‘Alles ist hin!’: Images and Commemoration in Thomas Larcher’s Symphonie Nr. 2: Kenotaph (2015-16)

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This paper examines the programme of Thomas Larcher’s Second Symphony, premiered in 2016 and performed at the Proms in the same year. Following a brief survey of the arguments for and against so-called “absolute” and “programme” music, the status of Larcher’s piece as a memorial (a cenotaph or “empty tomb”) will be discussed. What Frank Schneider terms the “Sprachcharakter” of music will be examined with reference to Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet, Moses und Aron, String Trio, and A Survivor from Warsaw and also in relation to the Old Testament Prohibition of Images (the Bilderverbot).
What constitutes an appropriate musical response to mass destruction, genocide or carnage? How useful, politically or otherwise, is instrumental music as a tool for commemoration? Is Larcher’s (by general consensus) post-Mahlerian idiom appropriate for the task he has set himself? How are the musical language he adopts and – extra-musically – the circumstances of the commission which brought it about, engaged with the catastrophe it commemorates? Can the music live up to its title and programme without linguistic exegesis, without commentary or verbalisation? Larcher avoids literalism and the associated pitfalls of banality in his music; the question is whether he has, in the process, sacrificed legibility and relevance in favour of abstraction and non-communication.
This presentation is intended as a stimulus for discussion and is not a rounded or complete paper. It will be reshaped for presentation at the workshop in the light of other contributions and will serve as a transition to the round-table discussion. Its purpose is to pose questions rather than to offer answers.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAustrian Studies
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 11 Oct 2018


  • Thomas Larcher
  • Arnold Schoenberg
  • European Migrant Crisis
  • Commemoration


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