• Lecture

Composing about Concentration Camps. Hanns Eisler's »Deutsche Symphonie«

Hanns Eisler and Bertolt Brecht at the Berlin Meeting of the Preparatory Committee of the Academy of Arts, GDR, on 21 March 1950, Courtesy Akademie der Kuenste, Berlin


A study of Austrian composer Hanns Eisler’s »Deutsche Sinfonie« can help us understand how European artists responded to the atrocities of WWII concentration camps. As a cultural historian, Kenneth Marcus places this interdisciplinary study in historical context to examine why Eisler created this work and the significance that this work has for human rights today.


Hanns Eisler’s Deutsche Sinfonie (1935–1958): This twelve-tone, eleven-movement piece is a collage of music and text, and above all it is a work of exile; in collaboration with Bertolt Brecht between 1935 and 1947, Eisler wrote almost the entire symphony in three different countries, including during his time as a Hollywood film composer (1938–1948). Premiered at the German State Opera in East Germany at the height of the Cold War, it addresses universal issues of gross violations of human rights, the plight of prisoners-of-war, and class unity. As a cultural historian, Kenneth Marcus places this interdisciplinary analysis in historical context, thus drawing on the work of both musicologists and historians. The objectives of this talk are to examine why Eisler created this work and to explain how it communicated human rights values.


Kenneth Marcus is Professor of History at the University of La Verne, where he teaches courses in European and American history, world history, and historiography. A cultural historian, he has written on such themes as exile and modernism, Los Angeles music history, African American music and dance, and early modern Germany. Currently he is Fulbright/IFK_Senior Fellow.




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