Brothers Dr Ludwig (1883-1978) and Willi (1884-1958) Strecker were directors of the German music publishing house, Schott Music, during the Second World War. Although the brothers courted the Nazis, and their business prospered under Nazi rule, they also continued to publish works by composers considered by the Nazis to be ‘degenerate,’ including Paul Hindemith, Igor Stravinsky, Erich Korngold, Kurt Weill and Karl Amadeus Harmann, amongst others. It is unclear whether their actions were politically motivated, or whether the brothers were simply open to any opportunities that would further their business. 

The brothers were especially enthusiastic about contemporary music, and when they took over the company in 1920 they founded the contemporary music journal, Melos, edited by the conductor Hermann Scherchen. Scherchen was succeeded by the modernist musicologist Hans Mersmann from 1924 until he was ‘relieved’ of his duties in 1933 (he was later accused of being a Bolshevik). The journal ceased publication in 1934 and was later shown at the Entartete Musik exhibition in Düsseldorf in 1938.

Ludwig worked as an opera librettist under the pseudonym Ludwig Andersen and some of his operas, including Die Zaubergeige (The Magic Violin, 1935, with music by Werner Egk), have been described as having ‘nationalist sympathies.’ The brothers’ father, Ludwig Strecker Sr. (1853-1943), had been a personal friend of Richard Wagner. As a result, Ludwig Sr. commanded respect from Hitler, and received greetings from the Führer on his wedding anniversary.

Nevertheless, the Strecker brothers continued after 1933 to honour many of their contracts with Jewish composers such as Hans Gál, Korngold, Ernst Toch, Bernard Sekles and Matyás Seiber, although performances of works by these composers were often postponed or cancelled. The brothers published some ‘politically sensitive’ material, such as Lehrstück (1930), a work by Hindemith and Bertolt Brecht, and they continued to publish Hindemith’s music, even though it was banned after 1936. They also had a close relationship with Stravinsky, and encouraged the performance of his works despite hostility within Germany towards foreign composers, and rumours that Stravinsky was Jewish and a Bolshevik.

The brothers’ correspondence with some of the Jewish composers on their books tell of the political sensitivity that had to be exercised where non-Aryan composers were concerned. In a letter to Erich Korngold in October 1933, Willi Strecker describes the growing hostility towards Jewish composers during the first year of the Third Reich:

Even if the tone coming out of Berlin on the Jewish question appears more conciliatory with matters of artistic merit being placed above all other factors, the mood in the provincial Leagues for German Culture is at present so aggressive that no theatre director or even orchestra conductor dares to perform a work of Jewish authorship without danger of public demonstrations. You can’t imagine the difficulties our publishing house faces with the charges of ‘cultural Bolshevism’ and ‘international Jewish tendencies.’ It would be fuel to the fire to all of those who have had their rejected manuscripts returned from us.

In a further letter to Korngold in December 1934, in which he rejects Korngold’s new opera, Die Kathrin, Ludwig Strecker writes that, ‘only yesterday, Furtwängler, Kleiber and Hindemith have resigned from all of their posts and they stand accused of being ‘too Jew-friendly.’’

The brothers expanded Schott Music throughout the 1930s, and, after the Anschluss in 1938, overtook the Viennese publishing house, Universal Edition, as the leading music publishers in the German-speaking world.

By Abi McKee

Sources

Evans, J. (Fall 2003) ‘Stravinsky’s Music in Hitler’s Germany,’ Journal of the American Musicological Society, 56 (3) 525-594

Haas, M. (2016) ‘Restoration – Restitution’ [unpublished paper] UK

Haas, M. (2014) Forbidden Music: the Jewish composers banned by the Nazis (London: Yale University Press)

Kater, M. (2010) Composers of the Nazi era: eight portraits (New York: Oxford University Press)

Levi, E. (2001) Music in the Third Reich (Basingstoke: Palgrave)