EISLER The Hollywood Songbook Matthias Goerne (baritone) and Eric Schneider (piano) DECCA 460 582-2 [70:09]



Eisler is one of those composers I have been meaning to explore. I have been intrigued by reviews of two competing versions (CPO and Decca-London) of his Symphony No. 2,  Eine Deutsches Symphonie. His music has also appeared on Eterna and Berlin Classics discs. Here, at the other end of the musical scale, are 46 brief ,lyrically jewelled, songs. When I saw the title of the disc I thought of the sophisticated and slightly burly Weill show songs but nothing of the sort. Neither is this a Gershwin songbook. The music is spiritually, 'from the Old Country'. We are used to the nostalgic lyricism of lieder: the wayfaring lad far from hearth, heimat and heavenly delights. The intensifying lens of distance through which the exile views these images idealises them and adds a keen-edged poignancy. This is the currency of the musician and of German romantics in particular. For all of Eisler's socialist credentials it is this Shropshire Lad wistfulness which comes across very strongly in these Schubertian songs written in the USA.

The settings are by the classic poets of the Wolf, Schubert and Schumann eras: Hölderlin, Mörike, Goethe and Eichendorff; but the lion's share of the songs are to words by Brecht (30 of the 47 tracks), a fellow exile in California looking for work and having to compromise artistic standards in order to survive. Some of their shared revulsion of Hollywood and its 'ideals' comes across in tracks 26 and 29. He had escaped from one deadly oppression to another. While one threatened life (contemporary events are shaped by the song Panzerschlacht) the other threatened the soul.

Within Eisler's style the range is quite wide. This varies from the whispers of "An den Kleine Apparatch" [3] to the sterner "Auf der flucht" [7]. Only the piano accompaniment betrays (and then very rarely and subtly) his interest in atonality for example in two Pascal settings [18]. There is an atmosphere of magical entrancement in "Uber den selbstmond" [8] and in [25] a dream dance suggests memories of 'The Land of Lost Content'. Matthias Goerne has the delightful gift, by no means to be taken for granted, of careful balance, variation and shading of dynamics? Listen to way he tiptoes through the notes in "Der Schatzgraber" [28] and plunges deep into the lyrical melos in [22].

Good liner notes and full texts of the songs with translations (a few of the songs are settings of English words). There are so many highlights on this rare and treasurable collection. These include echoing bird calls [41], "Hotelzimmer" 1942 unleashing an unbounded lyricism and the wondering tenderness of Goerne's voice [42]. One of the supremely memorable moments is in "Später Triumph" with its declamatory storminess ending in a great Hokusai wave brought into our homes by Eric Schneider's vivid pianism.


Rob Barnett

Editor's Note: Eisler was amongst the many artists: painters, writers and musicians who fled hostile regimes in Europe for what they thought was artistic freedom in America. Many were drawn by the artistic lure of Hollywood. Only a few were as successsful as Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Franz Waxman who had escaped Nazi tyranny in Vienna and Germany respectively. Fellow Austrian Max Steiner had arrived in America much earlier in 1914 as an emigré looking for a job in the music business in New York. Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Thomas Mann and many others lived in exile in Holywood, some made a fortune but most lived in conditions bordering on penury.

Hanns EISLER Orchestral suites Nos: 2 - 5 and songs     performed by the
Ensemble Modern, chansonnier and conductor, H K Gruber.   RCA Red Seal,
74321 56882 2


Crotchet (UK)

See also Hanns EISLER Orchesterwerke 1 [Suites for Orchestra Nos. 1 -4 ;
Theme and Variations 'Der Lange Marsch'; Kammer Symphonie]
BERLIN Classics 0092282BC


Crotchet (UK)

This new Cd of music for silent and early sound films is of interest to film music enthusiasts for several reasons. First, little music survives from the European films of this period. Second, it includes documentaries - for which we have hardly any music. And, lastly it celebrates a "lost" film composer, a musician of considerable ability.

Eisler was a wonderful writer for voices, as we are now rediscovering with his Hollywood Songbook, his choral Deutsche Simfonie and his songs for the plays of Berthold Brecht - a few are included on this disc. He was also a talented orchestral composer but most of all he was a musician who believed that music should be at the service of everyone. Sadly, he had the great misfortune to be a German, a Jew, a communist and working in the middle years of this century. Consequently he managed to fall foul of the Nazis, the US un-American Activities Committee and finally, the East German Communists during a creative and productive life. A rotund and smiling little man, sometimes he had little to be happy about.

If he is known by film music lovers at all it is usually for the scores he wrote for RKO studios in Hollywood from 1943 to 1947. Or for his co-authorship of the 1947 book, Composing For the Films. Yet he had begun scoring in Germany in 1924 for a Walter Ruttmann experimental film and the Suites on this disc represent his main work immediately after that.

In Suite No. 2 the music from the 1931 pacifist story Niemandsland (GER.dir Viktor Trivas - all copies destroyed by the Nazis) establishes Eisler's pre-war style immediately. Jazzy, with atmospheric woodwind writing, black and white montages create themselves in your mind.

Suite No. 4 is from a 1932 documentary made by the great Dutch film maker, Joris Ivens. Called Pesn o gerojach in Russian [Heroes Song], it celebrates the Magnitostroj mines in the Urals. Eisler uses (as was usual in Soviet filmscoring) local songs as his inspiration. The result is a mixture of marches, heroics and jazzy Jewishness, both lively and tender.

Trivas is also the director for the 1933 French production Dans les Rues, which provides the music for Suite No 5. Its eight sections display a more reflective side to Eisler's writing to contrast with the brass scoring of the marches.

All the suites are interspersed with ballads and songs performed in a typical German cabaret-style which surely would have appealed to Eisler, cynicism mixed with a streetwise sadness, The disc's closing suite is No 3 from the 1931 film Kuhle Wampe (GER - Dir.Slatan Dudow). This tale of unemployment in Berlin is notable for being one of Brecht's few film scripts. Eisler's score drives the film along, giving the montage sections an optimism which sometimes contrasts with the events, notably in the 'searching for work' sequence - section [3] of this suite. It ends with an orchestral arrangement of the once world-famous up-beat 'Solidarity March', in this performance suitably bright and manic.

Some of the orchestral works exist on a Berlin Classics disc. But the bounce and tightness of the Ensemble Modern performances with their brisk tempos will appeal to today's audiences. And although the songs have no immediate movie connections as Gruber presents them they add a gutsy supporting period flavour to the whole collection. If you are exploring music as well as movie history this disc will repay your time.


Norman Tozer



Robert Barnett

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