Arnold Schoenberg's A Survivor from Warsaw in Postwar Europe

Arnold Schoenberg's A Survivor from Warsaw in Postwar Europe

Arnold Schoenberg's A Survivor from Warsaw in Postwar Europe

Arnold Schoenberg's A Survivor from Warsaw in Postwar Europe

Synopsis

Joy H. Calico examines the cultural history of postwar Europe through the lens of the performance and reception of Arnold Schoenberg's A Survivor from Warsaw --a short but powerful work, she argues, capable of irritating every exposed nerve in postwar Europe. Schoenberg, a Jewish composer whose oeuvre had been one of the Nazis' prime exemplars of entartete (degenerate) music, immigrated to the United States and became an American citizen. Both admired and reviled as a pioneer of dodecaphony, he wrote this twelve-tone piece about the Holocaust in three languages for an American audience. This book investigates the meanings attached to the work as it circulated through Europe during the early Cold War in a kind of symbolic musical remigration, focusing on six case studies: West Germany, Austria, Norway, East Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. Each case is unique, informed by individual geopolitical concerns, but this analysis also reveals common themes in anxieties about musical modernism, Holocaust memory and culpability, the coexistence of Jews and former Nazis, anti-Semitism, dislocation, and the presence of occupying forces on both sides of the Cold War divide.

Excerpt

Arnold Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw (1947) seemed designed to irritate every exposed nerve in postwar Europe. a twelve-tone piece in three languages about the Holocaust, it was written for an American audience by a Jewish composer whose oeuvre had been the Nazis’ prime exemplar of entartete (degenerate) music. Said composer was both admired and reviled as a pioneer of dodecaphony and had immigrated to the United States and become an American citizen. Clocking in at approximately seven minutes, A Survivor is too short to occupy either half of a concert yet too fraught with meaning to easily share the bill with anything else. For all of these reasons, the decision to program, perform, review, or otherwise write about A Survivor in postwar Europe was not taken casually. Its presence was always by design, and it was always understood to mean something important.

That meaning proved remarkably multivalent, and A Survivor was susceptible to appropriation for a surprising range of designs. Like all meanings and uses, these were determined by time (the early Cold War, between 1948 and 1968) and place (six different countries in postwar Europe). A Survivor might signal acknowledgment or commemoration of the Holocaust, as in Norway or, obliquely, Czechoslovakia; it could represent an endorsement of Schoenberg specifically, of dodecaphony, or of modernist music generally, as in West Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. Resistance to A Survivor is also telling, as it was frequently met by recourse to easy anti-Semitic or anti-American tropes and sometimes both, as in West Germany and Austria. in the Eastern Bloc, A Survivor acted as a canary in the cultural-political coal mines. in the early years of the Cold War, Schoenberg’s music was officially endorsed there only during occasional moments of relative relaxation, such as the Thaw. Otherwise . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.