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 second interrogation by the House Committee on Un-American Activities took place in Washington in September 1947. He was not allowed to read the following prepared testimony; it was subsequently published in "The Daily Worker." The committee's interrogation centered on whether Eisler had actually been a member of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) before the war: Eisler maintained that he had applied for membership in 1926 but was never actually a member because he failed to pay his dues. This happened, Eisler testified, because soon after his application in 1926 he realized that "membership in any political party was incompatible with my work as an artist, so I dropped out." When pressed by the committee about his alleged membership, Eisler angrily retorted that Communists in anti-Nazi underground movements in Europe had been "heroes" during the war. "I would be a swindler if I called myself a Communist. I am not a hero; I am an artist."

The Daily Worker
October 14, 1947, p. 8
Source: Hanns Eisler FBI file

This hearing is both sinister and ridiculous. This committee is not interested in any testimony I may give or in anything I can testify about. The only thing of any public importance about me is my standing as a composer. Although my reputation is international, I do not suppose that that fact makes my musical activities un-American. I would be delighted to spend as much time as this committee will allow to lecture on musical topics, the only matters which I am qualified to speak about. I could then discuss, for example, the development technique of Beethoven's last sonatas and string quartets or analyze the art of the fugue. But I doubt that I have been called to further such cultural matters.

On the contrary, this committee has called me only in order to continue its smear of me in the press, hoping that it will thereby intimidate artists throughout the country to conform to the political ideas of this committee. This is the second time you have called me to testify, the first being before your subcommittee in Hollywood last May.

The interest you show in my is quite flattering. But it has no proper purpose. To prove this let me tell you about my activities in this country. I first came to the United States early in 1935 under the auspices of a British committee headed by Lord Marley, of the British House of Lords, to raise money for the children of German anti-Nazi refugees. I made a concert and lecture trip for two or three months. The subject of my lectures was the destruction of musical culture under Adolf Hitler. My lectures were in German and were translated to my audiences.

I returned to the United States in the fall of 1935 in order to accept a professorship of music at the New School for Social Research in New York City. There I taught theory of musical composition and counterpoint. At this time also there was produced on Broadway a musical play, "The Mother," for which I had written the score. I left the United States early in 1936 to become musical supervisor and composer for the British International Pictures' production [of] "Pagliacci." I returned to the United States at the beginning of 1938 and resumed teaching music at the New School. In May, 1939, I went to Mexico City to become visiting professor of music in the State Conservatory. About September, 1939, I again returned to teach at the New School. At this time I composed the score for a picture for the New York World's Fair. 1

In October, 1940, I was admitted to the United States as an immigrant on a non-quota visa as a professor of music. About that time the Rockefeller Foundation made a grant of $20,000 for me to direct in the New School a research project on the relation of modern music and the films. The result of this study appear in my book, entitled Composing for the Films, just published by the Oxford University Press. If the committee is interested in my artistic beliefs and principles, I recommend that each member of the committee read this book and study it very carefully.

In the last five years, I have lived in Hollywood where I have written the music for eight motion pictures, including "None But the Lonely Heart," "Hangmen Also Die," "Spanish Main," "Woman on the Beach" and "So Well Remembered." I was also for a short time a professor of music at the University of Southern California.

During all this time I have also written numerous symphonic works for orchestra, chamber music and vocal music. My last performed compositions include a woodwind quintet, sonata No. 3 for piano, variations for piano, sonata for violin and piano, cantatas for alto, clarinets, viola and cello, symphonia brevis for orchestra, etc. Many of my compositions have been recorded.

These, gentlemen, are my activities in the United States, and I must suppose that these are what the committee considers "un-American." Apparently you are not connoisseurs of music.

In the United States I have never engaged in political activities and was never a member of a political party. The committee knows these things about me from its investigations and earlier hearing. Why then am I subjected to this fantastic persecution? Why has the committee outdone itself to smear my name for over a year? Why has it made it difficult for me to earn my living? Why has the committee induced the State Department to threaten unlawful action to prevent me from visiting Paris to compose the score for a French production of "Alice in Wonderland?"

The answers to all these questions are very simple. I am accused of being the brother of Gerhart Eisler, whom I love and admire and whom I will defend and will continue to defend. Does the committee believe that brotherly love is un-American? More important, the committee hopes that by persecuting me it will intimidate many other artists in America whom it may dislike for any of various unworthy reasons. The committee hopes to create a drive against every liberal, progressive, and socially-conscious artist in this country, and to subject their works to an un-Constitutional and hysterical political censorship. It is horrible to think what will become of American art if this committee is to judge what art is American and what is un-American.

This is the sort of thing Hitler and Mussolini tried. They were not successful, and neither will be the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

1. Editor's note: This was a promotional puppet film sponsored by the U.S. oil industry titled "Pete Roleum and His Cousins."

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The committee hopes that by persecuting me it will intimidate many other artists in America whom it may dislike for any of various unworthy reasons. The committee hopes to create a drive against every liberal, progressive and socially-conscious artist in this country, and to subject their works to an unconstitutional and hysterical political censorship. It is horrible to think what will become of American art if this committee is to judge what art is American and what is un-American.