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This project examines Arnold Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw, Op. 46.
Length: Minimum of one single-spaced page. Absolutely no funky margins or fonts.
Due: Wednesday, April 18 @ 6 PM
Submission: Via email to ephraim.schafli@temple.edu with the subject line “Schoenberg.”
Read the excerpted program notes provided below (on page 2 of this document), listen to the
piece using the link provided, and respond with your thoughts to the four prompts listed below:
1) Is the musical language appropriate for the content? Did hearing atonal music in this context
help you appreciate it more? Would it have been as effective if Schoenberg had used the musical
language of Bach or Beethoven? Why or why not?
2) Did hearing this piece change or enhance your perception of the historical events?
3) What did you think about the use of Sprechstimme compared to the more traditional singing
style of the choir? What effect do the different singing styles have overall and in the context of
the piece?
4) How does Schoenberg use the instruments to enhance the text? Think of specific examples
where you think the use of instruments is particularly effective and why. You may consider the
instruments themselves, musical techniques, motion vs. stillness, dynamics, unique timbres etc.
Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmzvJCkziF8
Note: The text is provided as subtitles in the video. Turn on closed captioning to view it. Text
will not show up properly in Internet Explorer. Google Chrome is recommended. The complete
text is also provided on page three of this document. Make sure that you read and understand the
A Survivor from Warsaw for Narrator, Men’s Chorus, and Orchestra, Opus 46
-Excerpts from notes by Michael Steinberg for the San Francisco Symphony.
A Survivor from Warsaw is Schoenberg’s last composition for orchestra. In seven minutes, it encompasses
everything that made Schoenberg one of the greatest composers in the history of Western music—classical
precision of utterance, unsurpassed orchestral virtuosity, a fabulous sense for the vivid musical gesture, and
above all, his passion and the white-hot intensity as well as the strength and directness of his emotional
response to a text or dramatic situation. At nearly seventy-three, in shaky health, with his eyesight in a condition
that made writing out a score a sometimes nearly insuperable labor, he wrote this piece in just thirteen days.
That is remarkable, but writing at high speed and in a fever of inspiration were always normal conditions for his
composing. In this instance, the subject itself—a vignette from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943—energized him
powerfully. (“The text,” Schoenberg wrote, “is based partly upon reports which I have received directly or
In A Survivor from Warsaw, a man tells the story of a group of Jews who, at the moment they are being loaded
for transport to one of the death camps, suddenly, in a last flaring of spirit and faith, burst into singing the
prayer Shema Yisroel, Adonoy elohenu, Adonoy echod (Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One)…
We hear three languages in this terrifyingly concentrated music drama—the storyteller’s English, slightly
foreign in diction and accentuation, the German sergeant’s Berlin-colored German, and the Hebrew of the
chorus’s Shema Yisroel.
With this go three ways of projecting a text. The [English] narrator uses Sprechstimme (Speech-Song), that
halfway-house between speech and song … which is always associated with Schoenberg, who had first used it
in Gurrelieder, returning to it in Pierrot Lunaire, Die glückliche Hand, Moses und Aron, and the Ode to
Napoleon Bonaparte. Rhythm is precisely notated; pitch is not, though Schoenberg indicates the contours he
Typically, the narration in A Survivor from Warsaw is fluid in rhythm; this, however, changes when Schoenberg
quotes the abusive and shrill words of the German sergeant. There, the rhythm becomes more mechanical (or
less “musical”), and the diction is percussive. At one point—“In einer Minute will ich wissen wieviele ich zur
Gaskammer abliefere! Abzählen!” (“In one minute I want to know how many I’m delivering to the gas chamber!
Count off!”)—the words are given in straight, totally non-musical speech…At the opposite end of the spectrum
is the Shema Yisroel, sung in powerful unison throughout.
Writing about his setting of Byron’s malicious Ode to Napoleon, which Schoenberg in 1942 used as a hate letter
to Hitler, the composer pointed out that the instruments “unceasingly paint in the background, underline, and
illustrate.” This they also do in A Survivor from Warsaw, passionately and vividly. The trumpet call that jolts us
into alarmed attention, and which haunts the entire score; the kaleidoscope of colors and textures, whose
nervous and too rapid spinning conveys so well the state of exhausted humans who have lost all sense of secure
ground beneath their feet; the human, all-too-human wail of oboes and violins that accompanies the words “You
had been separated from your children, from your wife, from your parents”; the extraordinary contrast between
commotion and deathlike stillness—these are but some of the most obvious examples. Every page, every
gesture, every sound of A Survivor from Warsaw reminds us that this is the work of a man who was both a
fiercely sentient mensch and a consummate master of musical theater.
Full text available at: https://www.sfsymphony.org/Watch-Listen-Learn/Read-Program-Notes/ProgramNotes/SCHOENBERG-A-Survivor-from-Warsaw-for-Narrator,-Me.aspx
TEXT (with English translations):
I cannot remember everything. I must have been unconscious most of the time.
I remember only the grandiose moment when they all started to sing, as if prearranged, the old prayer they had neglected
for so many years – the forgotten creed!
But I have no recollection how I got underground to live in the sewers of Warsaw for so long a time. The day began as
usual: Reveille when it still was dark. “Get out!” Whether you slept or whether worries kept you awake the whole night.
You had been separated from your children, from your wife, from your parents. You don’t know what happened to them…
How could you sleep?
The trumpets again – “Get out! The sergeant will be furious!” They came out; some very slowly, the old ones, the sick
ones; some with nervous agility. They fear the sergeant. They hurry as much as they can. In vain! Much too much noise,
much too much commotion! And not fast enough! The Feldwebel shouts:
“Achtung! Stillgestanden! Na wird’s mal! Oder soll ich mit dem Jewehrkolben nachhelfen? Na jut; wenn ihrs durchaus
haben wollt!”
(“Attention! Stand still! How about it, or should I help you along with the butt of my rifle? Oh well, if you really want to
have it!”)
The sergeant and his subordinates hit (everyone): young or old, (strong or sick), quiet, guilty or innocent …
It was painful to hear them groaning and moaning.
I heard it though I had been hit very hard, so hard that I could not help falling down. We all on the (ground) who could not
stand up were (then) beaten over the head…
I must have been unconscious. The next thing I heard was a soldier saying: “They are all dead!”
Whereupon the sergeant ordered to do away with us.
There I lay aside half conscious. It had become very still – fear and pain. Then I heard the sergeant shouting: “Abzählen!”
(“Count off!”)
They start slowly and irregularly: one, two, three, four – “Achtung!” The sergeant shouted again, “Rascher! Nochmals
von vorn anfange! In einer Minute will ich wissen, wieviele ich zur Gaskammer abliefere! Abzählen!”
(“Faster! Once more, start from the beginning! In one minute I want to know how many I am going to send off to the gas
chamber! Count off!”)
They began again, first slowly: one, two, three, four, became faster and faster, so fast that it finally sounded like a
stampede of wild horses, and (all) of a sudden, in the middle of it, they began singing the Shema Yisroel.
Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with
Sh’ma Yisraeil, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.
all your soul and with all your might. And these words
V’ahavta eit Adonai Elohecha b’chawl l’vav’cha uv’chawl
which I command you today shall be on your heart. You
nafsh’cha, uv’chawl m’odecha. V’hayu had’varim haeileh, asher
shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and you shall
anochi m’tsav’cha hayom, al l’vavecha. V’shinantam l’vanecha,
speak of them when you sit in your house and when you
v’dibarta bam b’shivt’cha b’veitecha, uvlecht’cha vaderech,
walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise
uv’shawchb’cha uvkumecha. Ukshartam l’ot al yadecha, v’hayu
up. You shall bind them as a sign upon your arm, and they
l’totafot bein einecha. Uchtavtam, al m’zuzot beitecha,
shall be for a reminder between your eyes. And you shall
write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon
your gates.

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