- Arnold Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw in Postwar Europeby Joy H. Calico
Ten years ago, in the context of an essay about the collaborative cantata A Jewish Chronicle(1961) and Holocaust commemoration in the postwar Germanys, Joy Calico raised intriguing questions about Arnold Schoenberg’s reputation in Europe during that period and why his A Survivor from Warsaw(1947), a clear predecessor to A Jewish Chronicle, was entirely omitted from critical commentary about the latter work (“ Jüdische Chronik: The Third Space of Commemoration between East and West Germany,” The Musical Quarterly88, no. 1 [Spring 2005]: 95–122). Calico clearly felt that the “constellation of interrelated yet imperfectly understood issues that clouded the West German reception of A Survivor from Warsawin this period” (ibid., p. 108) deserved further attention; the present volume makes great strides toward a deeper definition and understanding of those very issues within and well beyond West and East Germany.
Although A Survivorforms the heart of this book, it is by no means a study of the composition itself; readers are offered a succinct, though sufficient, analysis, and are referred elsewhere (especially to David M. Schiller, Joe R. Argentino, and Amy Lynn Wlodarski) for more in-depth examinations of the music and text. Instead, in a rather refreshing departure from traditional Schoenberg studies, Calico uses examples of A Survivor’s performance and reception history as a lens through which to explore the larger ideas of cultural mobility and remigration (specifically, “symbolic” or “noncorporeal” remigration) during the first half of the Cold War. She traces the life of the work through six meticulously researched and documented “microhistories,” each telling the story of the work’s premiere in a particular context. Beginning with the West German premiere in August 1950 (a substantial revision of Calico’s earlier publication on the same topic, “Schoen berg’s Symbolic Remigration: A Survivor from Warsawin Postwar West Germany,” The Journal of Musicology26, no. 1 [Winter 2009]: 17–43), Calico proceeds chronologically: Austria (April 1951); Norway (March 1954); East Germany (April 1958); Poland (September 1958); and Czechoslovakia (February 1963). Taken together, these histories reveal surprising threads of similarity and difference that go beyond the typically accepted East–West dichotomy during the immediate postwar era. Each setting harbored its own complications and its own reactions to the work, but in every case, A Survivorrubbed up against common anxieties about Jews, culpability for the Holocaust, lingering anti-Semitism, remigration, antifascism, and modernism.
Why choose A Survivorfor this type of study? Precisely because of how its aesthetic and topical multivalence lent it to a wide range of interpretations, and because of how perfectly suited the work was to provoke every potential anxiety. Calico’s introduction begins with her contention that A Survivor, which runs only seven minutes, “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” (p. 1).
Although Calico’s book focuses on the European reaction, A Survivorwas distinctly American: Schoenberg had, of course, been living in the U.S. since 1933 (as an American citizen since 1941); the work was commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation and premiered by the Albuquerque Symphony; and the Sprechstimmenarration, notated but essentially spoken—told from the perspective of a survivor of Treblinka (presumably) after the Warsaw [End Page 563]Ghetto Uprising—is predominantly in English, likely in a gesture toward intelligibility. Dodecaphonic but full of romantic gestures and tonal inflections, the piece is highly expressive and relatively accessible. Since its premiere, its accessibility has raised complicated questions about aesthetics, over which Theodor Adorno’s criticism of the inherent problem of postwar art looms large. Does the work exploit tragedy by “Hollywoodizing” the Warsaw ghetto? Does the choral...