" A wonderful palace would need to be
built for him, completely out of glass, of course, with wonderful gardens,
large fountains, and colorful exotic birds. And in this glass house would
sit the old man, painting his twelve-tone rows in gigantic notes,
undisturbed by what was going on in the world, while the rest of us,
outside, on the periphery of his glass palace, would build up socialism.
Thus should Schoenberg live until the end of his life, like the Caliphs in
the Thousand and One Nights."
H. Eisler on Schönberg (1944-45)
Remarkable but a very ignored composer
of the twentieth century is the Jewish-German-Austrian, Hanns Eisler.
Remarkable because of the fact that he was one of the most promising
students of Arnold Schoenberg
. Ignored because he composed politically
orientated music: music now described as irrelevant or 'out of date':
thereby neglecting his dedication to the revolutionary 12 tone music
Looking at the situation in the thirties
there might be something to speak for Eisler's radical change to 'Arbeitermusik
Eisler born in 1898, Germany, grew up in
. As a young boy he was called for duty in the First
. His experiences in this war and the social revolutions around
the world (like the Russian October revolution
) already formed his musical
In 1919 he receives an invitation from
Schoenberg to join his class (together with Alban Berg
and Von Webern
fact an experimental group to practice Schoenberg's first steps to 12 tones.
Eisler is also the first composer who composed a piece in 12-tone ladder.
After years of study and practicing, the bond Eisler-Schoenberg comes to an
end: their opinions about modern music trends and political ideas differ
too much. Eisler leaves Vienna (1926), and arrives in Berlin
Curious about the new media, he jumps onto radio and film, composing songs and themes. His contribution to
cabaret-songs finally brings him together with the German radical poet,
Berthold Brecht. Where Kurt Weill
and Berthold Brecht
later break their collaboration
because of too many political differences
, these political ideas seem to
be the glue for the Brecht and Eisler collaboration. 'Kampflieder
', songs that have to
raise awareness to the workers and warn them against the upcoming
Nazi threat. Even in these songs Schoenberg
's influence can still be heard:
it's basically jazzmusic but with atonal side notes.
Eisler's classical background and social awareness makes him
popular with a new generation of film-directors like Joris Ivens
. Music for '
' , 'Die Mutter
' and 'Massname
' also make him well-known
in political ways: the Nazis, who immediately put him on their blacklist
When Eisler is invited to Vienna
(1933) by Von Webern
to demonstrate his compositions he already knows he won't
return to Germany. From Spain
he finally leaves for America
(California). Here he rejoins with his teacher Schoenberg and
friend Brecht. In the new world Eisler continues to write for movies and
even writes a book about writing orchestrations for movies (later on to be
the classic book on movie music).
After the war he isn't even save in
America. In 1948 he is accused by the House Committee of Un-American
of having un-American sympathies; main accuser is a well known
senator: Richard Nixon
. Even support of famous scientists and artists like
can't turn down the committee's
decision. He is 'removed' of America and he decides to continue
living in East Germany. Here he arranges several folksongs and composes
the East German National anthem
Even in the by him praised East
he is treated badly. Between 1950 and 1953, when Eisler is
composing the Dr. Faust
Opera, he is accused by the communist authorities
of using to many 'German' elements.
Bittered and disappointed he finally quits composing, to die in 1962, Berlin
Links that might give you a jumpstart:
This page originally comes from my homepage and is an English translation from an
article published in my former employer's monthly magazine 'Cypers' (1998/1999).
Donated to the E2 database.
EislerMusic www.eislermusic.com: also has a discussion forum on his music