Harms Eisler Briefe 1907-1943.
Edited by Jurgen Schebera and Maren Koster, Hanns Eisler Briefe 190 7-1 943 is the first of four planned correspondence volumes and the second of thirteen projected volumes of writings in the Hanns Eisler Gesamtausgabe. Hanns Eisler Gesammelte Schriften 1921-1935 (ser. 9, vol. 1.1) already appeared in 2007. Three volumes of music editions have been issued as well. Hanns Eisler (1898-1962), one of Arnold Schoen-berg's most brilliant students and a gifted and prolific composer, whose reputation as the "Karl Marx of Music" had long tainted the reception of his fascinating oeuvre (especially in the United States), has received renewed attention from musicians and scholars in recent years. Directed by Thomas Phleps and Georg Witte, the post-Cold War Gesamtausgabe replaces the former GDR-based and much more limited Gesammelte Werke begun in 1968, and feeds into the reappraisal of Eisler's music.
The current volume features 360 out of a total of almost 1,700 extant letters, postcards, telegrams and other types of communication. The chronologically organized and thoroughly annotated correspondence spans his youth, European career, and American exile until 1943. The volume is multilingual, presenting the letters in their original languages: German, English (76 letters) and French (1 letter). Letters to Eisler are not included but addressed in the annotations and sometimes quoted to illuminate context.
Unlike Schoenberg, Eisler was never an avid or regular correspondent and did not preserve copies of his letters for posterity. Thus little correspondence from his youth, Berlin years, and early exile survives. Nonetheless this compilation gathers randomly extant batches of letters discovered in a variety of archives and provides important insight into Eisler's private life and professional relationships with musicians, writers, important figures in theater, filmmakers, publishers, and the New School for Social Research. The correspondence also illuminates Eisler's eloquence in both German and in English and his great sense of humor.
Eisler's correspondence from the 1920s--including letters to Alban Berg, Rudolf Kolisch, Karl Rank1, Erwin Ratz, Josef Schmid, Schoenberg, and Edward Steuermann--documents his studies with Schoenberg and interactions with Schoen-berg's circle. Among the highlights are a detailed report to Schoenberg about activities of the Society for Private Musical Performances in November 1920, and two 1926 letters to Schoenberg, shedding light on Eisler's infamous disagreement with his teacher (prompted by a focus on left wing motivated politically engaged art). On March 9, 1926, he boldly announced to Schoenberg: "Mich langweilt moderne Musik, sie interessiert mich nicht, manches hasse u. verachte ich sogar" (I am bored with modern music, I am not interested in it, I even hate and despite some of it, p. 41). Having already composed dodecaphonic works, Eisler claimed; "Auch verstehe ich nichts (bis auf AuBerlichkeiten) von der 12 Ton Technik u. Musik. Aberich bin von ihren 12 Ton Werken (z. B. die Klaviersuite) begeistert u. habe sie aufs genaueste studiert" (I also don't understand the twelve-tone technique and music, apart from superficial aspects. But I am enthusiastic about your twelve-tone works, for instance the Piano Suite, and I studied them in great detail, p. 41). Although this and a similarly tense letter of March 11, 1926 were previously published (Die Musikforschung 29, no. 4 [October-December 1976]: 445-47), it is invaluable to study them and their annotations in the context of Eisler's fourteen other letters to Schoenberg written in the 1920s. It is intriguing how, after his break with Schoenberg, he maintained good relations with Schoenberg's circle, especially Berg, Kolisch, Ratz and Steuermann; how he gradually repaired his relations with Schoenberg from the mid-1930s on; and how he regularly referenced his teacher, always in positive terms, in letters to relatives, friends, and colleagues.
Similarly fascinating is a group of thirty-five letters Eisler wrote between 1932 and 1936 to the poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht, his artistic collaborator since the late 1920s. Spanning these artists' early exile years, these documents provide a glimpse into their work on Die Rundkopfe und die Spitzkopfe oder Reich und reich geselltsich gem (1934) (pp. 79, 81, 84-86, 96, and 21), Eisler's composition of scores for the films Dans les rues (directed by Victor Trivas, 1933) and Abdul the Damned (directed by Karl Grune, 1935), and his development of ideas later realized in his Deutsche Sinfonie (1947). Touring America for the first time in 1935, Eisler shared with Brecht his fresh impressions of this country, making no secret of his Marxist perspective: "[D]ieses Land ist wirklich grossartig, weil hier ein grosser Mangel an Ueberbau ist. Hier stehen sich sehr nackt Klasse gegen Klasse gegenueber und der Kampf nimmt hier die aeussersten Formen der Brutalitaet an. Dies ist ein erfrischender Zug" (This country is really wonderful, because there is a great lack of superstructure. Here the classes confront each other in a stark naked fashion and the struggle takes on the utmost forms of brutality. This is a refreshing trait, p. 96). When Brecht followed Eisler to America and both could reunite in Hollywood in the early 1940s, their correspondence came to a standstill, although Eisler regularly mentioned Brecht in letters to other correspondents.
Of great interest are also Eisler's letters to such American institutions as the New York-based Theatre Union, New School for Social Research, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Eisler's communication with the Theatre Union illuminates the details of the botched American premiere of Brecht's play Die Mutter (The Mother, 1931), with music by Eisler, in New York in the fall of 1935 (pp. 111-14). Letters to Alvin Johnson, Clara Mayer and Sara Alexander reveal Eisler's fruitful relationship with the New School for Social Research, where he taught intermittently between 1935 and 1942. Johnson, the New School's president, helped Eisler secure a prestigious Rockefeller Foundation grant for his now well-known Film Music Project (1940-42) and book Composing for the Films (New York: Oxford University Press, 1947). Letter exchanges in the early 1940s with David Chudnow, Paul Kohner, and the famous playwright Clifford Odets, among other influential figures in the Hollywood film industry, show how involved Eisler was with the film scene, even though he often loathed it. His score for Fritz Lang's feature film Hangmen Also Die (1943) was the first of several lucrative Hollywood film music projects.
Eisler's letters of the late 1930s and early 1940s clearly document his acculturation to his American environment and his gift for the English language. He demonstrates humor in a letter to Alfred Frankenstein, music editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and co-chair of the 1942 ISCM music festival committee. As a reaction to the exclusion of his music at the 1942 ISCM concerts in the Bay area, Eisler composed the tongue-in-cheek song: "Oh! Frankenstein. You are a bad boy!" (printed on pp. 222-26).
However, the richest source of information about Eisler's life and work in the early 1940s is the collection of over ninety letters to his second wife Louise, whom he married in 1937, but from whom he had to live apart between 1940 and 1942. Visa problems forced him to stay in Mexico for several months, and financial concerns prompted him to undertake job hunting in Hollywood without his wife. In his letters to Louise he addresses these issues and other family matters, but he also offers information on such works of his as 14 Ways to Describe Rain, Hollywood Songbook, Woodbury-Songbook, his music for Odets's Night Music, and his score for the film Forgotten Village (directed by Herb Kline, 1941). Further the correspondence casts light on Eisler's vast network of such prominent acquaintances as Theodor W. Adorno, Brecht, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Clurman, Jules Dassin, William Dieterle, Max Horkheimer, Herb Kline, Fritz Lang, Odets, Max Reinhardt, Jean Renoir, and Schoenberg.
Political concerns, jargon, and discussions of political music and activities begin to surface in Eisler's letters in 1926 and peak in those of the early 1930s. Politics remains a central theme throughout the rest of this volume's correspondence, but in the late 1930s, in connection with applications for a United States visa, he began to minimize his interest and activities in politics: "It is certainly more incidental that only the Daily Worker has been picked out among these papers by the Immigration Department in order to compromise me with the Communist Party. You know my sympathies are anti-Fascistic, but I assure that I am not a member of any political party, neither the Communist Party. I am a composer. All my aims are musical ones, and I see everything from the musical point of view" (letter to Alvin Johnson, 21 June 1938, p. 132). He does not discuss politics in letters from 1934 to 1942 to and about his sister Ruth Fischer, a communist leader in Germany in the 1920s.
Illustrated with facsimiles, Harms Eisler Briefe 190 7-1 943 presents all of Eisler's extant letters in their entirety including, whenever available from the letters, envelopes, postcards, and telegrams, complete addresses (both his own and the addressees'). The extensive commentary spanning 338 pages provides information about the location, quality, dating, special features, and context of the original documents, as well as facts about the addressees. The volume closes with a name index, but unfortunately lacks an index of Eisler's works and general concepts, making it less than ideally user-friendly. This enlightening edition is of interest to musicians, musicologists, and scholars in the field of theater, film and exile studies.
Arizona State University