25 years after the Decca series, Entartete Musik is still barely heard

25 years after the Decca series, Entartete Musik is still barely heard


norman lebrecht

September 05, 2018

Basia Jaworski has written a short survey of the composers who, banned by the Nazis, have yet to be fully restored to our concert halls.

Read (and watch videos) here.



  • Jean says:

    This should be re-released as a collectors’ box set. They make so many boxes these days (e.g. Bernstein) – why not this series also?

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Good music banned by the nazis continued to be played elsewhere, and not all music that was banned by the nazis is good.

    Inoficially, the nazis banned even ‘Parsifal’ (too pacifist for the times…).

    • Brettermeier says:

      “not all music that was banned by the nazis is good.”

      While I agree, one could argue that it’s more of a legacy thing. But too often I think that a composer’s life is more interesting than his music and that sometimes it might be better to remember a person rather than his music.

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    I bought all of the sets as they were released by Decca and the book by Michael Haas which were a revelation to me at the time. Few, if any, of the works or composers have found a secure place in the standard repertoire since they were composed, the Nazi’s nothwithstanding. This may be in part due to the conservatism of the audiences and not just necessarily in a political sense.

    Much of the music of the middle 20th century has and was being ignored before Haas’s excavations, which is clearly different from being suppressed, and I always felt that Decca’s Entartete Musik series was incomplete, in part due to commercial pressures caused by indifference of the listening public.

    I admit that most of my discs have been played only once, Korngold the exception, and this reminder might help me revisit this fascinating period in the lost byways of 20th century composition. But for every ‘degenerate’ composer there are as many who are just overlooked by those who decide what the repertoire will be. Even rediscovered operas rarely get more than a a single run of performance before being put back into the curiosity box.

    • John Borstlap says:

      And why would that be? Much of that music is good, some of it is brilliant, either being overlooked or suppressed. It seems to me that there are 2 reasons: a) the gradual erosion of audience interest anyway for any classical music and b) the overall type of idiom of tonal 20C works: gritty, grim, when expressive generously sprinkled with dissonance, when ‘hip’, entertaining of a rather faded kind. The exception seems to be Braunfels, which is ‘Straussian’, but his modest radiance drowns amidst the sea of darkness. There is a certain type of musical beauty which became very rare in the last century.

      • Cubs Fan says:

        and c) the exorbitant prices charged by publishers for rental and performance fees. A lot of fine, playable, music is out of reach for smaller orchestras for the simple reason that they cannot afford it! I understand that publishing music is horribly expensive and these companies need to recoup their costs. But maybe if they made it affordable, more orchestras would rent it and increase profits that way. Given the budgets of many groups are quite small, it’s no wonder they keep playing the old chestnuts in public domain with parts and scores online for free! Maybe it’s because most publishers and representatives are based in New York, London, Paris and Vienna: four of the most expensive cities in the world. And, even if you can afford it, just locating it is a real challenge at times.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Agreed with c): that is a serious barrier. But the whole royalties question is a contraproductive thing anyway: it is a burden for publishers and performing bodies, which means that only the thing that is considered ‘most prestiguous’, i.e. has the best publicity potential (as distinct from artistic quality), gets the few performance opportunities, which gives a distorted impression of what is written. Add to this the whole mass of problems surrounding contemporary music anyway, it is rather bizarre that there is no way of offering unknown 20C music like the entartete variety in an inexpensive way.

          The idea of royalty protection for composers was born in a time when there was a strong interest in new music (early 20C) but in today’s musical reality, it has created an extra barricade.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Basia’s collection of short bios and videos is fascinating.

    Braunfels, Korngold and Schreker (in his earlier works) preserved most of a bygone classical aesthetic, and Schreker has enjoyed something of a true revival.

    • Ross Amico says:

      Korngold hasn’t done too shabbily either. I’ve heard Ullmann (The Emperor of Atlantis, on two different occasions) and Schulhoff (his Concerto for String Quartet and Wind Orchestra) in concert. Shreker has been taken up a few conductors. There’s a JoAnn Falletta recording that should be well down the pipeline by this point.


      These composers are probably about as “big” as they are going to get. At least we know they are out there. But none of them are ever going to be embraced as the new Strauss, Hindemith, or even Weill. That said, I am extremely thankful for the recordings that made it into the landmark Decca series.

    • RW2013 says:

      I’ve been rehearsing Braunfels’ Te Deum and pity anyone who doesn’t know this great work.

  • Ross Amico says:

    I should also extend thanks for the link to Basia Jaworski’s survey. I find it most interesting to find Wilhelm Grosz connected to “The Santa Fe Trail” (as it was titled on the film’s release), since the score was by Max Steiner, and the orchestrations are credited to Hugo Friedhofer, who worked frequently with both Steiner and Korngold. I wonder if Grosz simply wrote a song that was used in the film, which I haven’t seen for some time? I can hardly get through it, it is such a mess, which is unusual considering those involved. Flynn, De Havilland, Raymond Massey, Michael Curtiz, Steiner — what could possibly go wrong? The screenplay, apparently. I remember being very confused by the film’s politics. But I’ll have to go back and watch it, I guess.

    Also it was released in 1940, so Grosz’s work, in whatever capacity, would have been appreciated after his death.

    • Basia Jaworski says:

      Ross Amico:
      the poster says: music is composed by Will Grosz

      • Ross Amico says:

        With all due respect, the sheet music for the song may say Will Grosz, but Max Steiner wrote the score, which was orchestrated by Hugo Friedhofer.

        You’ll find the credits by scrolling through cast and crew on IMDB.


        • Brendan Carroll says:

          The story behind SANTA FE TRAIL is complicated. The song only actually occurs as a melody in Max Steiner’s backgound score and infrequently at that; it is not sung by anyone. The film was shot mid 1940 and not released until December of that year. Grosz died in Decmber 1939 before the film was even started and Steiner would not have scored the film until Sept/October 1940. My guess is that the song was written in 1939 and intended for the film, but then, when assigned to score the film, Steiner decided against using it (he did not like using songs by other composers and later had issues with using AS TIME GOES BY in “Casabanca”, but was over-ruled by Hal Wallis.). Nevertheless the sheet copy (Warner Bos owned the publishing house) was still used to promote the film. Grosz was a close friend of Erich Wolfgang Korngold in pre-Hitler Vienna and I believe that Korngold may have secured his old friend a job at Warner Brothers, which sadly ended with his premature death. One day, I hope someone will dig through the Warner files still surviving in California and find the accurate backstory on all this.

        • John Leman Riley says:

          IMDb is far from being authoritative and nobody I know would use it as a single source. Nevertheless, having just watched the credit sequence on Youtube, the music is, like many many others, a Steiner-Friedhofer-Forbstein co-production.

          However, IMDb also lists a number of uncredited music pieces, including Grosz’s ‘Along the Santa Fe Trail’. I don’t know the details of ASCAP registration, but perhaps Warners owning it outright meant they didn’t need to credit it to Grosz to register it.

          The plot thickens when one discovers that Grosz also worked under a pseudonym – Hugh Williams. Which is how you may find ‘Along the Santa Fe Trail’ credited. The song proved reasonably popular so perhaps posters produced after the initial run included Grosz’s name to entice punters in to hear the song.

          • Ross Amico says:

            @John Leman Riley: I had no idea when responding to a web post on slippedisc.com that I was supposed to cite only scholarly sources. But thanks for the potshot. As a matter of fact, I happen to own the film. As a Flynn fan, I’ve seen these things enough times to remember who wrote the music. Since the unreliable IMDB got it right this time, I found it the simplest way to back up my claim. Must I really defend myself? I guess so.

            @Brendan Carroll: You, I trust as an authority. Thank you for your lifetime of service to EWK and his peers.

          • Michael Haas says:

            The original Version of “Along the Santa Fe Trail” was written Long before as “Liebling, nach dem Tango vergiss mich” – here, sung by Joseph Schmidt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76JcMY2B8ro

            Grosz, having received the possible commission simply took his German Schlager and plopped the American text on top.

        • Michael Haas says:

          The exil.arte Center in Vienna has just taken on the Wilhelm Grosz musical estate. Grosz was approached to write the score while he was living in London. He took a German popular song he had already composed and placed the new “Santa Fe” text underneath. It worked a dream. I believe Korngold had recommended him for the film, since Flynn and Havilland would normally have been his territory. Grosz only got as far as NY before dying in 1939 of a heart attack at the age of 45 leaving his family stuck in London throughout the war.

    • Melsh says:

      Obituaries of Grosz in both Variety and the New York Times state that he had just signed a contract with Warner Brothers two weeks prior to his death.

  • Paul Randall says:


    For further listening, follow the link above to a radio programme looking at one man’s quest to learn more about Entartete music and its composers.

  • C Porumbescu says:

    Curious perspective. Korngold has absolutely boomed since the Entartete Musik series – multiple recordings and live performances. Isn’t his Violin Concerto Schott’s single highest-earning property? Meanwhile Kalman – another of the big projects in that series – is currently the 4th most performed 20th century opera composer, according to Operabase. Only Puccini, Strauss and Lehar outstrip him.

    As for Schreker, Eisler, Goldschmidt, Krenek etc – surely they’re doing at least as well as any other C20th central European composers of the second rank (eg Pfitzner, Schmidt, Egk etc)? The series did a magnificent job of reasserting their claim to purely musical recognition.

  • luigi nonono says:

    And yet, Wagner and Strauss continue to be programmed constantly, if for no other reason that the continued domination of classical music by the German agenda of musical superiority, which is entirely false. It is beyond disgusting.

    • Basia Jaworski says:

      Not only German Luigi Nonono!
      In the Netherlands it’s almost ONLY Strauss and Wagner (and Mozart) what we get at the opera. And not only opera. There is NO Braunfels, no Schreker, no Zemlinsky, no Ullmann no Schulhoff….The only piece by Korngold we do hear (and not so often) is his violin concerto…

      I wrote many atticle on Entartete Musik, but only few are translated in English. This one, about Dutch-Hungarian Paul Hermann (almost nobody in the Netherlands except the Leo Smit Stichting, knows his name)


      There is an article about Szymon Laks:

      Or Joseph Beer:

      For those who read German:

      To all celebrating:

      • John Borstlap says:

        Why surprise? The Netherlands is a populist country, where culture is considered a superfluous hobby. Lazy programming is caused by the need to get the hall filled, so only the names which might ring a faraway bell come into consideration. The Leo Smit Foundation is struggling to keep afloat, but they are still presenting interbellum music, for small audiences – a small island in a sea of indifference.

        • Brettermeier says:

          “culture is considered a superfluous hobby”

          That’s true in too many countries, agreed.

          “Lazy programming is caused by the need to get the hall filled, so only the names which might ring a faraway bell come into consideration”

          I’m not sure if it’s lazy programming if opera houses etc. have to keep an eye on attendance. But it is lazy or mindless programming if a program doesn’t have two goals in mind. Any program is worthless if there’s no audience. So it needs this Mozart etc. to get a basic crowd and thus basic attendance. That’s the first goal. But this should be combined with works of lesser known composers, like the aforementioned. That should be the second goal: To make lesser known composers known. In short: 1. Draw people in with some standard repertoire 2. Show them that there’s more. Quite simple, but often I see either this or that. Just standard repertoire or just, as an example, persecuted composers. It’s the mix that matters.

          • Cubs Fan says:

            I know what you’re saying, but the reality is it won’t work. I’ll just provide one example. Several years ago I went to San Francisco to hear the orchestra under Fabio Luisi play the glorious 4th symphony of Franz Schmidt. The first half was the Schumann piano concerto (yawn…) and the house was quite full. After the intermission, the house was much less filled, several sections devoid of listeners. In oh-so-sophisticated SF, there was little interest in a not-so-well known work; they only came for the oft repeated familiar concerto. Too bad, because they missed a magnificent performance. I suspect playing any work by Bax, Atterberg, Wiren, or Rubbra would have the same result.

          • Brettermeier says:

            “I know what you’re saying, but the reality is it won’t work.”

            But in your example it worked, didn’t it? The audience obviously was willing to pay the full entrance fee, despite leaving after the intermission. That’s good (financially speaking) for the orchestra and a choice for the audience. Let’s say they’d only played Schmidt’s Nos. 3 & 4 (btw., what’s with Schmidt these days? Heard the 4th in Berlin in April, not my cup of tea, but interesting none the less). That might be nice for the selected audience you mentioned stayed for the second half, the rest of them probably would just have stayed at home for the whole concert and thus not buying a ticket at all. You (and the ones who stayed) could enjoy Schmidt (or, well, hate it), the broader audience Schumann and the orchestra had a non critical attendance. Sound like a win-win-win to me.

            “I suspect playing any work by Bax, Atterberg, Wiren, or Rubbra would have the same result.”

            And now just think what would happen to an orchestra that played just these composers’ work. They need an interested (=paying) audience. There’s some things you cannot change. You can’t make people more (in your words) sophisticated. It’s a choice – their choice. The only thing an orchestra can do is to offer something. In this case: Schumann and Schmidt. Some people now do know Schmidt’s 4th. Maybe next time they are more interested. It’s up to them. But to get this, in a lack of better word and despite sounding arrogant, “less sophisticated” audience you have to get them to attend in the first place, hence a mixed program.

  • Michael Haas says:

    As this is a series I initiated, perhaps I may be allowed to express an opinion on its legacy: There is no question that a number of composers we featured have been taken up by orchestras, soloists and ensembles. The mere fact that a string quartet is now named Pavel Haas Quartet would suggest that certain names have gained significant recognition. Every one of the operas we recorded was taken up by an opera house somewhere in Germany, Switzerland or Austria. The series should have continued with works by Hans Gál, Egon Wellesz and Ernst Toch. An important characteristic to acknowledge is that music is actually something quite local. The plurality of voices in inter-war Berlin was different to that in Vienna, Prague, Budapest or Warsaw. The revival of names lost during the NSDAP years is inevitably local. Austria and Germany have both seen continuing interest and revivals of the composers featured in the “Entartete Musik” series as well as those we missed out. Osnabrück performed a superb “Das Lied der Nacht” by Hans Gál; Die deutsche Oper performed “Das Wunder der Heliane” – 100 times better than the Decca recording. Bregenz has just performed Berthold Goldschmidt’s “Beatrice Cenci” and Braunfels is almost established as a recognised name among German concert attendees. The fact that Vienna’s University of Music and Performing Arts and the Austrian government have handed us the wherewithal to repatriate the incalculable number of musical estates strewn across the globe at our exil.arte Centre indicates commitment to bringing this “local” repertoire back to those audiences from whence it was taken. The UK and the US inevitably see these composers from their perspective. Universal Music is American and Decca was British. The Anglo-American centricity of their view is very much the reason the recordings have probably not been made available again. It isn’t a phenomenon that affected them except as recipients of cultural émigrés – most of whom were happy to be alive and could only make the contribution to local cultures that local cultures were prepared to accept. Sometimes these were significant, but normally, the creativity in exile was diminished. Another issue that arises in the restoration of composers lost during the Nazi years, is the question of cultural ownership. Karol Rathaus, an important composer in inter-war Berlin considered himself Austrian. He was born in Tarnopol, which after the First World War became Polish and after the Second became Soviet-Ukrainian. He found refuge in the then not terribly prestigious Queens College in Queens New York. When he died, nobody knew who he was beyond his position as a much admired music teacher who appeared to be able to play the entire repertoire by memory on the piano. The fact that he was the first serious music composer to deliver a film score (before Korngold) or that he and Alfred Döblin were once mentioned as possible competition to Weill and Brecht, or his many film scores in Paris and London or his commissioned ballet from the Royal Opera House….well, nobody knew about those things. His compositions remained unclaimed by Austria, the country he patriotically called his own; by Germany where he made his career or indeed France or Great Britain. Ultimately, Poland has settled on claiming Rathaus as one of their own and one hopes to see future revivals. The complexities of music, tastes and an international market being catered to by a multi-national entertainment Golem facing down executives with quarterly results means the “Entartete Musik” series has become history. The music, however continues to live on and it is being revived in those countries which are most able to value it.

    • Peter Sarkar says:

      Thank you, Michael, for these clarifying observations.

      I would also like to protest against a number of comments in this thread who show a rather anti-modernist taste. They like (from the “entartete Musik” repertoire) Schreker, Korngold and Braunfels but seem to lack understanding of the more exciting stuff, e.g. Schulhoff, Goldschmidt, Ullmann, Krenek, Gideon Klein. I regard them as belonging to the No.1 ranks of 20C music, hardly lesser than Strawinsky, Bartok or Hindemith. It is really great music and you can enjoy listening to them.

  • Brendan Carroll says:

    @ Ross Amico: Thank you for your very nice compliment. I rarely receive thanks for my efforts so it is nice to know that one is appreciated. I forgot to add that this song by Grosz became a very big hit for Bing Crosby. His change of name to Hugh Williams reminded me of another interesting Jewish emigre – Józef Żmigrod (1902-1973) who was born in Tarnow (today in Poland, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire) and was a student of Schoenberg in the 1920s.

    Like Korngold he later worked with Max Reinhardt in Berlin. He worked in the Berlin cabaret and started composing film music when sound films began (including for the famous ‘Emil and the Detectives’ in 1931) but left Germany after 1933 and settled in London where he changed his name to Allan Gray (after the name of Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, a story he admired). He quickly found work with Korda and other major studios, before joining Powell and Pressburger writing scores for many of their most important films including The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Canterbury Tale (1944), I Know Where I’m Going! (1945) and A Matter of Life and Death (1946). He also wrote the music for The African Queen, John Huston’s famous film with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn, in 1951. His later years are somewhat shrouded in mystery and he died forgotten in Amersham, Buckinghamshire. I have no idea what became of his estate.