Hans Eisler - Man and the Masses

Jewish Museum Vienna

The composer Hanns Eisler is the subject of the next exhibition in the series "Music in Transition." He was born the son of Viennese philosopher Rudolf Eisler in Leipzig on July 6th, 1898. Returning to Vienna in 1901, Eisler studied with Arnold Schönberg from 1920 on, who acknowledged him as the equal of Berg and Webern. In 1925, he broke with his teacher over politics and moved to Berlin, where he strove to create a proletarian musical language that avoided the shallowness of hit-songs and the incomprehensibility of what he called the "bourgeois avant-garde". In 1933, as a Jew, he fled Nazi Germany while as a known Bolshevik, it was impossible for him to remain in Austria with its newly formed clerical fascist government. Exile turned into a period of political activism that took him from the Spanish Civil War to Moscow and the United States.

His friendship with Bertolt Brecht would develop into a mutually productive creative partnership. In America after 1938, his essays on composing for cinema as well as his many film-scores for Hollywood were innovative. Had his sister Ruth Fischer, a Communist "renegade" turned anti-Stalinist, not denounced him as a Soviet spy leading to his expulsion in 1948, mainstream cinema might have become more provocative. Eisler was dismayed that no Viennese institution would employ him following his return from America. He moved to East Berlin, where he was offered a chair in composition. He also became a member of the Academy of Arts. In the GDR he composed easily understood music that created a mythological distance to the country’s Nazi past; he also composed the East German national anthem. Despite this, he was regarded as unreliable by the authorities resulting in official displeasure in 1953. Eventually rehabilitated, he was celebrated as a national figure while maintaining a privileged "foreigner" status. In 1961, he defended the "necessity" of the Berlin Wall. He was survived by his widow, two former wives and his son Georg, one of Austria’s leading post-war artists upon his death on September 6th, 1962. His work richly contrasts the conflicts of the creative individual surviving in the collective turbulent upheavals of the 20th century.

Curator Michael Haas received the Theodor Koerner Prize 2009 for his work as curator of this exhibition. Prolonged until September 13, 2009. For further information, see: http://www.jmw.at/