DER BIBLISCHE WEG: Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute, Vol.
XVII, Nos. 1 & 2 ed. Paul
Zukofsky. Los Angeles, University of Southern California. 464 pp. $35.
Thirty years after Theodor Herzl articulated his vision of a Jewish
state "an attempt at a modern solution of
the Jewish problem" Arnold Schoenberg gave final form to a theatrical piece he had labored on for many
years, his own "attempt at a modern solution of the Jewish problem."
In his drama, which he did not intend to turn into an opera, although
he sketched some music for an
introductory piece, Schoenberg envisaged the return of the Jews to the land God had promised them. Their
return would have to follow "The Biblical Road," as Schoenberg indicated in the title of his drama "Der
In Schoenberg's imagination there would rise a leader who would try
to incorporate elements of Moses, the
bearer of the divine message who had a speech impediment, and of Aaron, a political activist who knew how
to prepare the people for the fulfillment of their dreams, not shying away from the "performance of
miracles," and planning an actual fight for possession of the land.
For Schoenberg, only devotion to the divine promise, a willingness to
"rise above all earthly matter," can
save the Jewish people. His protagonist is Max Aruns that is, Moses and Aaron in one person. He must fail
because "he has not trusted the spirit," says Asseino, who represents traditional Jewry. "You have not talked
to the rock, but have struck the rock twice with your rod," Asseino adds.
In Schoenberg's play the exiles spend a period maturing in a land of
preparation, as the Hebrews did in the
desert. Schoenberg calls this land Asmongaea; and Max Aruns is promised protection and help for his
people by the ruler of that country. In an exchange between Max Aruns (the astute political thinker) and a
former skeptic, the dialogue has a prophetic ring:
"People cannot take a position in a country inhabited by enemies," says
Aruns (who has chosen a kind of
New Palestine as a territory for the ingathering of the exiles.
"[But] a Palestine safeguarded by treaties with protecting nations will
not be enemy country," argues Michael
Setouras, an Orthodox " semi-opponent."
Whereupon Aruns states: "It is protected only as long as the existence
of a Jewish State will serve the
interests of the protecting nations. Once those interests have changed, the state will remain surrounded by
powerful enemies. Every nation has to protect itself!"
Der biblische Weg discusses faith and religion, orthodox teachings and
liberal interpretations, socialism,
political Zionism, history, the success and failure of Jewish emancipation, and religious and political
leadership. A socialist Jewish state is envisaged by those who plan it; but, says Schoenberg, "the Jews are a
nation of scholars, writers, merchants, and bankers; a nation without laborers and farmers! How perturbing
for the socialists, as they have first to create the social differences before they can think of obliterating
When Asseino, representing traditional Jewry, condemns the "materialistic"
approach of Max Aruns, Aruns
"A modern nation cannot blow out its furnaces and close its electric power stations every Friday."
Aruns postulates that "the Scriptures themselves should be authoritative
enough." And we learn from them
that Moses transformed the rising generation of Jews waiting to take possession of the Holy Land "into a
nation of combat-ready warriors."
In a rousing speech at the "Immigration Center," he asserts: "As He
did for the Hebrews at Jericho, God has
given us a powerful weapon with which to overpower our enemies: we have our own trumpets of Jericho! An
invention, conceived by our General Pinxar, enables us to aim rays at any point around the globe, and at any
distance rays which absorb the oxygen in the air and suffocate all living creatures." (This was written in
A tragedy occurs: Pinxar is attacked by insurgents and blows his plane
up in the air, taking the attacking
plane with him. The ruler of the host country renounces the treaties he had expected to sign with the Jews
and he lets Aruns know that "he is not powerful enough to oppose the will of the great powers."
The crowds revolt, Aruns is overpowered, and young Guido takes over
the biblical Joshua's role. He will
lead the nation into the Promised Land; and "as little as we intend to send these newly discovered,
death-carrying rays of material power to any point of this earth, as little as we intend to seek revenge or use
violence against any nation, so much do we, on the contrary, intend to radiate... the world [with] the
illuminating rays of our belief... so that they may bring forth new spiritual life.... We have an immediate
goal: we want to feel secure as a nation. We want to be certain that no one can force us to do anything, that
no one can hinder us from doing anything.... We want to perfect ourselves spiritually; we want to be free to
dream our dream of God as [do] all ancient peoples who have left material reality behind them."
DER BIBLISCHE Weg was the first of the two biblical dramas Schoenberg
wrote. It was followed by two
acts of the planned three of the opera Moses and Aron. Schoenberg completed the score of the two acts in
1932, but by the time he died in 1951 had not succeeded in finding a musical solution for act three, for
which he provided only the words.
But apart from these dramas, Schoenberg jotted down hundreds of pages
of notes dealing with the problems
of contemporary Jewry.
Many of his letters prove that he sensed, long before the Nazis came
to power, that a catastrophe threatened
the Jews, and he offered spiritual and political advice on how to deal with it. He proposed founding a
"Jewish movement"; he thought it useless to fight against antisemitism: "We have only to do what is useful
for ourselves: nothing against anybody. All for the Jews."
Schoenberg asserted in a conversation that before writing Der biblische
Weg he had not been familiar with
the writings of Herzl and other Zionist pioneers. When he learned of Zionist literature and theories, he was
most attracted by the fighting spirit of Ze'ev Jabotinsky. Battle interested him all his life, as is obvious from
the chessboard he devised, where the traditional pieces are replaced by soldiers, planes, and tanks, and two
parties of two players confront each other.
When the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was in Los Angeles on its first
American tour, one of the musicians,
a composer himself, interviewed Schoenberg, hoping to talk about composition and the theory of teaching.
But Schoenberg only wanted to know how Israel fought its War of Independence, what its tactics were, and
how victory was achieved.
SCHOENBERG'S biblical drama has only how been published in full in its
original German text;
previously, only an Italian translation and excerpts in English (translated by this reviewer) were available.
This volume of the Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute contains Schoenberg's text, an English
version by Moshe Lazar, facsimile prints of two drafts by Schoenberg which preceded the final version
(transcribed by Anne Schoenberg), an analytical essay by Lazar, a report by the institute's archivist, R.
Wayne Shoaf, on the principal and related manuscript sources of Schoenberg, and illustrations (musical
themes and sketches of possible stage settings).
The book also reproduces a letter I received from Schoenberg after I
had been given access to his 1927
typescript and asked him for the background to his activities on behalf of Jewish interests.
Schoenberg, already in the US, wrote on July 20, 1934, that in 1917
he had become aware "of the
shipwreck of the assimilationist aspirations. Having volunteered for the Austrian army, with the ardent desire
to prove myself at the front, for the first time I felt myself definitely rejected, as I was forced to discover that
this war was conducted as much against the internal foes as against the external ones, and that we, as Jews,
were included among these internal foes, no matter what our political positions might have been.... It
became clear to me that we Jews must rely upon ourselves and that soon we all would have to experience
such things. Building upon this recognition, my thinking guided me to my drama Der biblische Weg in
which I advocated based upon the possibility indicated in the Bible the establishment of an independent
Jewish state, without taking in it a position for or against Zionism. Since then Zionist endeavors have also
become sacred to me, even though I cannot, for tactical and strategic reasons, fully subscribe to them."
In the book, a 100-page essay by Lazar, a former lecturer at the Hebrew
University and at Tel Aviv
University, now at the University of Southern California, is followed by 223 bibliographic end-notes and a
five- page bibliography (omitting the present writer's numerous studies and Schoenberg translations). It is to
be hoped that this fascinating book will one day be followed by an edition of Schoenberg's numerous essays
and notes, plans and programs of Jewish interest.
With the fate of Los Angeles Schoenberg Institute still undecided, the
three children and heirs of
Schoenberg will surely transfer its contents to some other secure place. Unfortunately, the future of the
Journal is also uncertain.
Copyright 1996 Jerusalem Post. All Rights Reserved
Peter E. Gradenwitz, Schoenberg takes to the road., Jerusalem Post, 06-06-1996, pp 04.
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