Why is a review of scholarly essays focusing on Hanns Eisler (1898–1962) appearing in a journal devoted to Austrian thought and culture? Eisler, the composer of the gdr national anthem, was born in Leipzig and died in East Berlin and thus would seem to have little to do with Austria. But as the anthology’s editor reminds us in his opening essay, Eisler spent his formative quarter-century (1901–1925) in Vienna, his father’s birthplace, and the main teacher [End Page 157] he studied with privately from 1919 to 1923 and to whom he dedicated his first published work, the Piano Sonata, Op. 1 (1924), was none other than Arnold Schönberg. The appeal of this carefully edited German-language anthology, centering on Eisler’s lifelong identification with Austria and emanating from the proceedings of two Vienna-based Eisler conferences held in 2003 and 2009, is that its twenty-one essays will attract a wide variety of readers: music scholars, cultural and political historians of Vienna, and film students.
The musicological essays are all anchored within a scholarly context and are generously illustrated with printed musical examples. Two stand out: Christian Martin Schmidt’s entry on Eisler’s three piano sonatas and their close relationship to Schönberg, and Thomas Ahrend’s effort on Eisler’s song cycle Palmström, based on the poetry of Christian Morgenstern. Whereas Schmidt goes into depth as to Eisler’s lasting indebtedness to Schönberg, the Ahrend piece highlights Eisler’s growing ambivalence toward Schönberg as he was resettling in Berlin in 1925. Ahrend’s musings on why Eisler subtitled this cycle “Parodien” add balance to the scholarly debate.
That Schönberg played an important role throughout Eisler’s creative life is a major theme in the anthology. Antonia Teibler’s article on Eisler’s 1939 summer harmony course at the Mexico City Conservatory unearths archival letters in which the course is introduced as one in which Schönberg’s lasting influence is to be analyzed. Covering Eisler’s five-month exile in Mexico as well, Roberto Kolb contributes an essay comparing the striking similarities between the workers’ songs of Silvestre Revueltas and Eisler. It was in the Vienna of the twenties that Eisler conducted the “Karl Liebknecht” and “Stahlklang” workers’ choruses. In the essay-length interview with Schönberg’s daughter, Nuria Schönberg Nono, she refers to the close social connections in Los Angeles between the Schönberg and Eisler families during World War II and recalls her father’s defense of Eisler as an idealistic and visionary artist when interviewed at home by two fbi agents in either 1947 or 1948. Friederike Wiβmann’s article about the eight typewritten pages (with numerous penciled-in emendations) of Eisler’s 1951 “Notizen zu Dr. Faustus,” housed in the Berlin Eisler Archive, are not directly related to Eisler’s uncompleted Faustus opera of that period. Written at the time of Schönberg’s death, they reveal him, as seen through Eisler’s eyes, as a Faustian figure. Eisler’s ambivalence toward his one-time mentor is underscored: whereas Eisler revered Schönberg as a musical genius, he felt a distance toward him because of the older composer’s apolitical stance. [End Page 158]
Roughly a third of this hefty edition is dedicated to four exhaustive articles containing many personal accounts, primary source letters, and other archival materials from Eisler’s Viennese post–World War II period: Manfred Mugrauer’s essay on Eisler’s complicated relationship with the Austrian Communist Party, Hartmut Krones’s detailed discussion of the Viennese journalistic coverage of Eisler’s works, and Hannes Heher’s article on Eisler’s direct involvement with the Viennese musical scene after his return in 1948. As bonus, the edition comes with a cd featuring chamber orchestra and vocal soloists; it contains Eisler’s jaunty fifty-minute incidental score for Nestroy’s Höllenangst, which was his first Viennese postwar project. The cd comes with the full text of the songs and an informative article...