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Music and Genocide


Edited By Wojciech Klimczyk and Agata Świerzowska

At first glance, no two experiences could be further apart than genocide and music. Yet real, live culture usually goes beyond rational divisions. It is now fairly commonly known that art is not absent from the sites of mass killings. Both victims and prosecutors engage in artistic activities in prisons and camps, as well as at other places where genocides take place. What is the music of genocide? Can the experience of ultimate terror be expressed in music? How does music reflect on genocide? How do we perceive music after genocide? What is music and what is silence in a world marked by mass killings? Is post-genocidal silence really possible or appropriate? The goal of the volume is to reveal and, maybe even to some extent, resolve the most profound dilemma that was expressed by Theodor W. Adorno when he asked «whether it is even permissible for someone who accidentally escaped and by all rights ought to have been murdered, to go on living after Auschwitz.» It is not for the sake of pure curiosity that the relation between music and genocide is examined. In a sense we are all survivors who accidentally escaped genocide. It might have happened to us. It may still happen.
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“We remember”: The Trauma of the Holocaust in Krzysztof Penderecki’s Work


Extreme topics concerning the Holocaust could be found in many musical works of the 20th and 21st centuries. They are characterized by a similar typology. Turning towards the victims and looking for a way to express “the inexpressible”, the authors of such works give testimony to inhumane times. Analyzing such works may be difficult, shocking, sometimes moving, yet also enriching, as it allows us to experience a form of collective mourning for the millions of Holocaust victims.

Musicologists perceive Krzysztof Penderecki as an artist who is socially engaged, and one who bears testimony to the times he lives in. A work of art allows us to open ourselves to issues and experiences that would be otherwise inaccessible to us. Many works by Penderecki can be included within this framework and are worthy of our attention. Experts of contemporary music observed that despite the diagnosis that art is impossible after the Holocaust, artists such as Penderecki still approached the topic. Even from his very early compositions, Jewish issues have been present in his works.

This article presents three works by Penderecki, which are significant with regard to the difficulties that the composer has in dealing with the trauma of war. Under examination are works which had an influence on the perception and understanding of extreme issues such as the Holocaust.


Death Brigade, a work making use of narration and tape, was composed by Penderecki in 1963 and commissioned by Polskie...

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