Hans Eisler & Bertolt Brecht: A Man’s a Man

Written by Michael Barrett

Associate Artistic Director, NYFOS

In category: Song of the Day

Published October 24, 2019

This week I’ve been sharing music of Kurt Weill and Marc Blitzstein in anticipation of our November 19 performance of No For An Answer (Blitzstein) and Silverlake (Weill). Perhaps the most important playwright for both of these composers was Bertolt Brecht. Brecht and Weill had a tumultuous relationship that yielded several successful shows and much financial and emotional Sturm und Drang. Blitzstein met Brecht in Germany (at the same time he first heard Weill’s Threepenny Opera). He showed Brecht a song he had written called Nickel Under The Foot, sung by a hungry prostitute. It was Brecht who encouraged Blitzstein to expand her character and create an entire show about the conditions that created her plight. It wasn’t long before Blitzstein had created The Cradle Will Rock. Brecht’s influence persisted in America. Bernstein, Comden and Green, Jerry Robbins, Steve Sondheim, and John Guare all made a stab at bringing Brecht to the Broadway stage. None of these works (Caucasian Chalk Circle, The Exception and the Rule) ever saw an Opening Night.  But the respect for the power of Brecht’s probing, and sometimes accusatory political theater persisted. Today we have Hamilton and other contemporary perspectives on our political life. But it was really Brecht who rubbed our noses in the big questions. They are the same questions society faces today.

Here is a Brecht lyric with music by Hans Eisler. The brief commentary at the end is with watching. The accompanying saxophone and piano are also something to witness.

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Michael Barrett is the co-founder and associate artistic director of New York Festival of Song, as well as the co-founder and music director of the Moab Music Festival in Utah. A conductor and a pianist, Michael was a protégé of Leonard Bernstein and serves as music advisor to the Leonard Bernstein Estate.


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