Freud and Schoenberg: Elective Affinities

An online conference with musical examples

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21 April, 1:15 pm - 6:30 pm

£15 – £40

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Blue Self-Portrait Arnold Shoenberg

Of all the artforms, Freud was notoriously suspicious of music. Its powerful affect resisted understanding, and for that reason, Freud claimed, he was incapable of deriving any pleasure from it. The iconoclastic composer, Arnold Schoenberg, Freud’s contemporary in their Vienna years, said or wrote virtually nothing about psychoanalysis directly, yet fervently believed that great art depended on ‘the elimination of the conscious will’. ‘Art belongs to the unconscious’, Schoenberg declared, and during a period of great tension, he named it the ‘Supreme Commander’ in the ordering of his ‘subconscious self’.

On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Schoenberg’s birth, this symposium brings the creator of the 12-tone system of composition into (perhaps reluctant) conversation with the founder of psychoanalysis. Our panel of speakers, drawn from musicology, music criticism, philosophy, cultural and social histories, will explore a series of ‘elective affinities’, potentially powerful connections, consonant and dissonant thoughts and practices which perhaps can only come to light under particular scrutiny. The panels will consider questions around language and structure; liberation and containment; hysteria and feminism; faith, ambivalence and despair; exile and refuge. We are delighted to welcome Alex Ross, music critic of The New Yorker for many years, and noted for The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (2007) and Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music (2020), as our keynote speaker. Panels will include musical examples and readings.


How to watch

This conference is taking place online only. All registrants will receive a Zoom Link after booking. All registrants will also receive access to the recording afterwards. This event is held as a Zoom Webinar and participants will not be visible.



Introduction Diane Silverthorne  13.15 – 13.30

Panel 1 ‘Revolution and Reaction’, Tom DeRose and Mark Berry, 13.30 – 14.30

Reading: Opening of ‘The Moses of Michelangelo’ 

Music: Waltz from the 5 piano pieces (Op 23)


Panel 2 ‘The Woman Question’, Diane Silverthorne and Jamie Ruers (Chair, Tom DeRose) 14.30 – 15.30

Reading: From Anna O Case (Studies on Hysteria) and libretto of Erwartung 

Music: a passage from Erwartung (Op 17)


Break 15.30 – 16.00

Panel 3 ‘Monotheism and its Discontents’, Mark Berry and Miriam Leonard (Chair, Tom DeRose ) 16.00 – 17.00

Reading: Opening of Moses and Monotheism

Music: a passage from Moses and Aron


Panel 4 ‘Promised lands?’, Alex Ross (with introductory remarks from Tom DeRose, Chair, Diane Silverthorne) 17.00 – 18.00

Reading: From, Prefatory Note 2, Moses and Monotheism 

Music: Survivor from Warsaw (Op 46)


Plenary Chair, Tom DeRose 18.00 – 18.30



Click here for speakers’ biographies

Click here for abstracts


Ticket Prices

Live Stream and Recording Access: £40

Freud Museum Members and Patrons receive 20% off the standard ticket price on all events, courses, conferences and On Demand programming.

A limited number of £15 bursary tickets are available. Please email [email protected] to apply.

The purpose of this conference is to raise funds for the Freud Museum London, which receives no reguler public income.


21 April
1:15 pm - 6:30 pm
£15 – £40
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