‘Holocaust’ music: Art or history?

[from the Washington Post]

The Third Reich wanted to stamp out Judaism in music. The problem, writes the scholar Michael Haas in his new book “Forbidden Music: The Jewish Composers Banned by the Nazis,” was figuring out what that meant. Was Jewish music old, reactionary, tradition-bound, unable to be creative? Or was it new, offensive to the senses, avant-garde? The Nazis thought of themselves as forward-looking, but their artistic tastes were anything but progressive. They ended up sanctioning a lot of safe and since-forgotten music by party members, and tarring most of the rest with the brush of “degeneracy.”

Years have passed since the nightmare, but labeling music is still a thorny and controversial topic. Today, there are many and various ongoing efforts to return so-called “degenerate” music to the canon. What’s controversial is how to define this music. The term “Holocaust music” signals the general theme to people who might not know what “degenerate music” is. But in working to revive or remember art under such a sensational and clumsy rubric risks diminishing composers’ artistic achievement in favor of their historical importance: privileging artifact over art.

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