Brecht, Eisler and Bunge Come Alive in Song and Conversation April 27 at UMass Amherst
April 26, 2012
AMHERST, Mass. - Music, theater, politics and exile unite in the work of Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler, featured in a dramatic reading and musical performance Friday, April 27 at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The program, which begins at 2 p.m. in 301 Herter Hall, is in English.
"Ask me more about Brecht: Hanns Eisler in Conversation with Hans Bunge," translated and performed by Bunge’s daughter, Sabine Berendse and Paul Clements, will be followed by a selection of Brecht/Eisler songs, performed by soprano Karyn Levitt and pianist Tom LaMark.
Bertolt Brecht was one of the leading German dramatists and poets of the 20th century. The composer Hanns Eisler was Brecht’s most politically committed collaborator. Between 1958 until shortly before his death in 1962, Eisler was interviewed by Hans Bunge. These recorded conversations are intriguing and informative personal reflections on half a century of artistic and political turbulence.
Sometimes hilarious and at other times moving, they provide an insight into Eisler’s political ideas and his thoughts on the social significance of music; his opposition to Hitler and subsequent exile; his friendship with Bertolt Brecht and their collaboration; the encounter with the McCarthy-era House Un-American Activities Committee; and the artistic, political and intellectual life in the German Democratic Republic.
Berendse and Clements recently finished the first complete translation into English of these conversations. The production includes a dramatic reading of extracts from the conversations in combination with recorded words and music from Eisler himself.
The recital by soprano Karyn Levitt and pianist Tom LaMark is titled "Songs of Hanns Eisler: Settings of poems by Bertolt Brecht in English versions by Eric Bentley." Levitt is a singer based in Concord. After launching in Amherst, the program will travel to Chicago, the University of Wisconsin, Ohio State University, and the University of Southern California.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Eisler. The composer, a student of Arnold Schoenberg, combined avant-garde music with popular culture and revolutionary politics. His songs, longstanding ballads of the German left and his arrangement of the concentration-camp inmates’ song "Die Moorsoldaten" ("The Peat-Bog Soldiers") became an anthem of anti-fascist resistance.
During and after his exile years in the U.S., where he wrote the "Hollywood Songbook," Eisler was a noted composer of films music and co-author, with T.W. Adorno, of the theoretical landmark book, Composing for the Films. He composed the national anthem of the German Democratic Republic as well the score for Alain Resnais’s 1955 film Night and Fog. Among DVD releases from UMass Amherst’s DEFA Film Library with Eisler scores are the films Kuhle Wampe (Slatan Dudow, 1932; script co-authored by Brecht), Council of the Gods (Kurt Maetzig, 1950) and Destinies of Women (Slatan Dudow, 1952) - which also includes a Brecht poem.
Sponsors include German and Scandinavian studies and the DEFA Film Library at UMass Amherst, together with the department of German studies at Smith College and Amherst College’s German department.