Musical Holocaust Memorials: Classical Music

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Music and the Holocaust


Classical composers have used the Holocaust as subject matter since the immediate post-war years. Their artistic representations and memorials not only commemorate the events but also argue for the relevance of art as a viable tool for social commentary and protest. Although Theodor Adorno asserted in 1951 that, 'to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric,' two years later he praised the Jewish composer Arnold Schoenberg for his courage in addressing artistically the Holocaust in A Survivor from Warsaw:

The effect of the Survivor … is no less powerful – a companion piece to Picasso’s Guernica – in which Schoenberg made the impossible possible, standing up to contemporary horror in its most extreme form, the murder of the Jews, in art. This alone would be enough to earn him every right to the thanks for a generation that scorns him, not least because in his music that inexpressible thing quivers that no one any longer wants to know about.

Classical music representations are as diverse as the twentieth century repertory itself, but the most significant works may be divided into three categories: Vocal Cantatas, Orchestral/Choral Works and Electronic Media.


For more information on the published version, please visit The Music and the Holocaust Website.

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