Time’s Echo

Four Composers, The Second World War, and the Memory of Music

Alfred A. Knopf, 2022

 

Only history, real history with all its suffering and contradiction,
constitutes the truth of music.”  — Theodor Adorno

 

My book in progress, Time’s Echo, explores new ways of listening to music as culture’s memory. Specifically, the book seeks out the memory of the Second World War and the Holocaust through the lives and art of four composers—Arnold Schoenberg, Richard Strauss, Dmitri Shostakovich and Benjamin Britten. It tells the story of how each artist inherited a set of utopian beliefs in culture’s power to realize the Enlightenment dream of a just and free society; how each experienced the trials of the war years, a period in which these utopian visions were shattered by a barbarism that reached beyond the bounds of language; and how each composer during the postwar era created at least one iconic memorial, transposing their own experiences and the tragedy of their times into some of the most powerful ethical and aesthetic statements in the history of music. Yet Time’s Echo is not limited to these stories of culture and catastrophe. The book also brings readers on a search, conducted in five countries, for the echoes of these times in the landscapes central to the music’s creation. Its narrative blends sound and place, history and memory, in order to reflect on the legacies of war, the witnessing of art, and the meaning of music in our lives today. Time’s Echo will be published by Alfred A. Knopf in North America and by Faber in the U.K.