Entertainment » Music

Eisler: Die Massnahme

by Steven Bergman
Contributor
Thursday Aug 22, 2013
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Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) was one of the most outspoken and frequently controversial dramatists of the 20th century. Known primarily for both his dramatic works and his musical collaborations with fellow German Kurt Weill ("The Threepenny Opera"), Brecht frequently displayed the means and philosophies of totalitarianism in his work, deriving passionate opinions from both supporters and critics. Brecht and his estate would not allow the work to be performed for decades, due to its content.

"Die Massnahme," translated as "The Decision," (or "The Measures Taken"), was written in 1930, and was one of Brecht’s musical collaborations that featured a score not by Weill, but by Hanns Eisler, with whom Brecht would write both theatrical pieces and songs for the Weimar Republic, and then continue until Brecht’s death following Weill’s emigration to the United States. "Die Massnahme" is an example of what Brecht refers to as a "lehrstück," or a "learning-play," where the audience is exposed to a work for the purpose of moral manipulation; in this case, the promotion of communism.

The oratorio is about a quartet of "agitators" who must report to their superiors (sung by the MDR Rundfunkchor Einstudierung under the direction of Howard Arman) about their mission, in which one of their members was willingly killed to protect their safety as they ventured into China to educate the citizens in the practice of group uprising against the government.

This recording is a 1998 performance presented at the Contemporary Music festival at the Festspielhaus Hellerau in Dresden, Germany. Tenor Götz Schulte handles the soloist and the speaker role, with Angelica Domröse, Gottfried Richter and Christoph Zapatka effectively portraying the other three "agitators."

Eisler’s angular, march-tinged score lays out a perfect background for the quartet’s recounting of their adventure. The enclosed booklet contains the libretto, and much biographical information about the work and the collaboration between Eisler and Brecht. But there is no alternate language translation provided: The booklet is only in German. For the collector of Brecht’s musical works, especially of those not with Weill, this disc is a great find.

"Die Massnahme"
Bertolt Brecht / Hanns Eisler
CD and digital formats
MDR Klassik

Steven Bergman is a Composer / Playwright / Performing Arts Educator based outside of Boston, MA.

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