One of the most notorious publications in the world of Nazi musicology, Herbert Gerigk’s Lexikon der Juden in der Musik (Lexicon of Jews in Music) was so popular that by 1943 thousands of copies were circulating throughout the German Reich. The book, ostensibly offering a complete list of Jewish and part-Jewish musicians, also took the opportunity to defame famous musical Jews, such as Meyerbeer, Mendelssohn and Mahler. Gerigk was one of the most influential musicologists of his day, graced with the title Leiter der Hauptstelle Musik beim Beauftragten des Führers für die Überwachung der gesamten geistigen und weltanschaulichen Schulung und Erziehung der NSDAP (Leader of the Music Branch by order of the Führer for the Supervision of the Entire Intellectual and Ideological Enlightenment of the Nazi Party). His varied career under Hitler illustrates some of the many ways in which music was implicated in Nazi ideology. His comfortable life after the war is also typical of the treatment of musicologists during post-war denazification actions.
Gerigk was born on 2 March 1905 in the German town of Mannheim. Although opposed to jazz and atonal music, he did not make explicitly racist accusations, frequently writing about Jewish composers favourably and without bias. However, the early 1930s saw a steady change in his political opinions. The musicologist became increasingly concerned about the ‘oriental’ trends in German music, and subscribed to the theory that Jews, as a race, were responsible for the national disillusionment of Germany following the defeat of World War I. Suddenly antisemitism entered his writings, serving as the explanation for his previous lack of professional success. Hoping to eliminate the competition he felt was depriving 'Aryans' like himself of promotion, he wrote and spoke publicly about the suffering that Jews were inflicting upon Germans in the musical world.
Gerigk established a name for himself as an important Nazi musicologist. Indeed, even within the framework of Nazi ideology Gerigk was known as being particularly conservative and critical. He was one of the few Nazis to condemn Werner Egk’s otherwise popular opera Die Zaubergeige (The Magic Violin), and in 1936, it was his harsh review of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana at its premiere that was partially responsible for the delay before the work achieved success. Gerigk was a meticulous and enthusiastic worker, and his Reichsmusikkammer (Nazi Chamber of Music) was one of the most active divisions of Alfred Rosenberg’s Reichskulturkkammer (Nazi Chamber of Culture). His workers attended every major concert in Berlin, read important music publications, and submitted thorough reviews to Gerigk. Gerigk’s passion for collecting information about people led him to contact students at universities and music academies in order to gather information on the politics of the professors. Over the years, his power and reputation grew steadily. He supervised the publication of serious musicology studies independent of the Rosenberg office, which itself controlled several publishing ventures. When Rosenberg took over the long-time anti-Semitic journal Die Musik, Gerigk finally had a regular outlet for his voice. In 1937 he was made editor of the magazine, to which he had already contributed many anti-Semitic articles.
By the late 1930s, the Party sensed the need for a comprehensive race-based guide to German music. Having previously experienced countless scandals due to inaccurate information or incomplete lexicons – 'Aryan' artists had been accused of being Jewish, just as openly Jewish musicians had been allowed to continue working – Party officials wanted a single reference work to which to turn. An extensive undertaking, Gerigk's Lexikon was published in the NSDAP series on ‘Research on the Jewish Question’. Although rife with inaccuracies and misrepresentations, it was substantially more detailed than any previously written work of this nature. The book opened with the proud assertion that
the purification of our culture and thus also our musical culture of all Jewish elements has been successful. Clear legal restrictions have ensured that in Germany the Jew is not publicly active in the cultural sphere, not as musician or composer, not as writer or publisher or businessman.
Gerigk nonetheless went on to request further assistance from readers in tracking down relevant names; indeed, the Lexikon proved to be an ongoing work. In a later edition Gerigk decided to extend the book’s coverage from just 'full' and 'half-Jews' to blacklisting all those who had ‘Jewish blood’. Unsurprisingly, his Lexikon sparked numerous battles over racial identity. Family members of deceased musicians, and occasionally still-living men, regularly filed complaints against the inclusion of their names in Gerigk’s book.
In 1943 Gerigk reflected on the positive impact his Lexikon had wrought on the German cultural landscape. Remembering the pre-Nazi era, he warned his readership not to forget the times when
the German was almost at the point of becoming homeless in his own Fatherland. Key positions were occupied mostly by Jews. Besides that, freemasons and exponents of other political entities outside the state were also influential in music. It is very instructive to reflect upon the conditions of that time.
He was convinced that his Lexikon was a key part of solving this problem.
Gerigk’s career received another boost when he was appointed to another ‘cultural position’, this time as part of the Reich’s military programme of expansion and conquest. In his new position, Gerigk was responsible for stealing or otherwise ‘re-claiming’ objects of musical interest from lands annexed or invaded by Germany. He was primarily busy in occupied Paris, where he collected valuable musical booty, including autographs by Gluck and Wagner. He also participated in journeys to Eastern Europe, repossessing objects belonging to Jewish musicians and collectors. Among his many acquisitions were folk music archives from Minsk, Warsaw and Krakow.
Despite his well-documented support of the Nazi regime, and the role he played in ruining the careers of countless musicians, Gerigk managed to thrive in the post-war years as well. Admittedly his Nazi past, well documented by his numerous enemies, prohibited him from acquiring a full-time post as an academic at a German university. However, Gerigk managed to earn a comfortable living as a music critic in Dortmund. He remained an active author for decades after the war, publishing a musical encyclopaedia, as well as numerous other articles and books, well into the 1970s. Herbert Gerigk died on 20 June 1996 in Dortmund, at the age of 90.
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