Hanns Eisler: Music

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Invention (Chamber Symphony) RealAudio Buy
German Symphony Orchestra, Hanns Zimmer, conductor.

The Chamber Symphony was composed in the early 1940s as film music for a documentary on the Arctic ice sheet. It was Eisler's experiment in applying "modern music"—the atonal and twelve-tone styles he had abandoned in the late 1920s—to film in a way that would engage an ordinary audience. Here, the innovative use of electronic instruments with a small chamber ensemble effectively communicates both the intense cold portrayed in the documentary and the glacially slow but powerful movement of the Arctic ice mass. But the music, while pictorial, also has a connection with the movement of social forces—as one would expect from a politically-engaged composer like Eisler. According to Eisler scholar GŁnter Mayer (in his notes for the Berlin Classics CD of this music), "whilst working on the final version ... he had followed reports on the radio about the invasion of France and Paris by the fascist troops (summer 1940). In consequence, the sharp contrasts between assaultingly shrill and lyrically tender sounds stand for his experience of the brutality of fascism and the barbaric destruction of human relationships."

While the music is definitely "modern" in contrast to his strictly tonal political compositions in Berlin before Hitler's seizure of power, Eisler's rejection of abstract or strictly concert music is evident in this composition. Like other anti-romantic composers of the era he works with abbreviated and rapidly changing forms—a "montage effect" characteristic of Weimar art and one suitable for the fast-paced tempo of an experimental film. Like his other "applied" chamber works of the same period, the Chamber Symphony reinforces Eisler's reputation as one of the most expressive and reachable composers in the twelve-tone idiom.

Music sample © 1995 Capriccio, Delta Music GmbH.

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