Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Survivor from Warsaw

In her listening journal on Arnold Schönberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw, Alicyn notes in her last paragraph that “while this seven-minute piece was not typical of Schönberg, it was a testament to his faith and family and to the thousands of people who lost their lives to genocide.” I think this is the most important observation anyone can make about this work. Schönberg’s music is often about the process and I find it to be especially telling that this work does not follow the usual pattern. The work concentrates on something that is so moving and so intimate that a listener realizes that Schönberg was unable to fit his emotions and feelings into the obvious pattern. This piece is an example of the power of music. Schönberg is speaking from the heart and communicates on a deeply personal level to those who have experienced devastating loss and those who are looking for reasons why events like the Holocaust happened.

Unlike many of my fellow students this listening journal, I am unfamiliar with the work and I did not find myself drawn to it. Listening to the piece for the first item without paying special attention to the narration, it did seem random. I particularly thought the orchestra was random. But then, I listened to the piece again with the narration available. Schönberg is ferocious in this piece. I suppose that is to be expected of Schönberg. He has never been afraid to be controversial but this is a different kind of ferocity. This is where I begin to expand on the opinion offered by Alicyn concerning this work. Yes, this is a testament to Schönberg’s faith, family, and those who were lost. However, this is also a condemnation of those who perpetuated the atrocities of the Holocaust. Listening to the text, Schönberg is angry and rightfully so. This is a fierce expression of emotion at the failure of humanity. This is why I feel this piece needs to be included in the Western canon. This is an expression of emotion is its purest state from a master of composition and twentieth century musical innovation.

By mentioning innovation, we come to my feelings on Schönberg. I do not care for his music. Perhaps it is plebian of me, but I enjoy music that I can connect with on a less intellectual level. Attending a concert should not give me a headache. I can accomplish the later state of being quite well on my own, thank you. Of course, this view has little to do with innovation. I am sure I am not alone in finding Schönberg difficult to listen to. However, you must respect the innovation and the influence that Schönberg has had on Western music. There are only a handful of people who have influenced an art form in the way Schönberg has influenced music and for that, the musician must give the devil his due. Arnold Schönberg is a figure towering over twentieth century music and an undeniable addition to the Western canon of music.

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