Hanns Eisler

Hanns Eisler was an Austrian composer best known as the composer of the national anthem of the German Democratic Republic and for his long artistic association with Bertolt Brecht.

Eisler was born in Leipzig, the third child of Marie Ida Eisler (née Fischer) and Rudolf Eisler, a professor of philosophy.

During World War I, Hanns Eisler served as a front-line soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army and was wounded several times in combat. Returning to Vienna after Austria's defeat, he studied from 1919 to 1923 under Arnold Schoenberg. Eisler was the first of Schoenberg's disciples to compose in the twelve-tone or serial technique. In 1925, he moved to Berlin, and his music became increasingly oriented towards political themes and, to Schoenberg's dismay, more "popular" in style with influences drawn from jazz and cabaret. At the same time, he drew close to Bertolt Brecht.

In 1929, Eisler composed the song cycle Zeitungsausschnitte, Op. 11. The piece is dedicated to Margot Hinnenberg-Lefebre. Though not written in the twelve-tone technique, the piece was perhaps the forerunner of a musical art style later known as "News Items" — musical compositions that parodied a newspaper's content and style, or that included lyrics lifted directly from newspapers, leaflets, magazines, and other written media of the day.

Eisler wrote music for several Brecht plays, including The Decision (Die MaíŸnahme) (1930), The Mother (1932) and Schweik in the Second World War (1957). They also collaborated on protest songs that intervened in the political turmoil of Weimar Germany in the early 1930s. Their Solidarity Songbecame a popular militant anthem sung in street protests and public meetings throughout Europe, and their Ballad of Paragraph 218 was the world's first song protesting laws against abortion. Brecht-Eisler songs of this period tended to look at life from "below"–from the perspective of prostitutes, hustlers, the unemployed and the working poor. In 1931-2 he collaborated with Brecht and director Slatan Dudow on the working-class film Kuhle Wampe.

After 1933, Eisler's music and Brecht's poetry were banned by the Nazi Party. Both artists went into exile. While Brecht settled in Svendborg, Denmark, Eisler traveled for a number of years, working in Prague, Vienna, Paris, London, Moscow, Spain, Mexico and Denmark. He made two visits to the USA, with speaking tours from coast to coast.

In 1938, Eisler finally managed to emigrate to the United States with a permanent visa. In New York City, Eisler taught composition at New School for Social Research and wrote experimental chamber and documentary music. In 1942, he moved to Los Angeles, where he joined Brecht who arrived in California in 1941. In the USA, Eisler composed music for various documentary films and for eight Hollywood film scores, two of which – Hangmen Also Die! and None but the Lonely Heart – were nominated for Oscars in 1944 and 1945 respectively.

In several chamber and choral compositions of this period, Eisler returned to the twelve-tone method he had abandoned in Berlin. His Fourteen Ways of Describing the Rain – composed for Arnold Schoenberg's 70th birthday celebration – is considered a masterpiece of the genre. Eisler's works of the 1930s and 1940s included Deutsche Sinfonie (1935—57)–a choral symphony in eleven movements based on poems by Brecht and Ignazio Silone, and a cycle of art songs published as the Hollywood Songbook (1938—43). With lyrics by Brecht, Eduard Mörike, Friedrich Hölderlin and Goethe, it established Eisler's reputation as one of the 20th century's great composers of German lieder.