Articles & Essays

What is Internal Exile in Music?

By Albrecht Dümling

Germany under the Nazis was deprived of a great number of talented artists who had to leave their country as a consequence of restrictions and persecution. 1But a majority of German musicians had rather different experiences. For them, Hitler's coming to power offered new opportunities and fulfilled some of their old dreams. The idea of a central organization of all German musicians, an office for music, was one such dream. After Hitler's arrival as German chancellor, it took only a few months until a Reich Music Chamber was established, in November 1933. Richard Strauss was named its president, Wilhelm Furtwängler his deputy. These experienced men discovered that music received much more state support than under any former German government.

The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is a good example. In the early 1930s it was in a desperate situation, with financial problems growing from year to year. When neither the German state nor the city of Berlin was able to give more support, Furtwängler contacted Joseph Goebbels. The new Minister for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda promised to help, and he kept his promise, since Hitler regarded his coming to power as a cultural revolution and defined music as the most German art. Supported by the Third Reich, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra became a “Reich's Orchestra” and, at least economically, was in a safe haven.2One could also mention the situation of the Performing Rights organizations, which had been deeply divided before 1933. Goebbels decided that the rival organizations had to be united. Serious composers like Richard Strauss in the new Stagma (Staatlich genehmigte Gesellschaft zur Verwertung musikalischer Urheberrechte) now regained the executive power that they had lost in previous years.3No wonder that Strauss welcomed the new government with open arms! A majority of German musicians had similar experiences,4and this explains why many of them joined the Nazi Party. 5

After the war, the commissions responsible for denazification soon realized that party membership alone would not qualify someone as a Nazi.6On the other hand, far too many Germans then claimed to have been victims or even members of the Resistance. It proved to be extremely difficult to verify those confessions and reports. There was a bitter dispute between artists who had fled Germany and those who had stayed – between refugees on one side and non-refugees on the other. The first group tended to regard members of the second – like Furtwängler or Strauss – as supporters of the regime. On the contrary, artists who had not left their native country quite often claimed that they had actually suffered more under the dictatorship because they had been under constant threat of bombardment during the war and had lived in destroyed cities. Some of them declared that they had stayed in Germany in a state of “internal exile.”

The English-speaking world and Germany have somewhat different notions of Innere Emigration, or internal exile. In English-language publications, the term mainly describes forced special settlement.7In German-speaking countries, the term ”Internal Exile“ or “Inner Migration” is understood as the self-imposed isolation of artists who remained in their native country. This is the sense in which the term is widely accepted in studies of German literature.8In music history, however, the category remains largely unfamiliar – with one exception: Karl Amadeus Hartmann.9There was no official banning of his music; it was the composer himself who refused to allow any of his works to be performed in his native country.10His boycott of German concert halls was possible because only one of his compositions had been published. All the other works existed only as manuscripts, which gave the composer complete control over them. In his biography of Hartmann, Andrew McCredie used the term “internal exile” without any attempt to define the term. Even today, it is difficult to tell exactly what it means. Is this term, which Thomas Mann used as early as 1933, valid only for the first years after Hitler's accession to power, as musicologist Ludwig Holtmeier suggests?11

Other composers, key figures in German musical life before 1933, equally distant from the regime, are rarely mentioned in histories of music in the 1930s and still today are largely ignored. Walter Braunfels (1882-1954) had been one of Germany's most successful composers, but in 1933 he was labeled a “half-Jew” 12(his father was Jewish), and in 1934 – like Schoenberg and Schreker – he lost his membership in the Prussian Academy of Arts in spite of his German military service during the First World War.13In addition, in March 1934 Braunfels was dismissed as professor of composition and co-director of the State Academy of Music in Cologne. The fact that he had become a Catholic, or that his musical style was rather traditional, were to no avail. The atmosphere in Germany, mixed with a mood of terror and angst, was such that no musician or concert organizer dared to put a work by a Jew or even a so-called “half-Jew” like Braunfels on a concert program.14

Braunfels had for awhile considered leaving Germany; he later explained why he had remained: “First of all, I believed that through my existence I was a stone in the dam that had to be built against the evil spirit that threatened to destroy everything; but also, I had the feeling that by leaving my native country I would lose the most important root of my creativity.” A so-called “privileged mixed marriage” (his wife was “Aryan”) gave Braunfels some protection, at least until the autumn of 1944. He and his family moved from Cologne to a village on Lake Constance, near the Swiss border, where the composer lived a quiet, secluded life. For him, the years of internal exile were the most productive period of his life. In December 1944, after having written three operas and two string quartets, he began his String Quintet, Op. 63, which, in its expressive chromaticism, reflects the bitter feelings of the time.

Heinz Tiessen (1887-1971), a professor of composition at the Berlin State Academy of Music, was not Jewish, but he was a modernist composer who abhorred National Socialism. Since he had been closely linked with Leo Kestenberg and the Social Democratic party, from 1933 onwards his music was not performed; consequently, his income from performance rights went down to almost nothing – as early as 1933 his income was reduced to only one percent of what it had formerly been.15When, in 1935, the National Socialist Kulturgemeinde organization published a list of so-called ”cultural Bolshevists,” Tiessen figured in it.16On the other hand, like Paul Hindemith, Tiessen was able to remain a professor at the Berlin Hochschule. Looking back, in 1963, on his life during the Third Reich, the composer explained: “In order to stay alive, I had to simulate being dead.”17He was forced to be as unobtrusive as possible. Tiessen's poor financial situation forced him to raise a loan and even to pawn his piano,18 and his productivity during those years nearly ceased – unlike that of Braunfels.

Walter Braunfels and Heinz Tiessen are examples of composers, who – although they remained in Germany during the Third Reich – did not want to support a state that at first glance had seemed quite attractive to musicians. They evaded official engagements in order not be used in the propaganda machine installed by Joseph Goebbels. This attitude could be called Internal Exile. There is no clear-cut catalogue of criteria for internal exiles. If all civil servants (including professors at state-subsidized institutions like the Berlin Hochschule) are to be seen as supporters of the Third Reich, then Tiessen cannot figure in the Internal Exile group. More significant, perhaps, is the number of public performances they enjoyed. Unlike the unique case of Hartmann, who was able to boycott the Third Reich, Braunfels and Tiessen were boycotted by the regime.

Individual cases have to be checked carefully. For most musicians who, unlike Braunfels and Hartmann, were not financially independent, a compromise survival strategy had to be found. Sometimes there was only a thin line between such a compromise and collaboration, or else an artist led a double life, as was the case with Shostakovich in the Soviet Union. Beyond Braunfels and Tiessen, other cases need to be investigated – for instance, those of Max Butting, Eduard Erdmann, Wolfgang Jacobi, Robert Kahn, Heinrich Kaminski, Karl Klingler, Walter Kollo and Heinz Schubert. Some research has already been done on Philipp Jarnach,19 Ernst Pepping,20 Günter Raphael,21Peter Schacht 22 and Hanning Schröder.23Music history is not a black and white painting. There are different colors, transition areas and gray zones as well. Instead of generalizing, it would be advisable to take a closer look at individual fates.

After the war, composers like Braunfels, Erdmann, Jarnach and Tiessen suffered from the fact that they had remained in Germany during the Third Reich, and this has contributed to their continuing neglect. For a long time, internal exile artists either were not given their full due or were completely overlooked.24Now there are indications that a change is underway. In recent years, Braunfels's String Quintet has been performed in Toronto, London and Berlin; his Te Deum has been heard in Cologne and Berlin; and his operas Die Vögel and Szenen aus dem Leben der Heilige Johanna have received much attention – the former in Vienna, Los Angeles, Cagliari and at the Spoleto Festival, and the latter in Stockholm and Berlin. Likewise, Heinz Tiessen's “Amsel” (Blackbird) Septet received much acclaim when it was performed in Toronto (2006), London (2008) and Berlin (2009). Perhaps the very fact that this recognition is arriving decades after the composers' deaths means that their works are able to stand on their own merits, and not for political reasons or merely as curiosities.

Albrecht Dümling, a musicologist and music critic based in Berlin, is curator of the exhibition “Entartete Musik” and director of “musica reanimata,” a society for the rediscovery of Nazi-persecuted composers and their works. He is currently writing a book on German-speaking refugee-musicians in Australia.


  • 1. The exhibition „Entartete Musik. Eine kommentierte Rekonstruktion“, created by this author in 1988 in Düsseldorf, gave examples of persecuted musicians. In 1991 an American version of this exhibition was mounted for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association under the title “Banned by the Nazis: Entartete Musik”; it travelled to New York (Bard College, 1992), Boston (Brandeis University, 1994), London (Royal Festival Hall, 1995), Barcelona (Auditori Municipal, 2000), Miami (New World Symphony, 2004/2005) and Chicago (Ravinia Festival, 2005). The Spanish version “Prohibida Por Los Nazis: Entartete Musik” opened in 2007 at the Universidad de Sevilla, followed in the same year at the Berlin Philharmonie by a new German version with the title “Das verdächtige Saxophon. ‘Entartete Musik’ im NS-Staat”.
  • 2. Misha Aster, Das Reichsorchester. Die Berliner Philharmoniker und der Nationalsozialismus, Berlin 2007.
  • 3. Cf. A. Dümling, Musik hat ihren Wert. 100 Jahre musikalische Verwertungsgesellschaft in Deutschland. Regensburg 2003, 178 ff.
  • 4. Cf. the rising number of contracts in German theatres mentioned in Erik Levi, Music in the Third Reich, New York 1994, 181.
  • 5. Cf. Fred K. Prieberg, Handbuch Deutsche Musiker 1933-1945, CD-ROM.
  • 6. Cf. Toby Thacker, Music after Hitler, 1945-55, Ashgate 2007.
  • 7. One of the few exceptions is Lydia Goehr in R. Brinkmann/C. Wolff (ed.), Driven into Paradise. The musical migration from Nazi Germany to the United States, Berkeley 1999, 69-85.
  • 8. Cf. Reinhold Grimm, “Innere Emigration als Lebensform.” In: R. Grimm / J. Hermand (ed.), Exil und Innere Emigration: Third Wisconsin Workshop, Frankfurt 1972, 31-74.
  • 9. Cf. Andrew McCredie, Karl Amadeus Hartmann. Sein Leben und Werk, Wilhelmshaven 1980, 53-64.
  • 10. A single exception was his music for Macbeth, written in 1942 for the Residenztheater München. Cf. Prieberg, Handbuch, 2682.
  • 11. Ludwig Holtmeier, „Peter Schacht und das Projekt der ‚Inneren Emigration‘“. In: Musik-Konzepte 117/118. Arnold Schönbergs „Berliner Schule“ , Munich 2002, 88.
  • 12. Gerigk/Stengel, Lexikon der Juden in der Musik, Berlin 1940, 39.
  • 13. Joseph Wulf, Musik im Dritten Reich. Eine Dokumentation, Gütersloh 1963, 52.
  • 14. Nina Okrassa, Peter Raabe: Dirigent, Musikschriftsteller und Präsident der Reichsmusikkammer (1872-1945) . Köln – Weimar – Wien 2004, 208.
  • 15. Heinz Tiessen, Wege eines Komponisten, Berlin 1962, 56.
  • 16. Cf. Eckhard John, Musikbolschewismus. Die Politisierung der Musik in Deutschland 1918-1938, Stuttgart – Weimar 1993, 358.
  • 17. Prieberg, Handbuch, 7194.
  • 18. Prieberg, Handbuch, 7195.
  • 19. Stefan Weiss, Die Musik Philipp Jarnachs, Cologne 1996.
  • 20. Burkhard Meischein, „Anpassung, Verweigerung, innere Emigration? Ernst Pepping im Nationalsozialismus“. In: M. Heinemann (ed.), „Für die Zeit – gegen den Tag“. Die Beiträge des Berliner Ernst-Pepping-Symposions 2001, Cologne 2002, 179-200.
  • 21. Thomas Schinköth, Musik – das Ende aller Illusionen? Günter Raphael im NS-Staat, Hamburg 1996 (Verdrängte Musik, vol. 13).
  • 22. Ludwig Holtmeier, Peter Schacht, 84-102.
  • 23. Nico Schüler, Hanning Schröder, Hamburg 1996 (Verdrängte Musik, vol. 15).
  • 24. A more complete version of this article, investigating also the fates of Erdmann and Jarnach, will soon be published.
  • Posted November 1, 2009

    Articles & Essays