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New Ears for New Music

Translated by Kenneth Chalmers

Constantin Floros

20th-century music is characterized by a bewildering multitude of trends and movements. Often several movements co-exist in contradiction to each other, in a reflection of the century’s intellectual currents and social and political changes, and the reactions they prompted. In this book, renowned musicologist and author Constantin Floros provides a survey of the different styles and tendencies in new music, presenting the most important composers from Schoenberg to Rihm in a series of fluent and readable essays that will appeal to connoisseurs and non-specialists alike. For Floros, music and biography are inseparable, and here he puts music in the context of the social and psychological background of its time.
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“God’s Eternity Opposes the Transience of Idols” – On Schoenberg’s Moses and Aron


History and art are often woven together in mysterious ways. One instructive example of this is Schoenberg’s return to the faith of his Jewish forbears: provoked by the spread of anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria – four years after his conversion to Lutheranism – this was immortalised in a series of works.

In June 1921 Schoenberg took a trip with his family and some of his pupils to Mattsee, a holiday resort in the Salzburg state. When an Aryan holidaymaker gave him to understand that as a Jew he was not welcome there, Schoenberg made a hurried retreat from the town. The experience had traumatic consequences for him, forcing him to think about his Jewishness, and discover his national and religious identity. In 1925 he composed the four-part chorus Du sollst nicht, du mußt, op.27 no.2, on a self-penned text which formulates some fundamental thoughts on the Jewish faith: the prohibition of images (Thou shalt not make any graven image), the inalienable belief in the “spirit” and the idea of the “chosen people”. At this time he took an interest in Zionist ideas, and was clearly familiar with Theodor Herzl’s now famous essay Der Judenstaat.1

In 1925 and 1926 Schoenberg worked on the three-act drama Der biblische Weg, on the theme of the foundation of a Jewish homeland, a modern Jewish state (“New Palestine”). A charismatic leader, Max Aruns, does his utmost to unite the Jewish people in the new state, but is killed by a raging...

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