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Hollywood Songbook

Hanns Eisler (b. 1898 - d. 1962)

Composer
Hanns Eisler (b. 1898 - d. 1962)
Composition Year
1942/3
Artists
Holger Falk [baritone], Julius Drake [piano]

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

Eisler and Brecht were part of the extraordinary exodus of the artistic elite of Vienna and Berlin to Los Angeles beginning in 1933. As soon as Hitler came to power in 1933, he began banning, arresting and curtailing the civil liberties of prominent musicians in Germany. His policies to exterminate Jews, socialists, homosexuals and modernists became a wider threat as he invaded or took control of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, France and Hungary. Musicians from these countries found their work banned, their civil liberties denied and their means of survival extinguished. The first wave of refugees sought refuge elsewhere in Europe, but the Depression created economic barriers to employment and many emigrated to the United States, where conditions were hardly any better. The Eldorado of the Los Angeles film industry enticed many musicians to keep heading west. The actual number of fleeing musicians who ended in LA has not been counted but it could constitute the greatest migration in Western musical history to one area in one period for one reason.


Eisler and Brecht both had to leave Germany on account of being active Communists, both of them being specialists in the agitprop theatre movement in Berlin. Eisler reached the USA via Austria, Czechoslovakia, Paris, Denmark (where he met up with Brecht), London and Mexico. Unlike many of the other emigrants, Eisler had experience of making films and, from 1942-44, collaborated with Adorno on their book Composing for the Films. Incidentally he received two Academy Award nominations for his film scores. The title of The Hollywood Songbook relates specifically to the conflict between Hollywood’s culture industry and the art song tradition. One culture aimed at mass entertainment and the other at individual concentration.

The Hollywood Songbook was completed in December 1943. Caught between the regimented brutality of the Nazi regime and the pressure to conform imposed by the cultural industry, Eisler responds with this musical diary of exile but also an artistic and political vision. These were the first art songs he had composed since 1927. His concentrated, objective and anti-sentimental style accumulates a compelling expressive power not far away from Schubert’s great song cycles.

The final irony saw Eisler deported due to his standing up to the House of Un-American Activities led by Richard Nixon. His hearing was described by Martha Gellhorn as a flawless travesty of justice. Eisler’s deposition concluded; It is terrible to think what will come of American art if this committee can judge which art is American and which un-American. Hitler and Mussolini attempted just that. They had no success and the committee to fight un-American activity will also not succeed. The international issues of commercial and political threats to music, musicians and composers are still with us.

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Hollywood Songbook

Composer: Hanns Eisler (b. 1898 - d. 1962)
Performance date: Sunday 2nd July 2017
Venue: St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland

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Composer Hanns Eisler (b. 1898 - d. 1962)
Work Title Hollywood Songbook
Composition Year 1942/3
Lyrics / Translation Bertolt Brecht
Language German
Artist(s) Holger Falk [baritone], Julius Drake [piano]
Performance Date Sunday 2nd July 2017
Performance Venue St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland
Event Late Great Show
Duration 00:50:23
Recording Engineer Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category Duo
Instrumentation Bar-solo, pf
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

Eisler and Brecht were part of the extraordinary exodus of the artistic elite of Vienna and Berlin to Los Angeles beginning in 1933. As soon as Hitler came to power in 1933, he began banning, arresting and curtailing the civil liberties of prominent musicians in Germany. His policies to exterminate Jews, socialists, homosexuals and modernists became a wider threat as he invaded or took control of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, France and Hungary. Musicians from these countries found their work banned, their civil liberties denied and their means of survival extinguished. The first wave of refugees sought refuge elsewhere in Europe, but the Depression created economic barriers to employment and many emigrated to the United States, where conditions were hardly any better. The Eldorado of the Los Angeles film industry enticed many musicians to keep heading west. The actual number of fleeing musicians who ended in LA has not been counted but it could constitute the greatest migration in Western musical history to one area in one period for one reason.


Eisler and Brecht both had to leave Germany on account of being active Communists, both of them being specialists in the agitprop theatre movement in Berlin. Eisler reached the USA via Austria, Czechoslovakia, Paris, Denmark (where he met up with Brecht), London and Mexico. Unlike many of the other emigrants, Eisler had experience of making films and, from 1942-44, collaborated with Adorno on their book Composing for the Films. Incidentally he received two Academy Award nominations for his film scores. The title of The Hollywood Songbook relates specifically to the conflict between Hollywood’s culture industry and the art song tradition. One culture aimed at mass entertainment and the other at individual concentration.

The Hollywood Songbook was completed in December 1943. Caught between the regimented brutality of the Nazi regime and the pressure to conform imposed by the cultural industry, Eisler responds with this musical diary of exile but also an artistic and political vision. These were the first art songs he had composed since 1927. His concentrated, objective and anti-sentimental style accumulates a compelling expressive power not far away from Schubert’s great song cycles.

The final irony saw Eisler deported due to his standing up to the House of Un-American Activities led by Richard Nixon. His hearing was described by Martha Gellhorn as a flawless travesty of justice. Eisler’s deposition concluded; It is terrible to think what will come of American art if this committee can judge which art is American and which un-American. Hitler and Mussolini attempted just that. They had no success and the committee to fight un-American activity will also not succeed. The international issues of commercial and political threats to music, musicians and composers are still with us.