Austrian composer Hanns Eisler, half Jewish and half Lutheran, lived through many of the major events of the 20th century, and his music, much underrated, reflects them. He was a student of Arnold Schoenberg and wrote some atonal and twelve-tone music, but then turned to the left politically and began to collaborate with Bertolt Brecht and to compose in a jazz-influenced style that sounds like a more serious version of Kurt Weill. Fleeing the Nazis, he landed in the U.S., where he became a successful film composer. He was deported at the beginning of the 1950s Red Scare (a fact the booklet to this release glosses over) and settled, like Brecht, in East Berlin. The last years of his life were marked by increasing depression over the growing failures of the Communist experiment, and it is from this period, shortly before his death, that the opening Ernste Gesänge come. These "serious songs" are for baritone and a small string ensemble. The popular influences of Eisler's earlier music are still there, but they are deployed in an utterly gloomy way, in settings by Hölderlin and others. These songs, short but quite profound, constitute a major nearly lost work torn from the pages of life in the middle 20th century like the music of few other composers other than Shostakovich, and baritone Matthias Goerne's performance of them is masterful. The other two works on the program give an idea of Eisler's earlier music. The Piano Sonata, Op. 1, was written under Schoenberg's influence and is atonal, although not dodecaphonic. The three lieder that follow come from Eisler's collaboration with Brecht in Weimar-era Berlin, before both left Germany; they include the Solidaritätslied, which was sung during leftist street demonstrations, but not, unfortunately, Die Ballade vom Paragraphen 218, arguably the world's first pro-choice song. These are beautiful, sympathetic interpretations of a composer whom the world treated unkindly and whose music deserves much greater exposure.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Ernste Gesänge, für Instrumentalensemble & Bariton|
|Sonate, Op. 1|