cover image Time’s Echo: The Second World War, the Holocaust, and the Music of Remembrance

Time’s Echo: The Second World War, the Holocaust, and the Music of Remembrance

Jeremy Eichler. Knopf, $30 (400p) ISBN 978-0-525-52171-6

Boston Globe music critic Eichler contends in his masterful debut that the classical compositions of Arnold Schoenberg, Benjamin Britten, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Richard Strauss “possess a unique and often underappreciated power” to connect us to the “shocking and unassimilable past” of the Holocaust. Expertly detailing each composer’s life and career, particularly their wartime experiences, Eichler argues that “like a relay station from the past,” their music “carries forward an essential memory of the... Shoah”; he doesn’t just approach the music on its “own terms,” but as a direct “encounter” with history. Having fled Nazi Germany for America in 1933, Schoenberg “assume[d] the sacred task of memorializing the unfathomable loss” in his powerful 1947 composition A Survivor from Warsaw. Eichler, drawing on Schoenberg’s notes and biography, determines that this cantata is not only a memorial for murdered people but a lament for the dead dream of a shared German-Jewish culture. Decades later, British pacifist Britten composed his 1962 War Requiem, which draws on the WWI poetry of Wilfred Owen to challenge the idea that there is any nobility in war; Eichler traces how this displacement of WWI history onto WWII is an echo of Britain’s initial postwar attempts to minimize the Holocaust. In vivid, luminous prose, Eichler makes clear that to actively listen to these compositions is “to perform an act of empathy angled toward the past” and reveal latent emotions at their moment of creation. It’s a moving declaration of the power of music to transmit human feeling across time. (Aug.)