Hanns Eisler: Life

Bullet Life of a Revolutionary in Music
Bullet Eisler in the McCarthy Era
Bullet Testimony before first HUAC hearing
Bullet Testimony before second HUAC hearing
Bullet Statement on leaving the USA
Bullet Link to Eisler FBI file
Bullet Link to Brecht FBI file

Eisler's first interrogation by the House Committee on Un-American Activities took place in Los Angeles on May 12, 1947. According to the FBI file in Washington, Eisler was allowed to read the following prepared testimony. (A photstat copy was deposited in the file, later released under the Freedom of Information Act.) We have retained the European punctuation of the typescript original and indicated where words were struck out or added by hand.

For the past five months I have found myself attacked and publicized to a very unusual degree. The reason for this campaign against me is clear. I am accused of being the brother of Gerhart Eisler. And I have stood by him. I shall continue to do so.

What are the facts? I arrived in Hollywood in 1942. My activities have been artistic activities. In addition to the chamber music, piano and orchestral works I composed in Hollywood, I wrote the music for nine motion pictures, including "Hangmen Also Die", "Spanish Main" and "None But the Lonely Heart".

My knowledge of American politics is limited, and I have never dabbled in it. That does not mean that I am not interested in world affairs, or that I advocate the old theory that an artist should remain isolated in his ivory tower, for which it is becoming increasingly difficult to pay the rent anyway.

It is not surprising to me that due to the accident of my geographical situation—I am living in Hollywood—and the coincidence of my family ties, the House Un-American Activities Committee should find me a most convenient target for attack. But what does infuriate me, and what is most unfair in the announced investigation of my "Hollywood activities", is the attempt to intimidate and smear my friends and the artists with whom I have had professional contacts.

In Germany it had been necessary for an artist who wished to remain a living and eating one, (though not a corrupted one), to participate in the fight against reaction and fascism. I had participated in this struggle as a musician, and my contribution was a modest one. My contact with politics and political parties has always been casual. But on all my concert tours, professional trips which too me whether to Amsterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, Zurich, London, Madrid, Paris, New York, Prague or Moscow, I was received not only as a composer, but also as a co-fighter against the Nazis and their collaborators.

In my travels I met anti-fascists of every description: communists, social democrats, liberals, monarchists and confusionists—of all social stratas. I saw mistakes and confusion, set-backs and defeats. It was a bitter time. What could I contribute? I was a musician, so I contributed music: songs, stage music, cantatas and oratorios. I did my best to inspire all those who fought against the Nazi criminals. Among these were communists, reliable fighters with good discipline, who fought heroically under the most complicated conditions, where mercy was not expected and mercy was not given. Neither the syndicated hysteria of a certain press with its smear campaigns, nor a House Committee on Un-American Activities will be able to intimidate me from saying this.

And nobody can prevent me from stating my sympathy for labor. In my earliest childhood already I had heard my father speak with respect of labor. He was a distinguished philosopher, whose book, "The Encyclopedia of Philosophical Terminology" (Woerterbuch der Philosophischen Begriffe) is still considered a classic. My mother was the daughter of a worker. My father's philosophic attachment to labor was based on the works of Kant and Hegel, which he masterfully interpreted.

I was raised in the tradition of German classical music: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven. I realized how susceptible the greatest musicians have been to the spiritual trends of their times. Johann Sebastian Bach, in his B Minor Mass, in the Passion According to St. John, and in the Passion According to St. Matthew, gave voice to the incredible sufferings of the German people after the Thirty Years War. His musical style was a great progress for the cold, empty musical routine of his contemporaries. Mozart, for one of his most beautiful operas, chose a play by the radical playwright, Beaumarchais. In his chamber music ["chamber" inserted by hand] and symphonies he developed a new sensitivity and differentiation of musical language which was clearly a response to the ideas of his age, the "Age of Reason and Enlightenment". [Added in hand: "The fighting character of Beethoven's music is well known."]

In my student days, Modern music had to fight hard battles against reaction, both cultural and political. When the Nazis came to power, they outlawed modern music, and if the great master, Arnold Schönberg, my teacher, had not succeeded in leaving Germany, he would have ended in the gas chambers of Ausschwitz [sic]. Of course I wrote many compositions of concert character: symphonies, chamber music, orchestral suites, cantatas, oratorios and piano pieces. But I am proud of those of my works which have been used in the great struggle against the threat of barbarism and destruction. And I am very grateful to my many friends in Hollywood who have stood by me in the present day continuation of this same struggle.

The day before this testimony, "The Daily Worker" in New York City quoted Eisler defending his relationship with his brother: "I love and admire my brother. I think the campaign against him is the beginning of a campaign against the liberal and progressive forces in this country. I have seen such campaigns before, in Germany before 1933. I know that when my brother came to the United States, he came as an agent for nobody. He came as a sick man from a concentration camp. I know he wanted to go to Mexico and was held here against his wishes. It would perhaps be better to ask the anti-Nazi underground in Europe for information about my brother. They would have more and better information about his activities." (Source: Eisler FBI file, report submitted by the FBI's New York field office.)

Eisler in the McCarthy Era   Top   Eisler's Second Testimony Before HUAC
Return to Home Page Return to Eisler Home Page
 

In my student days, modern music had to fight hard battles against reaction, both cultural and political. When the Nazis came to power, they outlawed modern music, and if the great master, Arnold Schönberg, my teacher, had not succeeded in leaving Germany, he would have ended in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Of course I wrote many compositions of concert character: symphonies, chamber music, orchestral suites, cantatas, oratorios and piano pieces. But I am proud of those of my works which have been used in the great struggle against the threat of barbarism and destruction.