Restoration and Restitution

Historian Michael Haas, former record producer at Decca and music curator for the Jewish Museum in Vienna, has been researching, recording and writing about composers who were persecuted by the Nazis since the 1980s. He initiated Decca’s recording series Entartete Musik, which releases recordings of music forgotten or destroyed during and after the Nazi period. His book, Forbidden Music: The Jewish Composers Banned by the Nazis was published by Yale University Press in April 2013. Haas’s recent paper ‘Restoration – Restitution’ discusses the complications surrounding the restoration and restitution of the lost careers and livelihoods of composers during the Third Reich.

The terms ‘restoration’ and ‘restitution’ are often used as synonyms but, explains Haas, while the term ‘restoration’ means ‘to restore something to its original state,’ ‘restitution’ indicates compensation for loss. In many notable cases, it has been possible to restore and/or return objects looted by the Nazis to their original owners (the famous case of Gustav Klimt’s 1907 painting, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I – often referred to as The Woman in Gold – for example), or to compensate the owners for the loss of their physical objects. Restoration and restitution are much more complicated, however, when applied to more abstract losses such as the loss of potential, or the loss of career. As well as the composers themselves, Haas specifies that audiences were ‘passively victimised’ by the Nazis’ cultural policy; they were ‘stealing from the public by withholding works to which they are otherwise perfectly entitled.’

In his paper Haas provides numerous examples of composers whose careers changed course or were cut short through persecution by the Nazis, and for whom restoration is subsequently impossible: many composers’ careers did not continue after their escape from Nazi Germany, so we cannot know what would have been produced. Haas describes five ‘categories’ of composers and their music that suffered during and after the Third Reich and concludes that, through the discovery, publication and performance of works by these composers, some element of restitution can be achieved. It is not just the financial loss incurred by the Nazis’ banning of their works that would need restitution, but also the immeasurable loss that we will never know – what could have been achieved by these composers.

Where those who were tragically killed by the Nazis are concerned, the loss is clear. Referred to by Haas as ‘Lost lives, lost careers,’ these composers’ lives, future careers and reputations (and in many cases, their manuscripts and sketches) have vanished, as well as all that they might have achieved if they had survived. This is especially poignant when we think of young composers whose careers were cut short. Composers such as Viktor Ullmann, Hans Krása, Pavel Haas and Gideon Klein who wrote music in Theresienstadt before being killed, are examples. Haas points out, however, that these composers will be forever linked with the Holocaust, even though much of their work was written before the Holocaust and/or deals with other subject matter. This may mean that such composers are kept apart from their contemporaries and labelled as ‘Holocaust composers,’ rather than twentieth-century composers. Hans Krása’s most famous work is the children’s opera, Brundibár, that was performed more than 50 times in Theresienstadt. Brundibár is always mentioned in studies of Krása, even though it is far from one of his best works.

In the category ‘Lost lives, lost careers,’ Haas also refers to composers who managed to escape Nazi Germany, but did not (or were unable to) pursue careers as musicians after the war. Walter Arlen, and Robert Fürstenthal both ceased composing for decades after arriving in America, having showed promise as young composers in Austria. For other émigré composers, the motivation to create remained, but they struggled to pursue careers as composers in their new countries. Sometimes this was due to antisemitism, or because of a dislike for German people or German music. Composers found more acceptance in the US than in the UK or France, but there were reduced performance opportunities there due to a smaller number of orchestras and opera houses. Haas concludes that exiled musicians ‘rarely if ever regained their previous profiles.’ The German composer and architect Richard Fuchs escaped to New Zealand but struggled to find recognition and performance opportunities. He also experienced some discrimination for being German, despite having been persecuted in Germany for his Jewish ancestry.

Haas identifies composers who wrote operettas, cabarets, contemporary hits (Schlager), dance numbers and music from the cinema as ‘music of the contemporary environment.’ In 1920s and 30s Germany, these works were typically famous for a short period, though ultimately short-lived and replaceable. Composers such as Werner Richard Heymann, Franz Wachsmann, close harmony singers The Comedian Harmonists, jazz combo The Weintraub Syncopators, and singers Jan Kiepura, Richard Tauber and Joseph Schmidt, are examples of composers and performers in this genre, whose music was generated quickly and was played frequently on the radio and in music halls until it was overtaken by another hit. Composers such as these found it difficult to find success abroad, because their style was specific to their Austro-German audience; ‘popular music,’ writes Haas, ‘is perhaps the least exportable of all genres.’ Other popular music composers include Jaromir Weinberger and Paul Abraham, neither of whom continued composing after they went into exile; many of the aforementioned composers and groups did not retain their careers after the war. There are of course exceptions, and composers Otto Klemperer and Kurt Weill both enjoyed successful careers in the US, after some considerable reinvention.

A similar category identified by Haas is ‘Yesterday’s musical environment’ – contemporary music that had fallen somewhat out of fashion, but that could have been revived in the near future, such as Ernst Krenek’s extremely popular Jonny spielt auf! (1927, Jonny Strikes up the Band!) and Max Brand’s opera, Maschinist Hopkins (1928, The Mechanic Hopkins). Both works were banned by the Nazis in 1938 and 1933 respectively (Krenek’s opera was about a black jazz musician; Brand was Jewish), and neither were revived until decades later. Hans Gál’s opera Die heilige Ente (1923, The Sacred Duck) is described by Haas as being an example of an ‘unrestorable’ work: a humorous opera, with no allegorical or political subtext, Die heilige Ente’s humour appealed to the audience of that era, and sets scenes in a Chinese opium den which would probably be perceived nowadays as racist. Haas argues that the difference between a work such as this and other operas containing outdated concepts of race and gender such as Tannhäuser and Cosi fan Tutte is that the latter works are engrained in opera canon; it would be ‘almost impossible’ to perform works by Gál, Meyerbeer and Karl Goldmark in front of modern audiences, ‘uninitiated in [the composers’] musical, theatrical and aesthetic world view.’ They are therefore ‘unrestorable.’

Haas categorises ‘serious composers’ as ‘the establishment.’ This includes composers who had died, but whose work was still under copyright, such as Gustav Mahler, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Moritz Moszkowski, Felix Mendelssohn, and the lesser-known Goldmark, Anton Rubenstein, Joseph Joachim and Ignaz Moscheles, as well as living composers Egon Wellesz, Ernst Krenek, Hans Gál and Arnold Schoenberg. Composers (and their publishers) considered by the Nazis to be Entartete Musik not only lost out financially when their works were banned; the composers’ reputations were also, in some cases, damaged. Performances of works by Mahler were hugely popular in Vienna in the 1920s, for example, but his work did not regain its pre-war popularity until some twenty years after he was banned by the Nazis.

The final category in Haas’s paper, ‘The thwarted premiere’ refers to composers who had new works banned by the Nazis while preparations for that work’s premiere were taking place. This situation was unfortunate for both the composer, who often struggled to find an alternative venue for their work to be premiered (some composers went to Austria or Czechoslovakia, but only until 1938); for the producers, performers and designers who had prepared and financed such performances; and for the work’s ‘intended public.’ As with popular music, the composers’ works were often intended for a certain audience, and did not translate well to being performed in another country. The 1938 premiere of Erich Korngold’s opera Die Kathrin was cancelled by the Nazis, due to the composer’s Jewish heritage. The opera was premiered the following year in Stockholm, but was not received particularly well; it was intended for a Viennese audience. The Nazis also cancelled the premiere of Hans Gál’s opera Die beiden Klaas (Rich Klaus, Poor Klaus), scheduled to take place in Dresden and Hamburg in 1933. Instead it was premiered in York in 1990, but was not received with the enthusiasm that it might have been in 1930s’ Germany.

Haas’s article also discusses non-Jewish composers who were condemned after the war for not having ‘resisted’ enough through their music. Some presented old attempts at twelve-tone technique as evidence that they had composed music which was not in line with Nazi cultural policy. Composers such as Werner Egk, Paul Graener, Richard Strauss and Walter Braunfels did not join the Nazi Party, but the continuation of their careers in Nazi Germany has tarnished their reputations somewhat.

Haas concludes his article by suggesting that finding suitable ways of collecting and playing these forgotten works in a ‘meaningful context’ may go some way towards offering restitution to these composers and their audiences, although some are simply too ‘of their time’ to be performed to a modern audience. Collecting and curating the papers and manuscripts of exiled composers is also useful, although this has proved difficult in the past; Haas recalls that the Municipal Museum in Vienna stopped taking in such estates when the number of donations vastly exceeded their expectations. Ultimately, Haas writes that ‘understanding is in itself an act of restitution.’

Michael Haas's article summarised by Abaigh McKee


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

Gustave Klimt's Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907.