Jewish Music and Nazis Mourning: Authenticity and Ideology

Karen Painter, Minnesota University
Tuesday, July 31, 2018, 4:45  pm
Filene Auditorium, Moore Hall

When the National Socialists came to power, musicologists and critics revised the history of music in Germany, erasing or maligning any Jewish-German contribution. The most important composer of the twentieth century, Arnold Schoenberg, was absent from histories of music, while Gustav Mahler, whose important symphony and song output extended back two decades into the nineteenth century, was mentioned chiefly as a conductor. Jews could reproduce, but not produce.

Music for mourning presents a special case: (1) eminent composers, unlike in past centuries, felt compromised to write music for particular occasions, including fallen soldiers; (2) the culture of optimism after 1933 and later the pressure not to grieve the war dead, discouraged composers from writing music for mourning. At the same time as composers in Germany abandoned the revered genre of sacred mourning, the requiem, Jewish composers who fled Germany embraced the genre. In this paper I examines the several such examples, suggesting that the sacred ritual of loss served a metaphorical closure for composers who needed to reinvent their creativity composer on foreign soil.

The contribution of Jewish-Germans to the repertoire of tragic music came hand-in-hand with a pattern of disassociation and persecution. Offering a new model of social history as an alternative in musicology, I suggest that the role of Jews in mourning was minimized from World war I on. Two case studies from the Third Reich show the tension between hardline ideologues and the musical establishment, which sought to keep some Jewish-Germans in their associated positions.

Karen Painter (Yale ’87, Columbia ‘96) writes on politics in German and Austrian music, with a focus on Jewish identity, anti-semitism, and Nazism. She is completing a book on music for fallen soldiers during the World Wars. Her first faculty position was at Dartmouth faculty, from 1995 to 1997; she was on the Harvard faculty for ten years and now ten years at the University of Minnesota. Painter was research director at the National Endowment of the Arts in 2005/06. She has been a scholar in residence in Paris at the EHESS (2010) and in Berlin, where she held a Humboldt fellowship and the Berlin Prize. Painter and her husband Richard (U of M law professor and U.S. Senate candidate) have three children and many pets.

Free and open to the public!

Sponsored by the Leon Black Lecture Series and the Jewish Studies Program