Hanns Eisler

Austrian composer (Leipzig, 1898 – Berlin, 1962)

Hanns Eisler was a brilliant student of Arnold Schoenberg and Brecht’s favourite collaborator. He left behind a legacy marked by history, both in his production and in the reflexion he carried out on the meaning of a musical composition.

Hanns was the son of Rudolf Eisler, a philosophy professor, and made his debut as a self-taught student before training under Schoenberg in Vienna. In 1925, once he had completed his studies, he moved to Berlin, where he met Brecht and Piscator. Profoundly marked by Marxist thought, his Communist beliefs would go on and make him turn away from Schoenberg, but his writing remained influenced by the twelve-tone technique. Faced with the Nazi threat, he emigrated to the United States where he collaborated with Charlie Chaplin, and wrote a few scores for films by directors such as Joris Ivens, Fritz Lang, Joseph Losey and Jean Renoir. A victim of Nixon's witch hunt, he decided to move to East Berlin - where he composed the national anthem of the German Democratic Republic.

His large corpus of work included hundreds of opuses, German lieder, chamber music, film scores, pieces for choir, works dedicated to amateurs and pieces based on Brecht's writings. Throughout his career, Eisler taught in several institutions. His books, written in Germany or during his years of exile in the United States – some in collaboration with Theodor W. Adorno and Ernst Bloch – showed him as a thinker, concerned with music and its relationship with society.

6 landmark dates in the life of Hanns Eisler

1919: Started studying under Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern

1925: Received a prize from the city of Vienna

1927: Composed for the first time the score for a film as well as incidental music

1928: Met and collaborated with Ernst Busch

1933: Moved to the U.S. and lived there until 1948

1949: Composed the national anthem of the German Democratic Republic, Auferstanden aus Ruinen

6 key works by Hanns Eisler

1923: Piano sonata no.1

1938: String quartet

1943: Hollywooder Liederbuch, a cycle of mélodies

1947: Galileo Galilei, incidental music based on a work by Brecht

1956: Night and Fog, music for the film by Alain Resnais

1958: Deutsche Sinfonie, after texts of Bertolt Brecht and Ignazio Silone

Biography by Radio France, January 2014