An introduction to music research
An introduction to music research

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An introduction to music research

4.6 Hanns Eisler

German composer Hanns Eisler (1898-1962) was also investigated extensively by the American authorities because of his impact as a composer of political songs in the 1920s, a sense of which might be gauged from the following comment by Michael Haas:

Hanns Eisler’s use of music as a ‘political weapon’ would be a defining element in Weimar Germany. Many from the political centre and right would claim that Eisler’s music was a factor in this shaky German Republic becoming unstable, even ungovernable.

(2014, p. 131)

That’s quite a claim. Yet, Eisler’s collaborations with the agitprop performer Ernst Busch in the late 1920s, and the writers surrounding Bertolt Brecht (including Brecht himself) certainly produced cultural products of undoubted political significance that reflect the composer’s deeply-held Marxist beliefs.

Eisler was eventually forced to leave the United States and ended up in the newly-formed German Democratic Republic (the Eastern part of Germany controlled by Communist authorities sympathetic to the Soviet Union). Such was the power of Cold War division of lines that David Blake noted in a 1980 Grove article that “No composer has suffered more from the post-1945 cultural cold war. As the cross-currents between Eastern Europe and the west increase, a proper international assessment of his achievement must be made.” (quoted in Wierzbicki 2008).

If you like, you can read Eisler’s statements before HUAC here

Activity 19

Look briefly at the FBI’s files on Eisler [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

What problems do they present for the casual researcher? How easy is it to navigate the file or find relevant information?

For some scholarly reflection on Eisler’s FBI file, you might like to read an article by James Wierzbicki (2008) in Music and Politics.


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