Hanns Eisler - Writer

Composer. Nationality: German. Born: Leipzig, 6 July 1898. Education: Studied with Schoenberg at Vienna Conservatory. Military Service: Served in German army, 1916–18. Career: Taught at Klindworth-Scharwenka Conservatory, Berlin, 1925–33; also wrote incidental music for stage works of Brecht and others; 1930—first score for film, Das Lied vom Leben ; 1933—left Germany with rise of Nazis; 1936–48—lived in the United States, professor of music at New School of Social Research, New York (in charge of their Film Music Project, 1940–42), and Los Angeles University; 1948—deported from U.S.; lived in Vienna, then in East Berlin; professor at Music Institute (later named after him). Died: In Berlin, 6 September 1962.

Films as Composer:


Das Lied vom Leben ( Song of Life ) (Granowsky) (co)


Niemansland ( No Man's Land ) (Trivas) (co)


Kuhle Wampe, oder Wem gehört die Welt? (Dudow); Pesn o geroyazh ( Komsomol ; Song of Heroes ; Youth Speaks ) (Ivens)


Dans les rues (Trivas); Nieuwe gronden ( New Earth ) (Ivens—short)


Le Grand Jeu (Feyder)


Abdul the Damned (Grune)


La Vie est à nous (Renoir) (song)


The 400 Million ( China's 400 Million ) (Ivens)


White Flood (Maddow, Field, and Meyers—short); Rain (Ivens) (new score for 1929 film Regen )


Pete Roleum and His Cousins (Losey—short); A Child Went Forth (Losey and Ferno—short); Our Russian Front (Ivens and Milestone—short); The Forgotten Village (Kline)

Hanns Eisler (center)
Hanns Eisler (center)


China Fights (Yuan)


Hangmen Also Die! (F. Lang)


None But the Lonely Heart (Odets)


Jealousy (Machaty); The Spanish Main (Borzage)


Deadline at Dawn (Clurman); Scandal in Paris (Sirk) (co)


The Woman on the Beach (Renoir); So Well Remembered (Dmytryk)


Krizova trojka ( Three Crosses ) (Gajer)


Unser täglich Brot ( Our Daily Bread ) (Dudow)


Der Rat der Götter (Maetzig)


Das Leben unserer Präsidenten ( Leben Wilhelm Piecks ) (Thorndike)


Frauenschicksale (Dudow)


Schicksal am Lenkrad (Vergano)


Bel Ami (Daquin)


Herr Puntila und sein Knecht Matti (Cavalcanti); Nuit et brouillard ( Night and Fog ) (Resnais)


Les Sorcières de Salem ( The Witches of Salem ) (Rouleau)


Geschwader Fledermaus (Engel)


Trübe Wasser ( Les Arrivistes ) (Daquin)


Unbändiges Spanien (J. and K. Stein); Esther (Trosch)

Other Films:


Pagliacci ( A Clown Must Laugh ) (Grune) (arranger)


Gasparone (Paryla) (adaptation, + co-sc)


Fidelio (Felsenstein) (adaptation, + co-sc)


By EISLER: books—

With Theodore Adorno, Composing for the Films , New York, 1947, 1994.

Reden und Aufsätze , Berlin, 1959.

With H. Bunge, Fragen Sie mehr über Brecht: Hanns Eisler in Gesprach , Munich, 1970.

Materialen zu einer Dialektik der Musik , Berlin, 1973.

Musik und Politik , edited by G. Mayer, Berlin, 1973.

A Rebel in Music: Selected Writings , edited by Manfred Grabs, New York, 1978.

By EISLER: articles—

Film und Fernsehen (letters) (Berlin), no. 7, 1983.

Film und Fernsehen (letters) (Berlin), no. 4, 1985.

On EISLER: books—

Brockhaus, H. A., Hanns Eisler , Leipzig, 1961.

Notowicz, N., and J. Elsner, Hanns Eisler , Leipzig, 1966.

Klemm, E., Hanns Eisler , Berlin, 1973.

Betz, Albrecht, Hanns Eisler , Munich, 1976, as Hanns Eisler, Political Musician , Cambridge, 1982.

Hennenberg, Fritz, Hanns Eisler , Rowohlt, 1987.

Blake, David, editor, Hanns Eisler , Newark, 1995.

Fischbach, Fred, Hanns Eisler: Le Musicien et la Politique , Bern, 1999.

On EISLER: articles—

Films in Review (New York), May 1962.

Film und Fernsehen (Berlin), nos. 6 and 7, 1981.

Kinemathek (Berlin), June 1983.

Stilwell, R., "Theodor Adorno and Hanns Eisler: Composing for the Films," in Screen (Oxford), no. 4, 1995.

"Hanns Eisler and Film Music," in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Televsion (Abingdon), October 1998.

* * *

Hanns Eisler was a well-known composer of orchestral and stage works (collaborating especially with Bertolt Brecht) before his first film compositions, and he was always a musical theoretician, stressing the revolutionary function of music: his "Solidaritätslied" appeared in the film Kuhle Wampe , and other "revolutionary" songs include the "Einbeitsfrontlied" and the East German national anthem. About his work for the film Komsomol , he said: "In composing music to a revolutionary film the composer is faced with new and difficult problems, especially when the film deals with such an important theme as youth constructing socialism." In that film, he used music based on recordings of the noise of blast furnaces as well as folk songs. His other early films also have music based on his firm ideas about the relation of music to film content. He disliked the use of leitmotifs , since he felt it led to a poverty of composition, and stressed "musical commentary" as opposed to "illustration, mood-painting." For Das Lied vom Leben he used a ballad of the life awaiting a newborn child; for Niemansland he showed the "stultifying and narcotic effect" of military music. Often, in fact, he set music against the action of the film in order to encourage a thoughtful, rather than a sentimental, reaction to it—a lesson he might have learned from Brecht's alienation effect. Kuhle Wampe is divided into episodes by the musical forms used, so any sentimental reaction to this film about unemployment is neutralized. In New Earth his compositions operate under the principle that machinery should be accompanied by natural sound and men by music: he used the usual instrumentation as well as banjo, accordion, and jazz-type percusson, with a blues tune used in the central section of men carrying heavy equipment. For White Flood , a documentary about glaciers, he used an invention, a scherzo , an etude (for a snow storm), and a sonata finale, while in Rain he utilized the 12-tone technique ("14 Ways of Describing Rain"). His stay in Hollywood (which he detested) was not as productive as his early documentary period, though he received an Oscar nomination for Hangmen Also Die!

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