This article examines the use of central elements of the Jewish religious repertoire and transcendental realm, such as prophecy or revelation, within the aesthetic secular realm of musical avant-garde and modern Hebrew literature. By focusing on two case studies, I attempt to shed new light on the question of Jewish secular culture. Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951), an Austrian Jewish composer, was born into an assimilated Viennese family and converted to Protestantism before returning to Judaism in the 1930s while escaping to the United States. Aharon Appelfeld (1932–2018), an Israeli Jewish writer, was born in Czernowitz to assimilated German-speaking parents, survived the Holocaust and emigrated to Israel in 1946. My claim is that in their works both composer and author testify to traumatic experiences that avoid verbal representation by: (1) subverting and transgressing conventional aesthetic means and (2) alluding to sacred tropes and theological concepts. In exploring Schoenberg’s opera Moses und Aron and Appelfeld’s Journey into Winter among others, this article shows how the transcendent sphere returns within the musical and poetic avant-garde (musical prose, 12-tone composition, prose poem, non-semantic or semiotic fiction) as a “sound” of old traditions that can only be heard through the voices of a new Jewish culture.
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