Hanns Eisler: Music

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Capriccio on Jewish Folk Songs RealAudio Buy [CD] Buy [VHS]
Performed by the Ensemble Modern.

Film Kurier cover for Niemandsland
Eisler was one of the first European composers to write for sound films. In the 1920s and early 30s a number of independent film companies in Germany were making movies to compete with the sentimental love stories and nationalist epics produced by the sprawling Ufa studios of Alfred Hugenberg—an ultranationalist steel magnate and later cabinet minister in Hitler's first coalition government. Ufa was technologically the most advanced film studio of the time, but the German independents produced some of the most innovative movies of the Weimar era with social and political content. One of these was Niemandsland (No Man's Land, 1931), an anti-war film directed by Viktor Trivas. With an international cast, the story follows the lives of an English gentleman, French worker, German carpenter, Jewish tailor and negro cabaret artist who are caught up in the war. (Enraged by its pacifist theme and multiracial cast, the Nazis tracked down and destroyed every copy of the original German film, but the English-language version has recently been recovered and restored.)

Eisler's film score is the basis for his Suite for Orchestra No. 2. (Suites 1 through 6 are all orchestrated from film or stage music Eisler wrote in the early to mid 1930s.) The sample here is a medley of Jewish folk themes. The choice of wind and percussive instruments is characteristic of much of the new music composed in the 20s and 30s: Eisler's film music typically used the "Paris orchestration" for a small jazz band—clarinets, trumpets, trombones, saxophones, banjos, plucked violins, piano and percussion—reflecting both the impact of American jazz and the limitations of the new sound-recording technology. Much of Eisler's film music is also influenced by the march tempo of his militant street songs or Kampflieder, some of which are directly quoted in his scores.

Music sample © 1998 BMG Classics.

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