I’ve been losing myself in Times Echo, a new book by Jeremy Eichler. Subtitled ‘The Second World War, the Holocaust, and the Music of Remembrance’, it is on the face of it an exploration of four key works and how they bear some kind of witness to the horrors of the Holocaust – by Schoenberg, Richard Strauss, Britten and Shostakovich.
It’s more than that. It’s a look at an emerging Europe that allowed the Jewish voice, particularly German speaking, to find space and flower through art, from the mid 19th century until Nazi extermination. It reminds of two things – that the Jewish voice was responsible for so much creativity over time and that the same voice has been reviled and suppressed for centuries. It is, of course, timely in the worst of ways.
You could argue that looking at art, particularly music, as a vital life force at this hinge moment in history is facile. I think it is more important than ever.
The book sends us to Babi Yar, Shostakovich’s symphony remembering the massacre of 34,000 Jews in Kyiv in 1941 by occupying Nazi forces. The music is massive and monumental and becomes something else in the shadow of the contemporary moment. History has a way of pulling on dark timely threads. We don’t just remember music, says Eichler, it remembers us. This is important. If we allow an openness we then imprint our own perspective on the art and, in Eichler’s words, the history it carries will not remain quiet but instead it “burns” through to us, making us more keen to be positively transformed.
- Israel-Gaza: ‘To help a traumatised child, he first needs the trauma to end.’
- Netanyahu clinging to power has left Israel in crisis
In the aftermath of Hamas’s attacks on Israel there has been a race amongst many people to show where they sit on the league table of outrage. The knee jerk reaction and finger pointing on social media has been off the chart. It’s easy to congratulate yourself on your moral certainty when you’re several thousand miles from the epicentre.
The truth is we can hold what appear to be differing views at the same time. We can be appalled by the Hamas murders, about the rockets and the indiscriminate killings of the kids at that music festival. We can believe Israel has a right to defend itself against the atrocities Hamas commits.