Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Sunday, November 4

Schoenberg and Sheng

Synopsis

Today’s date marks the anniversary of the premiere performance of two musical works written by émigré composers: one Austrian, the other Chinese.

On Nov 4, 1948, the Albuquerque Civic Symphony gave the first performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s powerful piece for narrator, chorus and orchestra entitled “A Survivor from Warsaw.” Because of his Jewish heritage, Schoenberg resettled in America in 1933 when the Nazis took over Germany. After the end of World War II, Schoenberg met some survivors of the Nazi pogroms in the Warsaw ghetto. Profoundly moved as they recounted their harrowing experiences, Schoenberg set their recollections to music, utilizing a twelve-tone theme which is revealed only at the end of the work, where it supplies the traditional melody of a Jewish prayer of comfort and hope.

On today’s date in 1993, Boulder, Colorado, was the venue for the premiere of this music, the String Quartet No. 3 by the Chinese composer Bright Sheng. “It was inspired by the memory of a Tibetan folk dance which I came across about 25 years ago when I was living in a province on the border between China and Tibet,” recalled Sheng. At that time, Madame Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” was in full force, and that explains why a teenage pianist from Shanghai ended up on a remote Chinese frontier.

Eventually, Sheng was able to enroll in the Shangai Conservatory, and in 1982 came to New York. “All of my compositions somehow deal with Chinese culture,” explains Sheng, “yet they synthesize Chinese and Western musical forms.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Arnold Schoenberg (1874 – 1951) A Survivor from Warsaw Simon Callow, narrator; London Symphony; Robert Craft, cond Koch 7263

Bright Sheng (b. 1955) String Quartet No. 3 Shanghai Quartet BIS 1138

Additional Information

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