The Koussevitsky Foundation also commissioned what
turned out to be one of the first musical works on the Holocaust.
The manuscript of the work, completed in 1947, in the composer's hand
is in the Music Division: A Survivor from Warsaw, For Narrator
and Men's Choir and Orchestra, opus 46 by Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951).
Schoenberg, who introduced the use of atonality and the twelve-note
scale, was born in Vienna and grew
up in that city during its era of manifest anti-Semitism. His radical musical innovation made him one of the
most controversial and influential musical figures of the twentieth
century. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, he was dismissed from
his post as a director of a school for musical composition at the Prussian
Academy of Arts in Berlin. His response was a formal, public return
to the Jewish faith which he had left early in life. America offered
a haven and became his home.
To the title page of the manuscript of A Survivor
from Warsaw, Schoenberg added a note, "This text is based partly
upon reports which I have received directly or indirectly," because
he wrote the text as well as the music. His Narrator, describing a scene
of heroic defiance in the Warsaw
Ghetto, begins by saying:
I cannot remember everything! I must have been unconscious much of
the time. I remember only the grandiose moment when they all started
to sing the old prayer they had neglected for so many years-the forgotten
Text and music describe a roll call of doomed men on
their way to the gas chamber.
They started again first slowly one-two-three-became faster and faster:
so fast it finally sounded like a stampede of wild horses and-quite
of a sudden-in the middle of it they began singing the SCHEMA YISROEL.
The work concludes with the rhythmic singing of the Hebrew words of the traditional
Jewish affirmation of faith:
Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. And thou shalt
love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, all thy soul, all thy might.
As he had done in 1933, Schoenberg responded in 1947
to the enemy who would destroy his people and its faith, with a dramatic
outcry affirming his loyalty to both.
Schoenberg's Kol Nidre (1939), written five
years after his arrival in the United States, and his three great works
on biblical themes Die Jakobsleiter (Jacob's Ladder), Modern Psalms, and his opera Moses and Aaron
all unfinished at the time of his death, show his continuing attraction
to Jewish themes. He left his manuscripts and books to the National
Library in Jerusalem. A portrait in oil of Schoenberg by George
Gershwin hangs in the Library of Congress's Music Division.