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Hanns Eisler Political Musician Hardcover – 10 Jun 1982
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'This first comprehensive monograph on Eisler describes the man and the composer with, as yet, unequalled precision and wealth of detail. The author's aim is to portray the conflicts and development of the last 50 years as focussed upon the historical personality of Harms Eisler. Special attention should be called not only to the amount of new information the book contains, but also to the author's concise style.' Radio Bremen
Albrecht Betz divides Eisler's life and music into four periods, and shows how Eisler is distinguished from other great twentieth-century composers in his belief that music had a social function. Originally published in German in 1976, this English edition is illustrated with music examples and includes a complete list of works and a bibliography.
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It was originally published in German in 1976, and the English translation was published in 1982. The text itself is 246 pages long, and with Notes, a List of Works, a Chronology, and Index, the book is 326 pages long. Included are several black-and-white photos which give a valuable perspective on the young Eisler, who was a slim and dashing figure quite unlike the rotund older man most often seen from his last years in the DDR (East Germany).
Betz does not include any information about Eisler's personal life. The title is accurate: "Hanns Eisler: Political Musician." The book is a detailed, highly illuminating history of Eisler the composer, and it includes enough of his political activism to inform the development of his music.
There are four sections: 1) Early years in Vienna, 2) Berlin -- music and politics, 3) Fifteen years of exile, and 4) The final decade.
The first section focuses, of course, on Eisler as student of Schoenberg from 1919-1923. This was the time period when Schoenberg was developing his 12-tone system. Eisler was to utilize it for the rest of his composing career, but certainly not in a rigid or dogmatic way. Eisler broke with Schoenberg as he became engaged in working class politics after his move to Berlin.
Eisler's prime years were the Twenties in Berlin, including the beginning of his collaboration with Bertolt Brecht, which would last until Brecht's death in 1956. I found Betz to be at his best here, giving us an understanding of how Eisler saw the relationship of his art with his politics. Three great works by Brecht and Eisler are treated in depth: "Die Massnahme," "Kuhle Wampe," and "Die Mutter."
There are at least two revelations in the section on Eisler's exile in America. The first is how energetic he was politically, travelling constantly, giving talks and organizing opposition to the Nazi regime. The second is how energetic he was musically, producing a large quantity of music for films, some formally innovative, as well as the lieder with Brecht popularly known as the "Hollywood Songbook," though this is not their official name.
Finally the last section covers his years in the DDR after the McCarthy anti-communist witch hunt claimed Eisler as its first victim. He spent time in Vienna, but most of it in Berlin, the capital of East Germany. He could have gone to West Germany, but as Betz says: "...it seemed to him that [the DDR] offered a guarantee that the stamping out of fascism was to be taken seriously. In the second place, he hoped that the establishment of socialism would be associated with a new musical culture."
That latter hope proved to be elusive. Eisler was treated with the utmost respect by the authorities, but his music was another story. It was considered too radical, not in step with the socialist realism promoted by the official doctrine. Eisler had less respect for the DDR government. But Eisler and Brecht spent their final years in the DDR, and they are buried near one another in the Dorotheenstadt cemetery in central Berlin next to the Brecht House, near the Friedrichstrasse Bahnhof and Brecht's Berliner Ensemble theater.
I enthusiastically recommend this book to anyone interested in Eisler, in the Second Vienna School, in Brecht, or in the working class movement of the 20th century.
(verified library loan)