Mark Limacher /dɒtkɔm/

General Music, etc. Politics, etc.

A Little Eisler for Labor Day

Hanns EislerSome excerpts from Hanns Eisler’s Speech to the Choir of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, I938

One characteristic of this crisis in music is the division of entertainment and serious music. Is this not a very strange division? Must we be entertained only by the cheapest musical rubbish and must we look serious and behave like snobs when listening to serious classical music?


As you know, generally speaking, art and music today are the prerogatives of rich ladies. They come to listen again and again, and the “Volga Boatmen’s Song” is a great hit. But after a time the women say, “Today the performance was not very good, in fact, it was rather poor. Yet last Monday the performance was first class. Divine! What has happened?” They ask the boatmen and the answer is curious. The boatmen say, “Today the boat was quite light, it was not loaded. But last Monday we had to pull very heavy stones. We had to work very hard and so we sang with all our might.”


The present differentiation began with the Industrial Revolution at the beginning of the nineteenth century. What did the Industrial Revolution mean for society in general? It meant the birth of a new type-the industrial worker. The industrial worker lost his simple rural culture, he lost his old mores and habits and he lost his craftsmanship and his small property. These were all taken from him by force, in order to make of him a proletarian who had nothing to sell but his labor power. All this occurred as the technique of the division of labor progressed.


In order to understand serious music it is necessary to have a high general level of culture and to have a high standard of living. That is to say you must have time, money and education enough to be able to play at least one instrument; you must have a more or less theoretical training and a certain general knowledge of the fine arts, literature and so on. You must have the opportunity of hearing musical works again and again, you must learn to play them yourself. All this can make you a really proficient music lover and musical amateur. It is evident that all this is available only to the middle class or to the upper class. Without a similar social background and similar social conditions you are more or less helpless.


There are few good concerts available to the people today. Except for some popular concerts, only the cheap trash of Broadway and Hollywood is offered. I don’t consider jazz and swing entirely bad. Men like Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman are really talented musicians. But Duke Ellington makes his fortune in night clubs and his development as an artist is therefore handicapped. Benny Goodman, a very fine clarinettist, has made stupid and boring films in Hollywood and thus ruins his real craftsmanship. What is being offered to the people as musical fare? Songs like, Bei mir bist du scon, Ti-pi-tin, and similar stupidities. And I shudder to think of the thousands of sentimental love songs produced by Broadway and Hollywood. Some of you will say, that’s harmless, that’s just entertainment, don’t worry. But as a musician I do worry, for I know all is poison, opium for the people. But what is the solution? Should the working people grow long beards and with great dignity attend only concerts of serious music? That is ridiculous and impossible.


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