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Arnold Schoenberg - A Survivor from Warsaw

By Ben Bresky
6/23/2008, 12:00 AM

And now to fulfill the request for Jewish classical music. I originally wanted to write about Ernest Bloch. But in looking him up I re-discovered Arnold Schoenberg. I used to have an old record album with his 1947 work A Survivor from Warsaw, but I never actually listened to the whole thing. That is to say, I could never bear listening to the whole thing.

It is a stark, dark and powerful piece, and one of the few classical compositions I’ve heard with a narrator reading in English. I did not realize this when I first put the record on the turntable and when the man's voice began it was quite shocking. He had an accent that made him sound very much like he personally had gone through the horrors that he describes, as the instruments in the background seem to musically echo his emotions. It ends with a choir singing Shema Yisrael.

Schoenberg was also very interested in the Zionist movement and was fond of Zev Jabotinsky. He wrote an essay called The Four-Front Program. I have been unable to find it, but I did find several articles about Schoenberg and his Zionist connections which are linked here. Other Jewish themed compositions he wrote include Moses und Aron. Here is a perfomance of A Survivor from Warsaw for Narrator, Men’s Chorus and Orchestra opus 46.

* Bloch, Schoenberg, and Bernstein: Assimilating Jewish Music
* Arnold Schoenberg - The Biblical Road