Thursday, September 11, 2008

Degenerate music? Once banned pieces played in California

The power of music to move people has been recognized by governments at various points in world history, when certain songs, or even whole genres of music, have been banned. The performance of classical music was forbidden in China during the Great Revolution. For a fascinating account of the return of classical music to China in the present era, see the recent New Yorker article by Alex Ross. (On a personal note, it was gratifying to read about the return to prominence of Beijing's Central Conservatory of Music, where my wife, Shubha Sankaran, and I had the honor to perform in October 2007. . . . ) And the music of certain composers was banned in Nazi Germany, in many cases because these composers were Jewish.

VOA's Lonny Shavelson reports on a concert in California, featuring the music of composers whom the Nazis considered "degenerate": Erwin Schulhoff and Kurt Weill. Other composers the Nazis found objectionable are today major figures in Twentieth Century classical music: Felix Mendelssohn, Arnold Schoenberg and Gustav Mahler--the continuing prominence of whose work comfirms that great music can survive repression and ultimately transcend all political restrictions.

(In this connection, I'm posting next a piece on censorship and music I wrote for the internal VOA Interweb earlier this summer.)

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