Goebbels: Eislermaterial

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COMPOSERS: Goebbels
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: Eislermaterial
PERFORMER: Josef Bierbichler (voice); Ensemble Modern
CATALOGUE NO: 461 648-2
To put things in perspective, imagine a fantasy-form based on the work of Britain’s leading Marxist composer, Alan Bush. Bush was a fine musician, but hardly a ripe subject for such unusual treatment. By contrast, the eventful life and music of Hanns Eisler, East Germany’s post-war composer laureate, cries out for some synoptic view, or so it would seem in the hindsight offered by Heiner Goebbels in his Eislermaterial.

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Think Eisler, think Brecht. His name also runs through this musical homage to a great yet still underrated composer; appropriately so, given the Brechtian concerns of Goebbels and his some time collaborator, writer Heiner Müller. The Brecht-Eisler songs at the heart of this piece are chiefly those of exile rather than political action. Sung by actor Josef Bierbichler – no Ernst Busch yet a beguiling presence – their melancholy-minus-nostalgia is the background for the mingling of Eisler-Goebbels arrangements, including excerpts from the Little Symphony and an unfinished string quartet.

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If this live recording can’t provide the visual image of the statue of Eisler placed centre-stage at every performance, his spirit is nonetheless present in the montage of excerpts from radio interviews, set as a stunning verbal stretto that pays tribute to a composer who was also a brilliant conversationalist. Nicholas Williams