Endowment for the Arts, calling for exactly the kinds of censorship that would have done Hitler proud. So a programme like this can say: let's just watch what we're doing.'

While the CBSO's concerts are meant to remind us of familiar music we would have lost if the Nazis had won the war, a new Decca series of Entartete Musik recordings is intended to rescue unfamiliar music we nearly lost even though they didn't. Launched with two recordings of rival operas that polarised Germany's musical world in the late Twenties, while both falling foul of the Nazi street-gangs - Ernst Krenek's forward-looking jazz opera, Jonny spielt auf, and Erich Wolfgang Korngold's backward-looking, hyper-Straussian Das Wunder der Heliane - the new series will encompass banned composers of all shades and musical opinions. It will range from Ullmann and Krasa, who went on writing and performing even in the death-camp of Terezin, to Franz Waxman, who, like Korngold, found a new life writing for Hollywood (his Oscar-winning score for A Place in the Sun can be heard tomorrow at 1.50pm on BBC 1), and Hanns Eisler, who, like his longterm collaborator, Bertolt Brecht, found his new life in East Germany.

But perhaps the most remarkable rediscovery of all is the 1932 opera, Der gewaltige Hahnrei (The Magnificent Cuckold), by the then 29-year- old Berthold Goldschmidt. It is all the more remarkable because Goldschmidt, now 90, has been living for the past six decades in the same flat in north London to which he fled from Hitler in 1935. His is a story that, though it now has a happy ending, confirms one of the underlying lessons of the Decca series - that many of these composers were victims twice over: of the Nazis, and of the post-war musical establishment.

A rising star of Weimar Germany - playing piano for the Berlin Philharmonic under Furtwangler, Bruno Walter and Klemperer; playing celesta in the premiere of Berg's Wozzeck; assistant conductor to Erich Kleiber; musical adviser to Carl Ebert; guest conductor with the Leningrad Philharmonic - he had his first opera, Der gewaltige Hahnrei, premiered in Mannheim in 1932. It was instantly snapped up for the following Berlin season. But then Hitler became Chancellor and Goldschmidt was banned. He fled two years later.

Understandably, he has nothing but contempt for the Nazis: 'Their judgements were so idiotic,' he says, 'and so silly - if you can call them 'silly'. For example, they thought Max Bruch must be a Jew because he had written a Kol Nidrei. So his music was banned. Afterwards they discovered that he wasn't, but they found it very difficult to re-establish him. Well, not a great loss, perhaps,' he wrily concedes, 'but whatever the Nazis touched and banned was a loss, because it was tainted by madness and cruelty.'

He hesitates to condemn those German musicians who stayed behind, and even prospered from collaboration - composers like Orff, Pfitzner and Strauss, conductors like Furtwangler, Bohm and Karajan. 'Nobody knows what one's own attitude would have been if one had not been Jewish,' he reflects. 'But someone like Furtwangler,' he continues, spitting out the syllables of the conductor's name with sudden fire, 'could have left, and he served the Nazis very well by conducting in front of a swastika. It was actually unworthy. The case of Richard Strauss is different: he was completely apolitical at all times, he despised politicians, whether they were Imperial or Nazi.'

Goldschmidt spent his war years working for the BBC's German Service, broadcasting the music of banned composers - Mendelssohn and Mahler - back into the Third Reich. And afterwards he began to pick up the pieces. In 1947, he took British citizenship and conducted Verdi's Macbeth for Glyndebourne at the first Edinburgh Festival. Two years later he was one of four composers selected by the Arts Council to create new operas for the 1951 Festival of Britain; but, like the other three prize-winning entries, his own Beatrice Cenci was never performed, shelved to make way for Britten's Billy Budd.

He went on composing throughout the early Fifties, getting broadcasts on the BBC, but then Glock took over as Controller of Music - 'and the iron curtain came down for our generation'. In his crusade for the new Boulezian orthodoxy, Glock succeeded where the Nazis had failed: Goldschmidt was silenced and didn't compose another note for 24 years.

And so it might have remained had it not been for Simon Rattle, who came across the composer when he began using the 'performing edition' of Mahler's unfinished Tenth Symphony upon which Goldschmidt collaborated once with the late Deryck Cooke. Invited to present a programme of emigre music at the 1987 Berlin Festival, Rattle asked Goldschmidt if he had anything suitable, and the result was the German premiere of his 1936 Ciaconna Sinfonica. German interest was aroused, commissions began coming in and recordings started coming out on CD. Now Harry Kupfer is planning to stage Der gewaltige Hahnrei in Berlin, Decca is hoping to get its recording out in time for the composer's 91st birthday in January (although Radio 3 listeners can get a preview on 1 June, sandwiched between evenings of his chamber works) and the Ciaconna sinfonica is getting a London premiere at the Proms in September. Goldschmidt is amused by this sudden flurry of interest from the BBC: 'so they do a package deal now,' he laughs. But he insists he feels no bitterness at his long neglect. 'The thing about bitterness, you see, is that it's a question of taste.'

Independent readers can buy top-price tickets for the CBSO's Barbican concert on Friday at two for the price of one ( pounds 25 & pounds 19, subject to availability) by calling 071-638 8891, quoting this offer

(Photograph omitted)

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