Vienna’s Jewish Museum Presents Exhibition on Composer Hanns Eisler

Austrian Federal Chancellery (03/02/2009)

With the exhibition “Hanns Eisler, People and Mass,” the Jewish Museum of Vienna continues its series “Music in Transition,” running until July 12, 2009. It documents Hanns Eisler’s works against the background of the history of three generations of the Eisler family. Eisler’s life and work and his special relationship with Vienna are examined from the perspective of the complexities of European contemporary history. The composer was born as the son of Viennese philosopher Rudolf Eisler in Leipzig in 1898. He lived in Vienna during several different epochs. The last years of the Empire, WW 1, the “Red Vienna” of the 1920s, the beginning of Austro-Fascism, his subsequent exile as well as the post-war years – each of these periods marked a new beginning in the life and work of Eisler - Vienna became a key venue in his biography.

He was only fourteen years old when he studied Socialist and anarchistic theories. After abandoning his studies at the New Vienna Conservatory he studied privately with Arnold Schönberg and also Anton Webern – Eisler formed part of the avant-garde of the music scene.

Eisler broke with Schönberg because he wanted art to have practical effects so as to mobilize the mass politically. He shared this view for example with Bertold Brecht, with whom he started to cooperate closely in the 1930s, later during his exile in the USA and finally in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). He composed more than eighty pieces of music for the cinema and the stage, e.g. for Brecht’s plays including “The Mother” (1932), “Fear and Misery of the Third Reich” (1945), Galileo (1947) and “Schweik in the Second World War” (1957). Up to 1955 Eisler moved frequently between Vienna and East Berlin, where he was appointed professor at the University of Music and was admitted to the Academy of Arts. The composer of the national anthem of East Germany as well as of didactic folk and children’s songs was no undisputed in the GDR. Like Brecht he did not give up his Austrian passport and second home. Hanns Eisler, who had written his most fascinating composition for Arnold Schönberg’s 70th birthday (1941) – an absolutely undidactic quintet: “Fourteen Ways of Describing the Rain” – died in 1962.