Moses und Aron - Synopsis

Arnold Schönberg: Moses und Aron Arnold Schönberg: Moses und Aron Arnold Schönberg: Moses und Aron

Moses und Aron

Arnold Schönberg


Act One

Moses hears the voice from the burning bush imparting the idea of the „one eternal, omnipresent, invisible and unimaginable God“. The voice orders him to tell his people the news, as they are the chosen people of the one true God; he is also told that he will lead his people out of Egyptian bondage. When Moses voices his doubts about his ability to do this, saying that he is clumsy of tongue and that, although he has the ability to think clearly he lacks the power to convince, the voice promises that Moses‘ brother, Aron, will be his mouthpiece.

Aron is delighted with the part he must play in fulfilling the destiny of the Israelites. The brothers cannot, however, agree on how this is to be done, since Aron doubts that the people will be able to love a God which they cannot imagine.

The Israelites are living in captivity, under a much severer yoke since Moses slew the overseer. The news that he and Aron are on their way to them with the message of a new God is received with mixed feelings among the Israelites. While some dream that a new God will deliver them from Egyptian bondage, others fear that even more blood will be spilled.

Moses proclaims the one and only God to the Israelites, while Aron tries to formulate the concept in such a way as to make it comprehensible to them. As the people remain suspicious of the invisible God, Moses feels that he has failed, but Aron takes matters into his own hands: with the help of miracles he makes this God visible and therefore easier to understand for the people. In spite of a priest’s warning of the difficulties involved in crossing the desert, the Israelites are now ready to follow Moses into freedom.


Moses has left the Israelites and has been on Mount Sinai for forty days. Unease and annoyance are spreading among his people.


Act Two

Aron tries in vain to pacify the Israelites and convince them that Moses will soon return. As a result of their flight from Egypt, the Israelites have lost their rights, laws and order and it now seems as if they have lost both Moses and the new God. In order to prevent the anarchy which now threatens, Aron tries to regain command of the situation by giving the God the comprehensible form the people need, everyday, visible and tangible. The people’s joy on regaining their sense of security in their faith develops into a wild orgy.

Moses appears and puts an end to the dance around the golden calf. He demands an explanation of Aron. The latter justifies what he has done with his love for the Israelites, to whom he wanted to restore the sense of order they had lost. Moses, who has only his own concept in mind, cannot accept this. As far as he is concerned, every word, every image and every interpretation is a falsification of the true faith. For this reason he cannot agree when Aron urges him to make himself more comprehensible to the Israelites. Even Aron’s argument that his words and images were a logical outcome of Moses‘ faith, that even God’s law is only an image of this faith and that, with his signs, God is not showing himself but merely the way to him, fails to convince Moses. The brothers are unable to find a solution to their conflict, Moses can only uphold the purity of his faith alone, without Aron.

© Bavarian State Opera
Translation: Susan Bollinger