Theses Doctoral

The Emancipation of Memory: Arnold Schoenberg and the Creation of 'A Survivor from Warsaw'

Eichler, Jeremy Adam

This is a study of the ways in which the past is inscribed in sound. It is also an examination of the role of concert music in the invention of cultural memory in the wake of the Second World War. And finally, it is a study of the creation and early American reception of A Survivor from Warsaw, a cantata written in 1947 that became the first major musical memorial to the Holocaust. It remains uniquely significant and controversial within the larger oeuvre of its composer, Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951).
Historians interested in the chronologies and modalities of Holocaust memory have tended to overlook music’s role as a carrier of meaning about the past, while other media of commemoration have received far greater scrutiny, be they literary, cinematic, or architectural. And yet, A Survivor from Warsaw predated almost all of its sibling memorials, crystallizing and anticipating the range of aesthetic and ethical concerns that would define the study of postwar memory and representation for decades to come. It also constituted a uniquely personal memorial that may be read not only as a work of Holocaust art but also as a profoundly autobiographical document, one that sheds light on constellations of particularist identities often hidden beneath the “universalist” veil of one of the twentieth-century’s most iconic musical figures. Ultimately, this study seeks to articulate an under-examined linkage between modernism and memory, while arguing methodologically for the importance of sound in the contemporary practice of cultural history.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Berghahn, Volker
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 7, 2015