Schoenberg and Redemption by Julie Brown (review)
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Schoenberg and Redemption. By Julie Brown. pp. xiv + 259. New Perspectives in Music History and Criticism. (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York, 2014. £65. ISBN 978-0-521-55035-2.)

As a project intended to explore 'music's role as a part of cultural discourse', Schoenberg and Redemptionconstructs its discourse around three facets of Arnold Schoenberg's life (p. 196). Simply stated, leaving the dots unconnected, they are: (1) the harsh circumstances Schoenberg faced growing up as a Jew in Vienna, (2) the veneration Schoenberg received from his students that made him the central figure of one of Vienna's intellectual-artistic circles, and (3) the uncompromising streak that coloured Schoenberg's attitudes not only to the ethos of musical culture, but also to identity and politics. Julie Brown elaborates each of these in terms of a corresponding construct: (1) that of the self-hating Jew, (2) that of the Jew transcending Jewishness, and (3) that of the European Jew as Zionist, by which the author intimates a transition from oppressed to oppressor. Posed as a trio of interrelated constructs, they subserve a discourse that places Schoenberg within a framework comprehensible only within the ideological bounds of Wagnerism.

These three constructs frame Brown's core argument that in 1908—the year of the Quartet, Op. 10 and Georgelieder, Op. 15—Schoenberg's transformative turn towards a post-tonal musical language amounts to 'a moment of Jewish self-redemption with [Otto] Weininger as key intellectual mediator of [Richard] Wagner's ideas' (p. 77). She describes this narrative as 'an allegory of Wagnerian redemption' (p. 6). While Brown does not define ' Jewishself-redemption' (emphasis mine) as such, she defines 'redemption' in exclusively Wagnerian terms as a '''release'' from Jewishness' (p. 80). This is quite opposite to what redemption means in Judaism as epitomized by the release from Egyptian bondage and embrace of Jewishness. But what it is exactly that is Jewish about Jewish self-hatred, Jewish self-redemption, and Jewish self-overcoming, as opposed to their generic versions, remains obscure. The lack of Jewishparticularity in Brown's constructions weakens her argument, as does the resistance of Schoenberg's writings to being reduced to these constructs.

In their scope, these constructs have implications beyond the 1908–9 time-frame. Some major works composed before 1908 that are not discussed— Pelleas und Melisande, the String Quartet, Op. 7, the Kammersymphonie, Op. 9—are presumably swept up with two other major works that are: Gurrelieder, debatably 'Schoenberg's most Wagnerian work' (p. 49) on texts by 'Jens Peter Jacobson' ( sic) (p. 97), a scientifically minded writer arguably less sympathetic to the Wagnerian mythic than Brown suggests, and the string sextet Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4. From Brown's reduction of these pre-1908 major works one infers that, despite the breakthrough aspects of Op. 7 and Op. 9, works upon which Schoenberg rested his laurels throughout his career, he was compositionally trapped in some black hole defined by Wagnerism. While there are more or less technically Wagnerian passages in these works, Pelleasabove all, conceptually they are not reducible to Wagnerism. Below, I shall focus [End Page 665]on Brown's attempt to subsume the Kol Nidre, Op. 39 (1938) within Wagnerism.

Since the 1990s, the construct of Jewish self-hatred has been for Brown a means by which to wrestle Schoenberg's thought into congruence with and even subordination to Wagnerism. But it is a blunt instrument. The monochromatic use of self-hatred does not capture the spectrum found along a continuum from ambivalence to inner self-oppression to self-hatred. When self-hatred becomes specifically Jewish, three issues emerge. First, a clearer test is needed: does the subject renounce and denounce Judaism, Jewry, and its fate? In Paul Mendes-Flohr's analysis of the Jewish philosophers he calls 'metaphysicians of contempt', the specificity of Jewish self-hatred is unmistakable ( Living with Antisemitism(Hanover, NH, 1987), 133–64). None of this contemptuous literature appears in Schoenberg's library. For that matter, in 1908, Otto Weininger does not yet appear in Schoenberg's library either, which may be a factor as to why Schoenberg's 'reading...


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