My Music Lesson; Schoenberg Declared That His Survivor from Warsaw Should Not Be Performed by a Professional Singer - Which Is Where Our Writer Comes In

The Evening Standard (London, England), August 24, 2005 | Go to article overview

My Music Lesson; Schoenberg Declared That His Survivor from Warsaw Should Not Be Performed by a Professional Singer - Which Is Where Our Writer Comes In


Byline: NORMAN LEBRECHT

"I CANNOT remember everything," writes Arnold Schoenberg at the opening of A Survivor from Warsaw and I, for the first time, see what he meant. Last week, at Dartington, at a few days' notice, I gave a public performance of the terrifying seven-minute work - my speaking voice pitted against an orchestra of 60 musicians playing atonally, in micro-intervals and climactically as loud as they possibly could.

Schoenberg's Survivor is an unequal contest at the best of times but when the narrator (me) has never appeared before with a full orchestra and the experienced conductor (Diego Masson) admits he has never heard a convincing performance, the odds turn ominous and the legs to jelly.

The text, at first sight, looks unrecitable. English is Schoenberg's second language, halting and stilted.

The German orders barked by an SS sergeant in the piece sound more First World War than Second. The lines are staggered and unconnected.

It is not clear whether the narrator is in Warsaw or Auschwitz, whether he is alive or speaking from the dead.

I researched the work's origins.

Schoenberg wrote Survivor in August 1947, based on accounts he had "received directly or indirectly" from individuals who had escaped the 1943 liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto. It describes how rounded-up Jews began singing, moments before their annihilation, the eternal affirmation of faith: "Shema Yisrael - Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One!"

To find a credible cadence, I listened to a radio interview that Schoenberg gave in California for his 75th birthday in 1949, precise and self-aware. "I never was very capable of expressing my feelings or emotions in words," he confessed, an admission that filled me with relief. The truth of the piece had to lie in the music.

The Vienna website of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute demonstrates how he used half of a 12-note row in each part of the work, reversing the order of the six notes to create a mirror effect. So far, so clear, but once I got past 48 transpositions of four compositional modes to the "hermeneutically meaningful elements of the narrative discourse" my tolerance for technical detail reached its limits.

I listened to recordings by Pierre Boulez (Sony) and Claudio Abbado (DG), both employing operatic bassbaritones who observe the correct rhythms and surmount the swelling orchestra, albeit at the expense of narrative naturalism. In Schoenberg's Letters (Faber, 1964), there is a clear instruction that Survivor should not be done by a professional singer: "This must never be made so musical as other strict compositions of mine - this never has to be sung."

Diego Masson strongly concurs. So does the Dartington director, Gavin Henderson-Which is where I, as broadcaster and public speaker, come in.

Fresh off First Western, I meet Diego in the bar and go into the studio with Clement, one of his students, who plays a note-perfect piano accompaniment to my stumbling declamation. Finding a rhythm is hardest.

The score is barred in such a way that you have to count in 16s to locate the rests. Diego, however, a contemporary-music pioneer for 40 years, knows how to bend bar-lines without breaking structure.

We stop, start and stop again, pencilling in the places where Diego will give me an extra cue, or I need to pick up a notch into the next tempo. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

My Music Lesson; Schoenberg Declared That His Survivor from Warsaw Should Not Be Performed by a Professional Singer - Which Is Where Our Writer Comes In
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    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.