Translated by Kenneth Chalmers
“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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