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IWU graduate to study music and composers silenced by Nazis in Austria

A graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University will soon be on her way to Vienna, Austria, as a Fulbright Scholar for the upcoming school year.

Kelly Riordan studied vocal performance at IWU, and she will head to Vienna in September to study the music of composers who were silenced by the Nazis.

Riordan said as a part of its propaganda policy, the Nazi regime essentially chose what art was acceptable in Nazi Germany. She said that effort manifested as a push to eliminate certain voices from artistic expression.

Kelly Riordan
Illinois Wesleyan University
Kelly Riordan graduated from IWU with a degree in vocal performance in 2019.

“That’s what we see with a large portion of Jewish composers, and also women composers and Romani composers and these different groups that were targeted specifically,” said Riordan.

Riordan said part of the inspiration to explore marginalized voices in music grew out of her observances of contemporary events.

“In 2020, with the huge Black Lives Matter movement that erupted in the United States, I became aware of how much music by composers of color was also being intentionally left out of the standard canon of repertoire,” said Riordan.

She said not all exclusions in music are necessarily intentional. Riordan said classical music has survived as a lineage, with knowledge and compositions passed down from teacher to student. And that can result in perhaps an unwitting marginalizing of certain voices.

“If we’re not passing down the repertoire of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) composers to white people, then we’re missing this whole big piece,” said Riordan.

While working on her master's recital, Riordan dove deep into the Harlem Renaissance era of classical music. And though she was experiencing the music for the first time, it was hardly a discovery, said Riordan. The music had always been there.

“Then I started getting curious,” said Riordan. “What else aren’t I seeing? That’s when I got interested in this project.”

Riordan’s project in Vienna will entail nine months studying the works of European composers whose work was banned by the Third Reich.

She will work with the Exilarte: Center for Banned Music in Vienna. Their mission is to “operate as a center for the reception, preservation, research and presentation of composers, performers, musical academics and theater artists who were branded as ‘degenerate’ during the years of the Third Reich.”

Riordan’s work will center specifically around studying and performing recitals of the Jewish composer Robert Fürstenthal, who was forced to flee Europe under the Nazi regime.

Sarah Nardi is a WGLT reporter. She previously worked for the Chicago Reader covering Arts & Culture.
Jack Podlesnik is a reporter and announcer at WGLT. He joined the station in 2021.
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