Holocaust Remembrance Day on Musica Sacra

Yad Vashem Israel's Holocaust Memorial(Photo: usa today)
Yad Vashem Israel's Holocaust Memorial(Photo: usa today)

Musica Sacra is heard Sunday nights at 8 on Classical 101. It’s two hours of sacred choral music, and we are able to throw a wide net. Along with chant, the medieval mystics and Mozart we hear the greats: Bach, Handel, Haydn, Monteverdi, Schubert, Brahms, and a fair amount of music by composers still with us. This coming Sunday we’ll hear a brief work by Arnold Schoenberg.

That’s not a name associated with sacred music. Schoenberg pioneered the 12-tone school of music. Many feel this was music devoid of emotion or humor. I disagree but three’s no denying that Arnold Schoenberg’s work doesn’t make for easy listening.

Should music always be easy listening? That’s another blog post. This Sunday is Holocaust Remembrance Day, and one of the pieces offered on this week’s Musica Sacra is Schoenberg’s A Survivor From Warsaw.

Survivor is scored for orchestra, narrator and men’s chorus. The text, which is semi-declaimed-not really sprechstimme and not really spoken, concerns an escapee from the Warsaw Ghetto and his life-if you can call it that-in the camps. The narrative climaxes with the men’s chorus defiantly singing the Sh’ema Yisroel: Hear ye, Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is One”

It’s hard to find music that can really commemorate the horror that was the Holocaust. I didn’t want anything “easy” in this instance. Nor did I want pretty or even contemplative. For these seven minutes, you hear an acknowledgement of great suffering, and in the closing chorus,  a cry of defiance more than prayer.