Phil Kaveny

The Works of Philip Kaveny

Music Heals The Horrific In the 20th Century by Philip Kaveny

Music Heals The Horrific in The 20th Century



Philip Kaveny University of Wisconsin Eau Claire Religious Studies C: 2010



“In the face of horrific disappointments of the 20th century, three mid-20th century composers manifest the power of music to promote memory and healing amidst painful experience.” [1]

Frankfort School critical theorist Theodore W. Adorno, (1903-1969) is famous for his dictum.

“To write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric,”.

It has come to signify the catastrophic failure of The European Enlightenment, on a material, artistic, and spiritual level.[2]


Section: I Mere enumerations numb human memory. It is not enough. More is needed as a first step towards healing. It is imperative shared humanity be incarnated through music.

It is now nearly a century since the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 when the armistice was declared and the guns fell silent on The Western Front .The armistice and the events of The Great War later to be called World War One when humanity started numbering its World Wars are nearly lost in the mists of time.[3] Yet World War One is a foundational horrific experience of modernity. World War I, the Great War, The War to end all Wars quickly morphed into the great killing machine (a human sausage machine as British war poet Siegfried Sassoon called it). A machine that produced death seeking only more death and was indiscriminating whether its product consisted of Imperial British or Imperial German Soldiers, or soldiers of The French Republic[4].

Estimates of the combatant and non-combatant deaths during the fifteen hundred and fifty days from the formal outbreak of World War I August 3rd , 1914 to the date when the guns fell silent on The Western Front (Armistice Day November 11th 1918) range around  10,000,000 and 5,000,000 respectively. At least that many died in Russian Bolshevik revolution and the other European social and Communist revolutions and the mostly successful counter-revolutionary attempts to starve and suppress them making for a total of around 30,000,000 [5], particularly when one factors in the 1918-1918 Spanish Influenza pan epidemic[6].

I am well aware that in nearly all academic discourse large numbers are generally written out rather than presented in Arabic numerals, but I chose them to express the astronomical magnitude of the suffering incurred, which I argued when presented in statistical or scientific format is beyond 21st American comprehension.  Deaths are numbers without a human face that is to say more soldiers were killed on an average during the approximately 1560 days of The War Great, than all the US combat deaths in both Gulf Wars.[7] To rephrase my statement; on an average for each day of the Great War more than the entire numbers of the male student body and faculty of University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, were killed in combat leaving emptiness and suffering for friends, families and lovers alike.

Yet all these examples with their mind numbing actuarial numeracy lack the human face of horrific disappointment and suffering, betrayal of hope by victors, and the dashed hope of a new and better world through revolution, and rationality. We must go past mere enumeration to evoke human memory and give faces to the dead and evoke spiritual healing for those that remain. This is what Berliner Kurt Weill’s (1900-1950) Berlin Requiem (1928) addresses on several, particularly musical evocation of “the Drowned Girl, “Rosa Luxembourg in his work.

Section: II the Berlin Requiem is much more than a simple war memorial to World War One German war dead.

Kurt Weill’s title Berlin Requiem is not just a clever choice of words. It really is a kind of incantation in written word voice and music notation then sung and in orchestral accompanied voice which leads us to ask certain questions even if we don’t understand German as we carefully consider its two word title. First we must carefully consider the question what is Requiem? According to the Catholic Encyclopedia online it is a mass for the repose of souls of the just, without torment until judgment, and has warrant in the Hebrew Bible, and the New Testament and is celebrated by a number of Christian denominations including my Anglican, and some Lutheran churches.[8]

Then the question must be asked why did Weill write a requiem for the city of Berlin as a German Jew in 1928? After all, Berlin and nearly the whole of Germany were nearly untouched by combat or strategic bombing.[9] Further, nearly every battle in World War I was fought on allied territory. This Berlin did not suffer directly like Nazi Berlin the site of the final major battle of European World War II fought starting sixty five years ago today on April 22, 1945 in which a number of Russian Soldiers, German Soldiers, German Civilians equal to the combined populations of The Twin Cites was killed by the time Berlin fell and surrendered to Soviet Forces May, 2 1945[10] .

When one critically examines and listens to Kurt Weill’s Berlin Requiem and in the process includes in that examination some contemporary German response to it, it becomes clear that the music deals with something deeper, broader and more spiritual than a simple Requiem Mass for German Soldiers killed in The Great War. The two most controversial sections of the music are “The Grand March” which even to my non- German ear is a grotesque parody of the martial and goose stepping march of all things imperialistic.  “The Drowned Girl” section commemorates and asks for repose of the righteous soul of revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg (an astute critic of imperialism) who was raped and then murdered and cast into a canal during “The Spartacus Revolt”, in Berlin in January 1919. (The Spartacus Revolt was brutally suppressed)  “By the German defense minister Gustav Noske who used the army and the Freikorps to crush the revolt. The Freikorps was a volunteer militia made up of ex army men set up to defend the borders of Germany.” The controversial contemporary response in Germany in 1928 is that Rosa Luxemburg a victim murdered by German soldiers is among their righteous dead in the musical composition.[11]

Weimar German authorities were aware of this and only allowed the initial performance with Kurt Weill’s title Berlin Requiem complete with The Grand March and The Drowned Girl, and Kurt Weill was forced to flee for his life to the United States in 1933 when the Nazis and Hitler came to power. Given the events of the next twelve years that Hitler and the Nazis held power, including the legalization of racial hatred through the Nuremberg Laws, “Crystal Night” in 1938 where the civic destruction of Jewish property inside of the borders of The Third Reich by enraged thugs, and the Holocaust; what can be said past silence? Much more must be said and everything must be remembered. Events seemed destined to take their horrific course, yet the Berlin Requiem is a necessary step into my next two composers and I believe that Kurt Weill’s goals are realized on a human level though the works of the next composers I address as we progress from mind numbing actuarial numeracy and give a drowned girls face of horrific disappointment and suffering, betrayal hope by victors, and the dashed hope of new and better world through revolution.

       Section: III The poet, the Holocaust, and two more composers, and the “unmentionable odour[12] of death”[13]. Hitler is dead. The Third Reich is dead. It’s late 1947; the GI’s are home jitterbugging, going to college on G.I bill and filling homes financed with G.I mortgages, with baby boomers. The War has been over for two years, but a stench of holocaust still hangs in the air for victims, and liberating witness, perpetrator alike, and we have started now numbering our World Wars.

This is the world in which Arnold Schoenberg’s (1874-1951) Survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto was first performed in 1947.[14] The Music and the Holocaust Website gives us a vast array of resources and amply documents his Jewish heritage, and his monumental influence on 20th Century music, and his flight to The United States from Nazi persecution when Hitler came to power. It also gives an excellent link to The Smithsonian Institute’s Holocaust Museum exhibit and online recourses, material that a researcher if not careful could lose themselves in. So I will continue along a more personal track, not forgetting in all of this the need of an artwork or a work of music to evoke the unmentionable ordour of death as a start towards healing in the second half of the 20th and the first half of the 21st century after all with direct living memory are gone.[15]

I realized something as I concentrated on the performance of Survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto taking place with full orchestral accompaniment filmed in a Cathedral  with a choir presented in a voice almost like that of a Cantor’s wail and filmed and recorded with pristine clarity not all of which could be done justice to by YouTube. But, never the less it made me realize that the phrase we listen to in music is not adequate to describe the reception of music as we experience it. We don’t just listen to music when we see it performed (even if we only see and hear it performed on YouTube). We read music through all our senses. This was the one great thing Marcel Proust (1871-1922), had to tell us about art. To me it works like this, first, music is written by the composer, then music and words are read and performed, we who receive it do so not just from hearing the sound. We really read it on the faces of the performers, we even sometimes see the performers, hands and perhaps even feel the human warmth of our fellow human bodies around us as memory is evoked even if we watch it alone, we know someone cared enough to leave it for us, even if they never knew us, perhaps a bit like the speaker in the Robert Frost poem “A tuft of Flowers. “[16]  All this makes everyone more than just a cipher.[17]

I have a direct but tenuous connection to Arnold Schoenberg through one of his protégés who was a man of in his seventies when I met him at a party and reception for chess players and musicians held at the University of Wisconsin Madison in the late 1960’s.This was a time when America was at War with its conscience and in some instances rose to the level of a very stylized civil war in which American university students were fired upon and killed by American Soldiers on the grounds of American universities as in the case of Kent and Jackson State. More than once I stared down the barrel of a National Guard rifle. I evoke this personal image only to evoke the personal and universal need for spiritual healing.

It’s only now that I realize the importance of what Schoenberg’s protégé  said when asked  by our host if his brand new high fidelity stereophonic record player was distracting him from our chess game.

He growled,

“Music is meant to distract. Music that does distract is just noise”

Distraction is what I feel when I experience Survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto. I am distracted from my life of relative comfort and privilege, and my cocoon of media access when I hear the instruments, and chorus, and read the face of the narrator as he chants the images of guards roll calls, sirens, and some of the smells of someone who has escaped and survived by hiding in a Sewer.

It has been pointed out that Schoenberg’s narrative of Survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto includes elements out of the timeframe of the Jewish uprising, and there were no death camps of crematoriums inside of the city of Warsaw. According to reliable sources that was Schoenberg’s intent.[18] That is correct, It was his intent tells an irreducible truth through art music which was robust enough to withstand any attempts at denial or deconstruction, either by revisionist historians, or the ethical relativists, and moral constructionist, like Richard Rorty, who reduced existence and truth to nothing more than self referential language games, and justice to what most people agree to.[19]

Here is how this works if someone, for example, a historian  who is not a language abuser contends that Survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto includes in it elements outside the timeframe location of the Jewish uprising, since there were no death camps of crematoriums inside of the city of Warsaw. Rather they existed elsewhere in Germany, Poland, Russia, Austria then they really generalize the words in Schoenberg’s narrative to the entirety of The Holocaust in Nazi occupied territory, which then demands that the rest of the world remember.

Section IV: A 2005 Trip to the British Imperial War Museum Remembrance a Kaddish prayer mourning for the 20th and 21st Century which cries out in the walls of heave against god and god’s profound  otherness, and ineffectuality, callous indifference not only to god’s chosen people, but all of his children. Finally a dynamic and tortured reconciliation, which looks to the future by making the past real in a philosophical sense, that is to something that lives and is not merely a human linguistic construction, unattached, and free floating like dust in the wind.

Before we turn to Leonard Bernstein’s Kaddish we must make a necessary digression .In the spring of 2005 my wife and I visited the British Imperial War Museum in London and as its name would imply it is a proud and imperial place. On display in the yard in front of it is a fifteen inch naval gun which in length would nearly reach from home plate to the pitcher’s mound of a baseball diamond. It was obsolete the day it was manufactured, even though it fires a shell that weighed as much as our Pt Cruiser that could easily travel the distance from Eau Claire to Chippewa falls. Its titanic force and proportions and need to be mounted in a turret on a fifteen thousand ton Dreadnaught made it obsolete and vulnerable to attack by air or submarine from the day it was manufactured two years before the start of the Great War. The gun never fired a shot in anger, and never even ventured into battle because it was as an unprotected hiker’s foot to a scorpion inside her boot.

It was what you would expect to find outside of the British Imperial War Museum and not germane to this paper any way with the exception of the way it contrasted with what exhibits inside the museum.  The exhibits in three dimensional forms addressed the same concerns as concerns and pathos of Leonard Bernstein’s Kaddish, as a kind of prayer of mourning. It was in the form painting and diorama linking the horrors of World War Trench and gas warfare, to a permanent multilevel walk through Holocaust exhibit, on the operational and productive aspects of a Nazi death camp, managed as they were according to American pioneer industrial engineer Frederic Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management [20].

For purposes of this paper I have chosen to supplement the CD version of Leonard Bernstein’s Kaddish (1963, revised 1977), with the John Axelrod conducts Symphony No. 3, Kaddish, by Leonard Bernstein, (New Libretto by Holocaust Survivor Samuel Pisar (1989). I have chosen the Orchestre de Paris, Chorus of Orchestre de Paris 2008 Video production; by French National Video .The text is sung In English with subtitles in French. The work is presented in six parts on YouTube[21], and is available for purchase from a number of sources.

I have made this choice for two reasons, first the occasion of the initial appearance this of adaptation of Kaddish was for the benefit UNESCO presented in Paris with the support of the French national government. The generous support given to this production of Kaddish is an example of the significance of his work, even nearly fifty years after its first appearance. Secondly Kaddish will be presented in this form conducted by John Axelrod at the Kennedy Center in 2011, which first speaks to universality of its acceptance, and by extension the monumental reputation of Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) two decades after his death.

On a personal level this symphony extends past the feelings and emotions evoked at our visit to the British Imperial War Museum that moved us so much .Kaddish reach me through several of my senses and has the living timeless quality of great art. In a way the performance makes real the particular subjective and same time universal aspects of the religious experience that is so integral to the faith of the author of last week’s readings,When Women Recite: ‘Music’ and Islamic Immigrant Experience.” This is because the new Libretto by Holocaust Survivor Samuel Pisar, cries out on behalf of Muslims, Jews, Christians, and all believers and atheist alike. It demands of God an answer to this question. How in your indifference could you have allowed this to happen? It brings history alive through the living memory of survivors whose words we can read on the living face of the chanters as we hear the names of those god seems to have forsaken, including a beloved grandmother who died in a gas chamber  and evokes the images of my own. We hear the names of war Nazi criminals like German Dr. Josef Mengele (1911 – 1979) who used Enlightenment Scientific knowledge, and instrumental reason, which cares only for humanity as a means to an end.  We hear in the Cantor’s words which resound, with the music, and read on his face that German Dr. Josef Mengele made a Hell more real on earth than Dante’s Inferno in the death camps, as he became the Angel of Death, who lost his humanity that he swore to with his Hippocratic Oath. One asks, one wonders is forgiveness open to all even Dr. Josef Mengele?

Elsewhere in RELS 334 much is made of universality and celebration of a beauty and oneness with God. We have studied music of thanksgiving and celebration, and even observance of God’s justice, fairness and generosity, a particular example would of course be our guest presentation on Johann Sebastian Bach as a living working musician, who had to get up every day in the morning and compose, and as we used to say,” go to work and make the doughnuts” for thirty five years

We have discussed the importance of things that may have seemed trivial on a superficial level to some of us like gender based seating of congregations, what musical instruments  were acceptable if any, and even what manner of  refreshments might be provided, and in the case of my own church altar guild flower arrangements.  But, they’re the stuff of what people’s religious life and practice are made. They are real, they exist.  Doughnuts are real. They are not a linguistic construction. The same goes for profound religious otherness, anger, disappointment and profound rejection of God.

This otherness I write about in the Multimedia format I studied it as it was presented to my intellect through a number of my senses was an outcry against god. It is as real a cup of coffee and a doughnut, it must be a part of religious study Of course the events in the musical composition I referred to had surrealistic quality which made them almost beyond imagination, but particularly in this version of Leonard Bernstein’s Kaddish these events are, in a legal sense, non- dismissible charge of moral bankruptcy against god. To say it another way God cannot escape the 20th century either.

Yet for all this there is hope and healing even in the survivor’s pleas because in the end he does not forsake god, as he evokes a plea in heaven for God never again to forsake the future of humanity perhaps and I say perhaps evoking a new covenant.


The musical, artistic, literary, and poetic evidence I have cited and interpreted strongly contests the assertion that: “To write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric.”  It does so by its very existence, survival, and contemporary performance as it evokes memory and it starts us towards healing. It does so in an imperative voice to God in whatever form God takes. But more than that it cries out against whatever we put in the God-shaped hole in modernity that we left when we killed God as we ask.

“How could we intellectuals have stood by and allowed this to happen?”

For example we must question Jean Paul Sartre’s allusion to freedom as he lived under the Nazi occupation in France, particularly since there is some evidence that the individual whose academic post he took under was removed by the Nazis. We also must contest Hanna Arendt’s New York Times article on “The Banality of Evil,” as she covered the Eichmann trial, as closing the question on Eichmann. Kaddish also contests the irresponsibility of linguistic philosophers like Ludwig Wittgenstein who believed that philosophy could only say what is: not was the best, and could never say what ought to be, and reduces any contention of an ultimate reality to the bewitchment of language. Particularly , since some of us argue that certain of” Ludwig Wittgenstein’s” actions in getting his sister out of Austria since the Wittgenstein family were all Jewish by Nazi Nuremberg Law’s, greatly contributed on a financial level to the Nazi war effort.

Yet even after my outburst, these works I have cited do promote memory and healing and I contend that in the process of promoting memory and healing they have contributed to the eventuality of the 20th and 21st century not reaching their full horrific potential. That is to say, the death of all civilization by the fire and ice of nuclear firestorm, followed by nuclear winter, fed by the perpetual motion machine of memory hatred, and retribution, has not been made real. At least some of the swords have been beaten into plow shears as nuclear warheads belonging to the former Soviet Union are fueling American nuclear power plants. However, in the words of American singer Joni Mitchell no bombers have turned into butterflies. [22]

Bibliography Print works indirectly drawn from but for reasons of brevity and focus not directly cited.

Eliot, T. S. “The Waste Land.” in Modern American Poetry,Modern English Poetry. Edited by Louis Untermeyer. New York:Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1950.

Fussell, Paul, ed. Siegfried Sassoon’s Long Journey. New York:Giniger, 1983.

Verdun and the Somme. New York: American Heritage Press, 1970.

Kahn, Herman. Thinking About the Unthinkable. New York:Horizon Press, 1962.

Macdonald, Lyn. Somme. London: Michael Joseph, 1983.

.Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front.Translated by A. W. Wheen. Boston: Little, Brown, 1975.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Book of Lost Tales: Part One. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984.

Tuchman, Barbara W. Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World before the War, 1890-1914. New York: Macmillan, 1986.

Web references. Sources:

The United Holocaust Museum:

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Musical sources

Kurt Weill’s (1900-1950) Berlin Requiem   (1928),

Arnold Schoenberg’s (1874-1951) Survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto (1947)

Leonard Bernstein’s (1918-1990) Kaddish   (1963, revised 1977) (Wood Stock Joni Mitchell 1970)

[1] Implicit in the thesis is the hope and promise that memory and healing might lead to atonement and forgiveness, rather than hatred and revenge

[2] The process of attribution and exact form of the quotation is complex, because is it is drawn from a 1969 interview in German with fellow critical theorist Albert   Marcuse on Adorno in German in which the phrase exists in is in parenthetic form. However on broad cultural it is universally attributed to Adorno and what has come to be known as The Frankfort School of critical theory .

[3] Yet not entirely though the all of the combatants are now dead Armistice Days still has a human face and  exist in the living memory of my ninety four year old father in law Joe Bogstad, who as two and a half year living in Brill Wisconsin remembers his father and his uncle hitching up a team of horses to go into to buy a keg of beer to celebrate Germany surrendering






Requiem Masses are masses that are offered for the dead… They derive their name from the first word of the Introit, which may be traced to the Fourth Book of Esdras, one of the Apocrypha, at the passage  . . . The religious idea that the soul is immortal made even the Jews hold that the just, after death, went to sleep with their fathers (cf. Genesis 47:30; 1 Kings 2:10; 2 Maccabees 7:45), and Christians believed with St. Paul that they slept in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:18…

[9] The point here is that the modern technology of strategic bombing did not reach its full potential until the second World War, the Germans did use strategic bombing against England ineffectually

[10] 10


[12] I chose not to Americanize W.H spelling of odour for reasons artistic integrity

[13] SEPTEMBER 1, 1939 (W.H. Auden
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

[14] While Arnold Schoenberg’s (1874-1951) composer of Survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto (1947) Was never a practicing Jew, (his) Jewish heritage had a significant impact on both his personal life and musical compositions.  In his compositional essays, he frequently described music as an expression of God or the infinite and the act of creation as a divine one.  As the introduction to his 1941 treatise, Composing with Twelve Tones makes explicit:





[19] Particularly see  preface and chapter pp (1-63)in  Richard Rorty Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature:Thirtieth-Anniversary Editio Princeton University Press (2009)With a new introduction by Michael Williams, a new afterword by David Bromwich, and the previously unpublished essay “The Philosopher as Expert

[20] See for example Modernity and the Holocaust. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000


[22] (Wood Stock Joni Mitchell 1970)P



[1] I chose not to Americanize W.H spelling of odour for reasons artistic integrity

[1] SEPTEMBER 1, 1939 (W.H. Auden
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

[1] While Arnold Schoenberg’s (1874-1951) composer of Survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto (1947) Was never a practicing Jew, (his) Jewish heritage had a significant impact on both his personal life and musical compositions.  In his compositional essays, he frequently described music as an expression of God or the infinite and the act of creation as a divine one.  As the introduction to his 1941 treatise, Composing with Twelve Tones makes explicit:





[1] Particularly see  preface and chapter pp (1-63)in  Richard Rorty Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature:Thirtieth-Anniversary Editio Princeton University Press (2009)With a new introduction by Michael Williams, a new afterword by David Bromwich, and the previously unpublished essay “The Philosopher as Expert

[1] See for example Modernity and the Holocaust. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000


[1] (Wood Stock Joni Mitchell 1970)P

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This entry was posted on November 7, 2015 by in Academic Paper, Non-Fiction, Phil Kaveny, Wisconsin and tagged , , .
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