‘Communicating Human Rights: Music and Pacifism in the Mid-20th Century’

This interdisciplinary research project poses two main questions: how did twentieth-century European composers use their respective art forms to reach a broad public on the theme of pacifism? And how did these artists situate key issues and challenges in contemporary political and social life within a transnationalpeace movement? Three works form the core of this project at Cambridge: Arnold Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw (1947); Hanns Eisler’s German Symphony (1935-57); and Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem (1962). All three composers worked a significant part of their careers in exile in the United States (Schoenberg was in the United States from 1933 until his death in 1951; Eisler from 1938 to 1948; and Britten from 1939 to 1942), all interacted widely with composers and writers from other countries, and all expressed pacifist goals in their correspondence and in their music. At the cusp of a new interdisciplinary field of the arts and human rights, this project seeks more broadly to understand why artists felt called upon to address those rights through their work and why the arts were especially well-positioned by mid-twentieth century to reach a broad public. This project asserts that the two fields of human rights and the arts are not mutually exclusive, that the arts did not have merely an ‘entertainment’ function, and that composers could make significant contributions to contemporary discussions regarding the rights of individuals and the role audiences had in protecting those rights. The goal is thus to consider how music provided a means of expressing pacifism as a core belief in human rights by the mid-twentieth century.


Kenneth Marcus is Professor of History at the University of La Verne and teaches courses in European and American history, world history, and history methods. He earned his BA in history at the University of California, Berkeley; an M B A from the Ecole Supérieure de Commerce de Paris, and a PhD in history from the University of Cambridge. He specialises in the field of Los Angeles cultural history and has published over 60 articles, encyclopedia entries, book reviews and recordings as well as 3 books, most recently Schoenberg and Hollywood Modernism (Cambridge University Press, hardback 2016, paperback 2018). He was a Fulbright Senior Fellow at Leiden University, the Netherlands in Spring 2013 and has received research funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation, and the James Irvine Foundation.


Tel: +44 1223 766886