The Reichsmusikkammer (translatable variously as "Reich Music Chamber," "State Music Institute," or "State Music Bureau") was a Nazi institution. It promoted "good German music" which was composed by Aryans and seen as consistent with Nazi ideals, while suppressing other, "degenerate" music, which included atonal music, jazz, and music by Jewish composers. The Institute was founded in 1933 by Joseph Goebbels and the Reichskulturkammer (State Bureau of Culture), and it operated until the fall of the Third Reich in 1945.
One of the Institute's primary goals — that of extolling and promoting "good German music", specifically that of Beethoven, Wagner, Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Brahms, Bruckner and the like — was to legitimize the claimed world supremacy of Germany culturally. These composers and their music were re-interpreted ideologically to extol German virtues and cultural identity.
Music and composers who did not fall into the RMK's definition of "good German music" were deprecated and then banned. The Institute proscribed various great composers of the past, including the Jewish-by-birth composers Mahler, Mendelssohn, and Schoenberg, and also Debussy, who had married a Jew. The music of politically dissident composers such as Alban Berg was also banned. And composers whose music had ever been considered sexually suggestive or savage, such as Hindemith, Stravinsky and the like, were denounced as "degenerate" and banned.
Jazz and swing music were seen as degenerate and proscribed. Jazz was labelled Negermusik ("Negro Music"), and swing music was associated with various Jewish bandleaders and composers such as Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman. Also proscribed were Jewish Tin Pan Alley composers like Irving Berlin and George Gershwin.
The Reichsmusikkammer also functioned as a musicians' guild, with composers, performers, conductors, teachers, and instrument manufacturers being obliged to join in order to pursue or continue a career in music. Membership could be denied on grounds of race or politics. Dozens of composers, songwriters, lyricists, and musicians were ruined or forced into exile because for one reason or another (often political or racial) they did not adhere to or comply with the RMK's standards. The career, for instance, of popular operetta composer Leon Jessel was destroyed by the Institute when it promoted boycotts of his music and finally banned it.
Although Joseph Goebbels and other high-level Nazis in the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Culture Institute) basically controlled the RMK, titular presidents and vice-presidents were appointed; in the beginning, this was largely for the sake of the Music Institute's public relations and prestige.
Because of his international fame, Richard Strauss, although privately a critic of the Nazi Reich, was installed as president of the Reichsmusikkammer in November 1933. Strauss's motivations in accepting the post were largely to protect his Jewish daughter-in-law and Jewish grandchildren, and to preserve and conduct the music of banned composers like Mahler, Debussy, and Mendelssohn. He was dismissed from the post in June 1935, when a letter to his Jewish librettist Stefan Zweig, critical of Nazi racial profiling, was intercepted by the Gestapo.
Peter Raabe was appointed president after Strauss's dismissal. For much of his tenure as president, Raabe was not the sole leader regarding musical culture in the Reich: In 1936 Goebbels appointed Heinz Drewes, then general music director of Altenburg, to head a department of music in the Propaganda Ministry, resulting in confused and tangled roles. Raabe tried to resign in 1938, but his resignation was not accepted, and he served until the end of the Reich in 1945.
Renowned conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler was appointed vice-president of the Institute in 1933. However, he refused to adhere to the ban on Hindemith's Mathis der Maler, and resigned in 1934 condemning anti-Semitism.
Paul Graener was appointed vice-president upon Furtwängler's resignation. He resigned in 1941.
- "Black History and Germany - Afro-German Glossary". About.com. 20 June 2011.
- Levi, Erik (2004). Beate Müller (ed.). Censorship & cultural regulation in the modern age. Amsterdam: Rodopi. p. 76. ISBN 978-90-420-0988-2. Retrieved September 24, 2010.
- Kennedy, Michael (1999). Richard Strauss: Man, Musician, Enigma. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 297–302.
- The entangled roles of Drewes and Raabe in the Reichsmusikkammer and Propaganda Ministry are discussed by Michael Kater in his book, The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich.