Musical Theory and Practice in the Stage, Film, and Non-Theatre Collaborative Works of Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler, 1930-1956.

Philip Lee Craik, Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College


The collaborative works of Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler are based on a conscious aesthetic rising out of the application of the principles of dialectical materialism to all aspects of dramatic writing, musical composition, and theatre production. Although Brecht had definite opinions about the use of music in his own epic theatre productions, it was not until he met Eisler that he discovered a philosophical basis for those opinions in the writings of Hegel and Marx. The early collaborative work of these two was shaped by their association with the German Workers' Music Movement which took an active part in its production. The collaborations represented a departure from and a protest against contemporary bourgeois musical theatre practices of the time. Viewed as nothing less than a "weapon" to effect social change, music took on a utilitarian function which in turn helped dictate its form. Once Brecht and Eisler became exiles from Germany they discovered they had to adapt their style of writing for different audiences. The works became less openly didactic, and Eisler employed a large variety of musical styles including that of Arnold Schoenberg, his teacher. Eisler's success with the film industry in the United States prevented his being able to participate as composer for one and possibly more of Brecht's mature works which were started in the U.S. However, when both men returned to Germany, they resumed their collaborative work until Brecht's death in 1956; Eisler ultimately set more of Brecht's texts to music than any other composer. The plays and non-theatre collaborations have been examined primarily for the characteristics outlined in the creators' respective writings. While there are several recurring techniques to help insure critical thinking on the part of the audience, Eisler's music to these works is not defined by conventional musical style. The choice of musical content is clearly related to dramatic objectives, and this study clearly demonstrates that the music to the Brecht/Eisler collaborations plays an integral part in their overall effect.