Hanns Eisler: Music

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Lenin (Requiem) RealAudio RealAudio Buy
Bertolt Brecht. Roswitha Trexler, soprano; Hermann Hähnel, baritone; Rundfunkchor Leipzig, Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester Leipzig.

Exhibit of Music Condemned by Music
Poster for Nazi lecture on "degenerate music." Apart from its left-wing political content, Eisler's music would still have been on the Nazi index of prohibited works because of its atonality and jazz influences. But it was also impossible to perform the atonal Lenin Requiem in the Soviet Union.
Lenin (Requiem) was composed for the tenth anniversary of the revolutionary's death in 1935. It marks the beginning of Eisler's return to a communicative style of atonal music—a style he had abandoned in the late 1920s but characterizes much of his work in the 1930s and early 40s, particularly his film scores and concert lieder. It was never performed in the Soviet Union where, by the mid-30s, the official cultural policy of "socialist realism" prohibited atonal music and dictated a return to the classics. Eisler adapts the dignified style of a traditional church requiem to Brecht's minimalist text which, typically, avoids hero-worship and stresses instead Lenin's usefulness as a revolutionary leader. The one exception to Eisler's modified twelve-tone style throughout the work is the ballad "In Praise of the Fighters," which is borrowed from the 1931 Brecht/Eisler play The Mother.

Introduction and Recitative

As Lenin was dying
(as they tell the story)
a soldier of the death watch
said to his comrades:

I didn't want to believe it!
I didn't want to believe it!
I went in there,
where he is lying,
and said to him:
"Ilyich, Ilyich!
The exploiters are coming!"

He didn't move.

Baritone Solo

Now I know that he is dead.

Aria (Alto with Choir)

When a good man wants to go away,
how can you hold him back?

Tell him
what he's needed for:
that will hold him,
that will hold him!

When a good man wants to go on,
how can you hold him back?

Tell him what he's needed for:
that will hold him,
that will hold him!

What could hold Lenin?

Baritone Solo

The soldier thought:
When he hears
the exploiters are coming,
he might be sick,
and he will get up from his bed anyway.
Perhaps he will come on crutches.
Perhaps he will let himself be carried,
but he will get up and fight
against the exploiters,
against the exploiters.

The soldier knew
that Lenin, his whole life long,
had fought against the exploiters.

Recitative (Alto)

And when the soldier was helping
storm the winter palace,
he wanted to go back home,
because on the fields
the winter crops were ready for planting.

Then Lenin said to him:
I know, but stay!
There are still exploiters,
and so long as exploitation still exists,
the fight against it must go on.
As long as it exists,
the fight against it must go on,
must go on.


Those who are weak don't fight.
Those who are stronger might fight
for an hour.
Those who are stronger still might fight
for many years.
The strongest fight
their whole life.
They are the indispensable ones.

In Praise of the Fighters (Ballad, baritone and choir)

There are many who just get in the way:
it's better when they move on.
But when he's gone, he is missed.

He organizes his fight
around better wages,
for water to make tea,
for power in the state.

He asks of property:
Where do you come from?
He asks of opinions:
Whom do you benefit?

Where everyone else is silent
there will he speak,
and where oppression rules
and others blame it on fate,
he will name names.

Where he sits at table,
dissatisfaction sits there too,
the food will be bad
and the room will seem confining.

Wherever they chase him,
revolt will go with him,
and wherever they've chased him out,
unrest will remain behind anyway.

Alto Solo and Chorus

Towards the time when Lenin died
and was missed,
the victory had been won by fighting,
but the country lay in ruins.
The masses had broken their chains
but the way forward was still in darkness.

When Lenin died,
the soldiers sat on the curbstones and wept,
and the workers ran from their machines
and shook their fists to the skies.

When Lenin died,
it was as if the tree and the leaves said,
I am leaving now.

Alto Solo, Baritone Solo and Chorus

Since that time thirteen years have passed.
A sixth of the world is free from exploitation.

When they hear the warning—
the exploiters are coming!—
the masses rise up again
ready to fight.

Lenin is enshrined
in the great heart
of the working class.

He was our teacher.
He fought with us.

And is now enshrined
in the great heart
of the working class.

Music sample © 1996 edel GmbH. Trans. by Andy Lang.

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