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Seeing Ideas: Straub and Huillet’s “Moses und Aron”

JEAN-MARIE STRAUB AND Daniele Huillet’s 1975 film Moses und Aron is based on Arnold Schoenberg’s opera Moses und Aron, composed (in California) in the early 1930s. The film, like the opera before it and the Bible before that, deals with interlocking problems of representation and authority. For Schoenberg dramatizing the ancient narrative about Moses’ promulgation of monotheism, and its correlative, the proscription of idolatrous visual art, had distinct modern appeal, as for Straub and Huillet the further transposition of the opera into cinema carried the same issue a step further (less aural, more visual).

As early as 1912 Schoenberg was writing at length about ways of dealing with mixed-means artworks, both in terms of setting lyrics against music and in terms of sound against image in film. An article called “The Relation to the Text,” from 1912, detailed the interior conflict between

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