Contrary Voices: Heine, Hölderlin, and Goethe in the Music of Hanns Eisler


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


Carolina-Duke Program in German Studies


“Contrary Voices” examines composer Hanns Eisler’s settings of nineteenth-century poetry under changing political pressures from 1925 to 1962. The poets’ ideologically fraught reception histories, both under Nazism and in East Germany, led Eisler to intervene in this reception and voice dissent by radically fragmenting the texts. His musical settings both absorb and disturb the charisma of nineteenth-century sound materials, through formal parody, dissonance, and interruption, in order to expose the use of these materials in evoking collective, nationalistic trance states. Eisler’s critical stance works in dialectical tension with musical tropes for mourning. Examining these text-settings systematically over time, “Contrary Voices” draws on a dialogic approach to adaptation in its cross-readings of text and music. A secondary concern with voice, in gendered and polyphonic forms, also informs the project. Ultimately, Eisler’s settings of nineteenth-century poetry embody aesthetic inheritance in need of the very mourning it voices.