Notes and Editorial Reviews
Eliahu Inbal, cond; Sophie Koch (mez); Carolin Masur (alt); Eike Wilm Schulte (bar); Kurt Rydl (bass); Jean-Louis Depoil (rec); Pierre Roux (rec); Radio France PO & Ch
V 5031 (62:10) Live: Paris 2004
Hanns Eisler was a Schoenberg pupil, but his leftist political convictions led him to a simplification of that musical language. He did not wish to produce music too complex to appeal to the common man.
His Communist beliefs forced him to leave Germany in 1933 (at the same time as his frequent collaborator Bertholt Brecht) and after periods spent in Spain and France, he settled in the United States. He wrote many film scores and several theoretical texts on film music; he recognized the medium as the century?s great tool for communicating ideas. (No doubt, he would be horrified to see how movies have been hijacked to become mere vehicles for product placement.) McCarthyism provided the impetus for the composer to return to East Germany, where he wrote music that is more utilitarian. He died in 1962.
Eisler was a miniaturist. The
, his largest work, is made up of discrete settings of texts, mostly by Brecht, plus three instrumental movements, the first of which Eisler lifted from one of his earlier works (the First Suite for chamber orchestra). He labored on this symphony over many years; the final version was premiered in Berlin in 1959.
Eisler deliberately eschewed the lyricism and lush, chromatic harmony of Romanticism. He thought it bourgeois. Instead, his way of reaching his target audience was through clarity of texture and, to some extent, the influence of popular music and early jazz. In this he is often compared to Kurt Weill, but Eisler?s populist touches are integrated into a basically Schoenbergian sound world (which Weill left behind after his early First Symphony). Eisler?s melodies, while they may not be strictly 12-tone, often retain the wide leaps and ?difficult? intervals of the tone row. You might say he is Weill without the personality, or possibly without the common touch (ironically enough).
is a work of protest, specifically against the Nazis to begin with but later widening its perspective to embrace all politically motivated injustice. The very first poem set is entitled ?To the combatants in the concentration camps? (written long before the terrible outcome of that incarceration was revealed), so clearly this is a work that pulls no punches. Today, it would be almost impossible to set such poetry, but at the time, it was a legitimate and brave thing to do. Eisler?s music is coolly appropriate, lacking as it does any hint of schmaltz. That is not to say the piece is unyieldingly dark or turgid: much of it is playful in an ironic, detached way, and Eisler does not hold back in writing busy counterpoint from time to time (usually in the orchestra; the choral writing is more straightforward and declamatory). Throughout, his clarity of line and the subtlety of his underscoring allow the cold anger of the words to register.
The emotional center of the work kicks in at the seventh movement, a dramatic setting of Brecht?s ?Burial of the trouble-maker in a zinc coffin,? and continues through the two succeeding movements, both mini-cantatas incorporating a plethora of musical incident. A troubled orchestral Allegro follows and the work ends in a brief, downbeat epilogue.
The abruptness of the conclusion seems to take the audience by surprise in this live performance: applause begins hesitantly and remains rather lackluster. Perhaps the Paris audience members weren?t political fellow travelers?although to give them their due, this is an unnerving piece of music.
I have not been able to get hold of the Decca release of Zagrosek?s 1996 recording with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (in the Entartete Musik series) for comparison. It is a studio recording, whereas Inbal?s is live, taped by Radio France. I find Inbal more involved here than in much of his own studio work?his Mahler, for instance. In fact, everyone concerned seems totally committed, with excellent contributions from soloists, choir, and orchestra alike. The booklet notes do not tell us exactly who sings what, but I think I can recognize Sophie Koch?s vibrant mezzo-soprano in the ?Song of the class enemy.? (Readers may have come across this talented artist in a recent Capriccio disc of orchestral songs by Egon Wellesz.) The vibrato in Kurt Rydl?s bass had loosened by the time of this concert, but he certainly sings with authority. The sound is clear and well balanced, particularly between the soloists and the orchestra. Perhaps the choir is a trifle recessed by comparison; they make their points nonetheless. Moreover, the
is a work that benefits from the urgency of live performance. Eisler?s (and Brecht?s) uncompromising vision emerges with all the more power.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott
Works on This Recording
Deutsche Sinfonie, Op. 50 by Hanns Eisler
Eike Wilm Schulte (Baritone),
Kurt Rydl (Bass),
Carolin Masur (Mezzo Soprano),
Sophie Koch (Mezzo Soprano),
Jean-Louis Depoil (Spoken Vocals),
Pierre Roux (Spoken Vocals)
French Radio New Philharmonic Orchestra,
Maîtrise de Radio France
Period: 20th Century
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