A veteran recording producer and authority on Jewish music debuts with a richly detailed history of Jewish musicians—not just composers—who were threatened by the Holocaust.
The author set for himself some difficult tasks: telling riveting personal stories, providing historical and cultural contexts, explaining the types of music that composers were creating before and during the rise of the Nazis, charting the conflicts about music that raged among the musicians themselves. On nearly every page, Haas reveals his vast knowledge about the era and its principals, but his style is often thick and academic, and many long quotations block rather than enhance the flow of his narrative. Appearing throughout is critic Julius Korngold, early champion of Gustav Mahler; the author includes long passages of Korngold’s writing. Haas describes the musical life in Austria and Germany before the Nazis and reminds us that many Jews in Germany were secular and defined themselves as German. He tells the story of the end of World War I and the “mass exodus” of intellectuals and artists from Vienna to Berlin. He follows the rise of expressionism and continually brings before us the names of artists unfamiliar to many—Ernst Toch, Hanns Eisler, Edmund Meisel, Hans Gál, Egon Wellesz and many more. Haas describes the conflict between the Romantics and the rising influence of Arnold Schoenberg, and he does not neglect Wagner’s ugly influence. Many musicians who escaped the Nazis found employment in the film and other entertainment industries. Americans, writes the author, were glad to welcome into their orchestras the notables from Europe. Haas also spends some time on musical life within the death camps and charts the effects on the music world of denazification after the war.
An important text whose dense design may dissuade some general readers but whose thorough research supplies some significant pages in the account of some of history’s darkest decades.