" 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 Ignored because he composed politically orientated music: music now described as irrelevant or 'out of date': thereby neglecting his dedication to the revolutionary 12 tone music ladder of Schoenberg.
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 Vienna, Austria. As a young boy he was called for duty in the First World war. His experiences in this war and the social revolutions around the world (like the Russian October revolution) already formed his musical views.
In 1919 he receives an invitation from Schoenberg to join his class (together with Alban Berg and Von Webern): in 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 ' Kuhle Wampe' , '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, France 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 Activities of having un-American sympathies; main accuser is a well known senator: Richard Nixon. Even support of famous scientists and artists like Einstein, Bernstein, Matisse and Picasso 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 Germany 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

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