Karyn Levitt to Perform ERIC BENTLEY'S BRECHT-EISLER SONG BOOK, 2/3
Singer Karyn Levitt, with pianist Eric Ostling, will perform Eric Bentley's Brecht-Eisler Song Book, a unique evening that features the songs of Austrian composer Hanns Eisler (1898-1962), set to poetry by Bertolt Brecht and other noted writers, in English versions by Eric Bentley, Monday February 3 at 7:30 PM at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia/Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway (entrance on 95th Street).
Eric Bentley, now 97 years old, is the first translator into English of Brecht's plays and poems, introducing Brecht's work to American stages in the 1940's and 50's. Bentley has now unlocked Hanns Eisler's starkly beautiful songs, many set to poems by Brecht, to be performed by soprano Karyn Levitt, with whom he has worked closely since 2011.
Hanns Eisler created a vast and varied repertory of works, and this concert presents a stunning sample of his versatility and genius. Bentley adapted the song texts (which are poems by Brecht and other master poets from Goethe to Karl Kraus), from their original German into English, and selected poems will be read aloud by Ms. Levitt before singing the Eisler songs.
The 90-minute program had its premiere at the Goethe-Institut Boston in November 2012 and was the featured concert at Modfest 2013 at Vassar College. Ms. Levitt's Royal Road Productions was recently awarded an arts grant from Nokia corporation to present "Eric Bentley's Brecht-Eisler song Book" at nationwide venues this season. This generous funding now affords Karyn Levitt and Eric Ostling the opportunity to perform this landmark program around the country.
Tickets are $25 general admission and $20 for students and seniors. Reservations can be made by calling 212.864-5400 or online at www.symphonyspace.org.
Hanns Eisler (1898-1962) was born in Leipzig where his father, Rudolf Eisler, was a professor of philosophy. In 1901 the family moved to Vienna. During WWI Eisler served as a front-line soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army and was wounded several times in combat. Returning to Vienna after Austria's defeat, he studied from 1919 to 1923 under Arnold Schoenberg and was the first of Schoenberg's disciples to compose in the twelve-tone or serial technique.
In 1925 Eisler moved to Berlin, then a hothouse of experimentation in music, theater, film, art and politics. His music became increasingly oriented towards political themes and, to Schoenberg's dismay, more "popular" in style with influences drawn from jazz and cabaret. At the same time, Eisler drew closer to Bertolt Brecht, forging a collaboration which lasted for the rest of Brecht's life, with both men also sharing a leaning towards Marxism. Eisler wrote the music for several Brecht plays, including The Measures Taken (1930), The Mother(1931) and Schweik in the Second World War (1944). They also collaborated on protest songs; their Solidarity Song became a popular militant anthem sung in protests and meetings throughout Europe, and their Ballad of Paragraph 218 was the world's first song protesting laws against abortion. The Brecht-Eisler songs of this period tended to look at life from "below" - from the perspective of prostitutes, hustlers, the unemployed and the working poor.
After 1933, Eisler's music and Brecht's poetry were banned by the Nazi Party, and both artists joined the generation of anti-Nazi exiles who sought refuge in the United States. In New York City, Eisler taught composition at the New School and wrote experimental chamber and documentary music. He moved to Los Angeles in 1942, joining Brecht who had arrived there the year before, and while in L.A. composed several Hollywood film scores, two of which - Hangmen Also Die and None but the Lonely Heart - were nominated for Oscars. In 1947 Eisler wrote the book Composing for the Films with Theodor Adorno. Still, in several chamber and choral compositions of this period, Eisler also returned to the twelve-tone method he had abandoned in Berlin, and his Fourteen Ways of Describing the Rain -composed for Schoenberg's 70th birthday celebration - is considered a masterpiece of the genre.
During the 1930s and 40s, Eisler's compositions included a choral symphony in eleven movements based on poems by Brecht and Ignazio Silone, and a cycle of art songs with lyrics by Brecht, Morike, Holdelin and Goethe, establishing Eisler's reputation as one of the 20th century's great composers of German lieder.
Eisler's promising career in the U.S. was interrupted by the Cold War. He was the first Hollywood artist blacklisted by the movie industry. In two interrogations by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the composer was accused of being "the Karl Marx of music" and the chief Soviet agent in Hollywood. Despite the efforts of his supporters, which included Charlie Chaplin, Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein, Eisler was deported in 1948.
On March 26, 1948, Eisler and his wife Lou, departed from NYC to Prague.
Eisler settled in East Berlin where he composed the national anthem of the German Democratic Republic, a cycle of cabaret-style songs to satirical poems by Kurt Tucholsky, and incidental music for theater, films and television. His most ambitious project of the period, a modern opera on the Faust theme, was attacked by Communist censors and never completed. Although he continued to compose and to teach at the East Berlin Conservatory, the gap between Eisler and the cultural functionaries of East Germany grew wider in the last decade of his life. Eisler never recovered completely from the death of Brecht in 1956, and his remaining years were marred by depression and declining health. He died in East Berlin in 1962 and is buried near Brecht in the Dorotheenstadt Cemetery.
Eric Bentley is the first translator into English of Bertolt Brecht's plays and poems,and he is credited with introducing Brecht's work to American stages in the 1940's and 50's. Revered as a drama critic, translator, playwright, poet, and stage director, Bentley studied at the University of Oxford in his native England. His Ph.D. dissertation from Yale University in 1941 was expanded into the book A Century of Hero Worship (1944), reissued as The Cult of the Superman (1969), followed by several other books including his 1998 Bentley on Brecht. From 1948 to 1951 Bentley directed in numerous European cities, including Dublin, Zurich, and Padua; in Munich in 1950 he worked with Brecht on a production of Brecht's play Mother Courage. While in Europe, Bentley's translations of Brecht and reviews of European theatre won him recognition in the U.S. From 1952 to 1969 he taught at Columbia University in NYC, and also taught at the State University of New York in Buffalo and the University of Maryland in College Park.
Bentley's criticism is noteworthy for covering practical, aesthetic, and philosophical aspects of theatre, stemming from a belief that art must rescue humanity from meaninglessness. Rejecting simple theories, Bentley emphatically blends reason and creativity in his books.
KARYN LEVITT, singer/actress, made her Carnegie Hall debut at Weill Recital Hall in 2007 in her solo concert, The Age of Romance: From Vienna to Broadway, accompanied by pianist Tom LaMark. Ms. Levitt has also performed her theatrical concerts at Goethe-Institut Boston, Shakespeare & Company, Oberlin College, U Mass Amherst, The Center for Arts Natick, The Charles Playhouse Lounge, The Brecht Forum, The Dante Alighieri Cultural Center, and at many cultural institutions. With actor Jonathan Epstein, she recorded a spoken word CDE entitled My Father's Moustache (Poems of Henry David Epstein), which was just released. She holds a BA in English with Honors from Oberlin College and is a longtime classical voice student of soprano Janice Giampa. Eric Bentley coached Karyn Levitt on all her performances in this program.
ERIC OSTLING, pianist and composer, has pursued careers in both the jazz and classical worlds. A graduate of MIT and the Performing Arts School in Louisville, he has studied with Pulitzer composers John Harbison and Karel Husa, and legendary jazz figures Jamey Aebersold, Herb Pomeroy and Charlie Banacos. His recording credits include soprano accompanist on song cycles of Schoenberg and Webern, in addition to solo piano and jazz CDs. Eric's classical works have received orchestral premieres in Louisville and Boston and performances by the Muir and Manhattan String Quartets. A recording from his songbook of over 60 jazz compositions is scheduled for release later this year. Eric Bentley coached Eric Ostling on all his performances on this program.
Photo Credit: Symphony Space