Notes and Editorial Reviews
Paul Dessau (1894--1979) was among the most principled and hard?working composers whose career flourished under uneasy circumstances in postwar East Germany after the country's partition. His exceptionally diverse output is reflected in the heterogeneous contents of this compendium, the value of which is unrivalled as an introduction to a vital figure in the culture of his time and place. His political sympathies may be deduced from his frequent collaborations with the radical playwright Bertholt Brecht, and by the dedication of his Orchestral Music No.3 to Lenin. But he also wrote film music for early movies of Walt Disney, a dyed-in-the-wool anti-Communist, and his art both embodies and transcends his surroundings.
Once past two discs of punchy orchestral music and a CD of piano music which includes his musical interpretation of Picasso's seminal Guernica painting, the set concentrates on the dramatic music which lies at the heart of Dessau's oeuvre, all-in local performances which were made by performers who knew the composer and his music well enough to lend their recordings the authoritative stamp of authenticity.
There are quirky continuations of the German Lied tradition as well as more strident and even agitprop settings of texts from Brecht's Mother Courage. Four of Dessau's seven operas are included: Puntila, Leonce and Lena, Die Verurteilung des Lukullus and Einstein, all of them politically motivated and influenced by cabaret culture while exploring Dessau's own spiky brand of tonality.
- A tribute to one of the most iconic composers of post war East Germany, Paul Dessau, a most welcome edition of historic importance!
- Dessau's style may be described as "Avant Garde for the People". His own creative ideas often clashed with the aestetics of the communistic regime, but his "love / hate" relationship with the communist cause resulted in an oeuvre in which the political message is embedded in a vibrant, innovative, confronting and appealing musical language, based on neo?tonality and expressionistic influences.
- Dessau wrote an enormous amount of music, and this set presents his most important and representative works: orchestral music, piano music, and a wealth of dramatic works: songs and operas.
- Authoritative performances by East German forces, musicians living and working in the same situation as Dessau, friends, understanding each other without speaking: Leipzig Gewandhausorchester, Staatskapelle Dresden, Staatskapelle Berlin, conductors Otmar Suitner, Herbert Kegel and ...Paul Dessau himself.
- Booklet contains an extensive introduction by scholar Malcolm MacDonald to Dessau's life and work.
R E V I E W S:
As an exile from Nazi Germany, Albert Einstein helped the Americans to develop the atomic bomb in order to defeat German fascism. But in Paul Dessau’s opera of 1974, such action appears to have profound social consequences, Einstein soon realising that the power in whose hands he has placed himself breeds a new form of fascism. As a result he loses faith in the humanistic value of his work to the extent of burning a new scientific formula on which he has been working for twenty years. It’s certainly a thought-provoking scenario, but in the time-honoured tradition of Brecht, Dessau’s music generally serves the function of interpreting, rather than enhancing the text. In this respect, the score’s frequent allusions to familiar pieces of music, from Bach to Richard Strauss, proves unusually disturbing. I am thinking here particularly of the scene in Act I where storm troopers vandalise Einstein’s flat to the distorted accompaniments of Bach’s Dorian Toccata for organ and the chorale, ‘Vom Himmel hoch’. Without doubt, the chilling immediacy of such episodes is brilliantly captured by the performers in this fascinating release, though in an opera where the words are all-important, it’s regrettable that Berlin Classics haven’t provided an English translation of the text.
-- Erik Levi, BBC Music Magazine