Communicating Human Rights. The Political Uses of Music in the Mid-20th Century
This research project examines how and why two composers during the mid-20th century engaged human rights issues through the art form of music and how a transnational understanding of human rights developed during the 1930s through the 1950s that influenced these artists. How did composers use their respective art forms to reach the public on the theme of human rights? And how did they situate key issues and challenges within a transnational discussion of human rights? Two works, Hanns Eisler’s German Symphony (Deutsche Sinfonie, 1935-58) and Arnold Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw (1947) were both written in exile; both combine music with text; and both give a stark portrayal of human rights abuses, persecution, and torture during the Nazi era. Drawing on Theodor Adorno’s concept of the »revolutionary element« in music and the communication of trauma, an analysis of these two works should help us better understand the communication of human rights through the arts today.
Kenneth Marcus is Professor of History at the University of La Verne, where he teaches courses in European and American history, world history, and historiography. He earned his B.A. in history at the University of California, Berkeley; an M.B.A. from the Ecole Supérieure de Commerce de Paris, France; and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Cambridge, UK. As a cultural historian, he has written on such themes as exile and modernism, Los Angeles music history, African American music and dance, and early modern Germany. He has published four books as well as 25 peer-reviewed articles and over 40 book reviews, encyclopedia entries, book chapters, and multimedia. He is the recipient of multiple fellowships and grants for his research, including an earlier Fulbright award, NEH summer seminars, and fellowships at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California and the Institute for European History in Mainz, Germany. He is past-President of the Historical Society of Southern California.
Schoenberg and Hollywood Modernism, Cambridge, UK 2016; »Immigration and Modernism: Arnold Schoenberg and the Los Angeles Émigrés«, in: Rocío G. Davis, Dorothea Fischer-Hornung, Johanna C. Kardux (eds.), Aesthetic Practices and Politics in Media, Music, and Art. Performing Migration, New York 2011, p.183–98; Musical Metropolis. Los Angeles and the Creation of a Music Culture, 1880–1940, New York 2004.
In this first episode of our second season of Thoughtlines we talk about how culture fights back with historian Professor Kenneth Marcus (he was Fulbright/IFK_Senior Fellow in fall 2021).
As a visiting fellow at CRASSH he’s been exploring what happens when music ‘goes there’ and tackles the horror and heartbreak of war. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine and its musical resistance, rapidly going viral on social media, is effectively his project in real time. But his focus on the epic pacifist works of Arnold Schoenberg, Hanns Eisler, and Benjamin Britten reminds us that music was shaping the global human rights imagination well before now.
A study of Austrian composer Hanns Eisler’s »Deutsche Sinfonie« can help us understand how European artists responded to the atrocities of WWII concentration camps. As a cultural historian, Kenneth Marcus places this interdisciplinary study in historical context to examine why Eisler created this work and the significance that this work has for human rights today.