Hanns Eisler: Music

Bullet Introduction to Eisler's music
Bullet Return to the Virtual Tour

Präludium (German Symphony) RealAudio Buy
Text: Bertolt Brecht and Ignazio Silone. Soloists and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, directed by Lothar Zagrosek.

The German Symphony is Eisler's only symphonic work on a grand scale, and arguably the greatest German symphony composed in the 20th century. While the symphony as a whole lasts more than an hour and requires a large orchestra and choir for performance, each of the 11 movements is relatively brief—reflecting Eisler's commitment to compressed and carefully-structured musical forms. (The longest movement, the "Worker's Cantata," is slightly over 15 minutes. Other movements last from one to seven minutes.)

Composed for the most part in Eisler's accessible twelve-tone style, the symphony alternates between choral movements and orchestral interludes. Texts are by Bertolt Brecht and the Italian novelist Ignazio Silone. Silone had already become a Communist "unperson" at the time; he was expelled from the Italian Communist Party after his public denunciation of Stalin's purges as "Red fascism." Other evidence of Eisler's alienation from Stalinism is the conflicted mood of the sixth movement—composed at the time of the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact which Eisler (who otherwise was close to the international Communist movement) refused to support. (The symphony was never performed in the Soviet Union and instead premièred in London. Only after Stalin's death and the cultural thaw that followed could the work be performed in East Germany, where Eisler settled after his forced departure from the United States.)

Apart from its qualities as a work of music, the German Symphony is a testimony of a period of upheaval, revolution and war. It reflects the experience of the generation of exiles from Hitler's Germany who scattered throughout the world and met various fates—but Eisler avoids a mood of despair or retreat into the self that might have tempted other exiled artists. Along with his cycle of art songs (the Hollywood Songbook) and economical chamber works from the same period, the German Symphony suggests that Eisler's experience of exile between 1933 and his return to postwar Europe in 1947 was his most productive time as a composer.

Additional assessments are at the American Symphony Orchestra and Classical Net websites.

From the opening of the Präludium (Prelude), words by Brecht:

Oh Deutschland, bleiche Mutter,
wie bist du besudelt
mit dem Blut deiner besten Söhne!

O Germany, pale mother!
How you sit defiled with the blood of your best sons.

Music sample © 1995 The Decca Record Company Ltd., London.

Tour   Top

Return to Home Page Return to Eisler Home Page