Degenerate Music

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Step into the Divaville Lounge on Sunday, March 18 from 2-4 pm as we take a look at the restrictions on popular music in WWII-era Germany. The Nazis attempted to control all aspects of German life, banning both music and art they considered degenerate (Entartete Musik). An article recently published in the Atlantic online lists a series of limitations on popular music performed in Germany:

  • Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoires of light orchestras and dance bands; 
  • in this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics; 
  • As to tempo, preference is also to be given to brisk compositions over slow ones so-called blues); however, the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro, commensurate with the Aryan sense of discipline and moderation. On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo (so-called hot jazz) or in solo performances (so-called breaks) be tolerated; 
  • so-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs); 
  • strictly prohibited is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (so-called cowbells, flexatone, brushes, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl (so-called wa-wa, hat, etc.);
  • also prohibited are so-called drum breaks longer than half a bar in four-quarter beat (except in stylized military marches); 
  • the double bass must be played solely with the bow in so-called jazz compositions; plucking of the strings is prohibited, since it is damaging to the instrument and detrimental to Aryan musicality; if a so-called pizzicato effect is absolutely desirable for the character of the composition, strict care must be taken lest the string be allowed to patter on the sordine, which is henceforth forbidden; 
  • musicians are likewise forbidden to make vocal improvisations (so-called scat); 
  • all light orchestras and dance bands are advised to restrict the use of saxophones of all keys and to substitute for them the violin-cello, the viola or possibly a suitable folk instrument.

The Nazis were bizarrely specific in their restrictions, and the show will feature banned musical styles and techniques such as scat singing, jazz in a minor key, playing bass without a bow, mutes, brushes and cowbell (!). We'll also hear from musicians who fled Nazi occupation, those who continued to perform in Germany, and from the propaganda swing band Charlie and His Orchestra. And, we'll hear some of the favorite songs of the Swingjugend, a youth movement of German teenagers who listened to swing music in defiance of the law. Tune in for two hours of music the Nazis didn't want people to hear.

In 1942 Charles Ridley of the British Ministry of Information used footage from Triumph of the Will to create a satirical short film in which Hitler and Nazi soldiers appear to be marching to the song "The Lambeth Walk." During the program we'll hear a German version of the song by Hans Rehmstedt, titled "In Lambert's Nachtlokal." Thanks to WFMU, Ridley's film (one of the first political remix videos, 70 years before Youtube!) is available online:


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