Hanns Eisler: CDs, Videos, Books CDs

Bullet Fourteen Ways of Describing Eisler
Bullet Symphonic, Chamber and Piano Music
Bullet Vocal and Choral Music
Bullet Videos with Eisler Scores
Bullet Books by and about Eisler
Bullet Political Music and the Urban Folk Revival

November CD of the Month

Eislermaterial Eislermaterial  Buy this CD
Ensemble Modern
ECM 1779
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Versatile German composer Heiner Goebbels conceived this tribute to Eisler, combining some of his most famous chamber music and songs with jazz-inspired improvisations and audio collages. The songs, mostly to texts by Brecht, are expressively interpreted by actor Josef Bierbichler. The recording is based on a "staged performance" that has introduced a new generation of music lovers to Eisler's music, and will be touring the U.S. in 2003. For more information, read this review of a recent performance at the Brussels International Performing Arts Festival.

Hollywooder Liederbuch The Hollywood Songbook  RealAudio Buy this CD
Matthias Goerne, baritone; Eric Schneider, piano
London 289 460 582-2
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From London's Entartete Musik (Degenerate Music) series of composers suppressed in Nazi Germany, Goerne's Grammy-nominated performance is a masterful interpretation of Hanns Eisler's concert lieder set to poetry by Bertolt Brecht, Goethe, and others. These songs confirm Eisler's reputation as perhaps the greatest 20th-century composer in the German lieder tradition. Our music sample is a poignant example of Brecht's wartime poetry.

Orchestral Works Hanns Eisler: Orchestral Works  RealAudio RealAudio Buy this CD
Matthias Husmann, Magdeburgische Philharmonie
cpo 999071
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Audio samples are from the experimental Chamber Symphony and the 1931-32 Small Symphony. The former work is one of the finest examples of Eisler's communicative style of twelve-tone and atonal composition. Based on his 1940 score for a film documentary about the Arctic ice shelf, Eisler added electronic keyboards to the orchestration—then a novelty both in film and concert music.

Musique de Chambre I Musique de Chambre  RealAudio Buy this CD
Christoph Keller, Kammerensemble de Zürich
Accord 220582
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Includes Nonets Nrs. 1 and 2, Sonata for Violin and Piano, Duo for Violin and Cello, and the brilliant Fourteen Ways of Describing the Rain—another example of Eisler's communicative use of the twelve-tone method, it premiered in 1944 at Arnold Schönberg's seventieth birthday celebration in Los Angeles and is featured in our RealAudio sample above. This recording is now available only from Barnes and Noble. The audio sample is from Fourteen Ways of Describing the Rain.

String Quartet Adorno and Eisler: Works for String Quartet  RealAudio Buy this CD
Leipzig String Quartet
cpo 999 341-2
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Recent performances of Eisler's Quartet for Strings and Prelude and Fugue for String Trio on B-A-C-H, the latter composed originally as a teaching exercise for students in the twelve-tone method. Also, three string works by Theodor Adorno. The audio sample is from the String Quartet.

Vocal Symphonic Music Hanns Eisler: Vocal Symphonic Music  RealAudio Buy this CD
Rundfunkorchester Leipzig, Berlin Symphonie Orchester, etc.
Berlin Classics 0092342BC
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One of the best of the Berlin Classics line of reissued East German recordings, includes the only recording available of Eisler's Lenin Requiem—a remarkable example of Eisler's communicative twelve-tone style set to a plain text by Bertolt Brecht. Also includes the striking Pictures from the Guide to War—a series of miniature compositions set to captions from Brecht's antiwar picture book Kriegsfibel—and Eisler's "farewell to music," his 1962 Ernste Gesänge (Serious Songs). The music sample is from the prelude to the Lenin Requiem.

Deutsche Sinfonie Deutsche Sinfonie  RealAudio Buy this CD
Max Pommer, Berlin Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester, Berlin Rundfunkchor
Berlin Classics 0093262BC
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Eisler rejected the large-scale symphonic form during his famous turn away from concert music in the late 1920s, but, paradoxically, this is a monumental choral symphony of 11 movements based on poetry by Brecht and Silone. All but the last movement showcase Eisler's distinctive style of twelve-tone composition. The texts, set in the period of exile from Nazi Germany, explore the political and psychological landscapes of despair, defiance and hope. This performance, from GDR times, is the only recording of the German Symphony currently available. Like other releases in the Berlin Classics series of reissued East German records, the original magnetic tapes have been remastered for high sound quality. The audio sample is from a more recent recording by the Leipzig Gewandhaus, released by Decca/London, which unfortunately has disappeared from the market. We can recommend the quality of this earlier performance, however.

Chamber Cantatas Hanns Eisler: Chamber Cantatas and Songs  RealAudio Buy this CD
Moldenhauer, mezzosopano; chamber ensemble
Radio Bremen/cpo 999 339-2
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During the exile years in New York and Hollywood, Eisler moved away from the aggressive Kampflied idiom he invented for Brecht and other left-wing writers, and returned for about a decade to the twelve-tone and atonal styles of his teacher, Schönberg. These nine chamber cantatas, mostly set to texts by Ignazio Silone, along with a selection of songs by Brecht, demonstrate Eisler's particular adaptation of the twelve-tone method intended to communicate more readily with the listener. Although these are sophisticated compositions far removed in musical style and social location from the political fight songs of the early 30s, Eisler's choice of texts nevertheless reflect his belief that music must have a connection with the hope for human liberation. Like the Brecht/Eisler Hollywood Songbook, the texts from Silone reflect the complex experience of a generation of exiles from Nazi-dominated Europe. The sample is from the Roman Cantata based on a novel by Silone.

Roaring Eisler Roaring Eisler  RealAudio Buy this CD
HK Gruber and the Ensemble Modern
RCA Red Seal 74321 56882 2
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Gruber's interpretation of Eisler's Kampflieder (Songs for the Struggle) from the late 20s and early 30s breathes new life into the Eisler political song tradition. Includes texts by Kurt Tucholsky and a rare recording of The Song of the SA Man, Bertolt Brecht's psychologically acute explanation of fascism's fatal attraction. Also on this album, the Ensemble Modern energetically interprets four orchestral suites based on Eisler's early film music (1931-35) for No Man's Land, Kuhle Wampe, Song of Heroes, and In the Streets. Here, Eisler's style (like that of his Kampflieder) is influenced by jazz and march music. The music sample is from the Dixieland-style "Ballad of the Nigger Jim."

Brecht-Songs Brecht-Songs  RealAudio Buy this CD
Gisela May
Berlin Classics BC 2165-2
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Beginning with her first peformances for the Berliner Ensemble in postwar East Berlin, Gisela May became one of the best-known interpreters of the theater music written for Brecht by Eisler, Weill and Dessau. Eisler "discovered" her at a performance at the Berlin Ensemble in 1957, the year of Brecht's death, and guided her through the first five years of her singing career. This CD includes Song of the Invigorating Effects of Money; O Falladah, There You Are Hanging!; Song of the Moldau; Song of the Little Wind; And What Did the Soldier's Wife Get?; Ballad of the Woman and the Soldiers; Song of the German Mother. The music sample is the Song of the Moldau.

Songs for Bad Times I Songs for Bad Times, vol. 1  RealAudio Buy this CD
Robyn Archer and the London Sinfonietta
Festival Mushroom D24101
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We're fortunate that Festival Mushroom Records in Australia has reissued this EMI 2-disk recording of Brecht songs by Eisler, Weill and Dessau. Robyn Archer—an Australian singer, actor and stage director—deserves to be better known as a powerful interpreter of the German cabaret and political song tradition. All texts are sung in English. Our music sample is from the only available recording of Eisler's haunting In the Flower Garden, written to a psychologically subtle poem written by Brecht near the end of his life.

Songs for Bad Times II Songs for Bad Times, vol. 2  RealAudio Buy this CD
Robyn Archer and the London Sinfonietta
Festival Mushroom D24102
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The second CD of the 2-CD set of Brecht songs by Eisler, Weill and Dessau. The sample is titled The Way the Wind Blows. Here, Brecht criticizes the ideological rigidity of the East German Communist régime and urges bureaucrats to learn from the passion with which ordinary people live.

Keiner oder Alle Keiner oder Alle: Hanns Eisler Kampfmusik  RealAudio Buy this CD
Staatskapelle Berlin, Berliner Singakademie, etc.
Barbarossa EdBa 01325-2
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GDR recordings of Eisler's best-known popular choral music from the early 30s, originally composed for street demonstrations and political cabaret in Weimar-era Berlin. Includes good performances of Erich Weinert's Red Wedding (not a Communist precursor to Billy Idol's White Wedding, but a reference to Wedding, a working-class district in Berlin), plus Freedom Song, Bankenlied, Einheitsfrontlied, and Eisler's band orchestration of the German socialist classic, Brüder zur Sonne, zur Freiheit. The title is derived from the Brecht/Eisler chorus, Nobody or Everybody. For some listeners, these songs will be an acquired taste, but it is worthwhile to compare the difference between Eisler's jazz-influenced "swinging" march style and the heavy, sentimental, beer-cellar style of Nazi "mass songs" from the same period. The music sample is from the Song of the Banks (Bankenlied).

Ernst Busch I Ernst Busch I: Lieder der Arbeiterklasse  RealAudio Buy this CD
Ernst Busch
Pläne 88642
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Ernst Busch was, along with Helene Weigel, one of the best-known singer/actors who popularized Brecht's political plays in the early 30s. His powerful, "metallic" voice was a perfect instrument for outdoor rallies and large performance halls in a time when amplification was generally unavailable. Busch spent the last years of the war in a Nazi prison and, following his release, resumed his singing and acting career in East Germany. The songs on this CD are a fair representation of his repertory, including two of Eisler's most striking Kampflieder from the final crisis years of the Weimar Republic: The Secret Deployment and Der rote Wedding—both are agitprop choruses written to extremely aggressive texts by the Communist poet Erich Weinert. The former is featured in our RealAudio sample.

Merkt Ihr Nischt Merkt Ihr Nischt: Busch singt Tucholsky/Eisler  Buy this CD
Ernst Busch
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In the late 1950s, Ernst Busch asked Eisler to write new music for several poems by Kurt Tucholsky—the Weimar-era journalist and satirist who, with Carl von Ossietzky, edited the muckraking journal Die Weltbühne. Following the Nazi seizure of power, von Ossietzky was arrested but Tucholsky escaped to Sweden, where he fell into despair and committed suicide. Ossietzky died of tuberculosis as a result of mistreatment. Tucholsky's poems are trenchant commentaries on the Weimar political system and the rise of fascism in the late 1920s and early 30s.

Written by Andy Lang.

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These fourteen CDs are recommended by the editors of this site as a "core collection" for music lovers interested in acquiring the best of Eisler's works. They are representative of his concert lieder, advanced chamber music, protest songs and political cabaret, plus theater music written in collaboration with Bertolt Brecht. The shopping cart icon will open a new window to the page on the Amazon or another e-commerce site where you can purchase the CD. Then, return to this page (by clicking on the appropriate button at the bottom of your screen) to continue your exploration. You'll need a recent version of RealPlayer to hear music samples on this site.

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