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My name is Avior Byron and I am a musicologist, blogger and composer. I write books, articles and a blog about music, performance, research, and theory. Read more at my about page

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Hans Eisler, Good listening and the isolation of composers and musicologists from public

In 1957 Hans Eisler wrote an essay titled ‘On Good Listening’. He claimed that there ‘could be no musical culture without good listening and without ear training.’ (Hans Eisler, *A Rebel in Music: Selected Writings*, ed. Mafred Grabs (Berlin: Seven Seas, 1978), p. 175) He claims that despite of the great musical tradition there is a lack of musical knowledge in Germany ‘due to fatal heritage of class privilege in the musical life of capitalist society’.
 
What Eisler means by knowledge is not completely clear. Does he have in mind the score-obsessed academic ear training that aims that the student will recognize certain chords, intervals and learn to sing notes? No. It seems that he merely wants the masses to be acquainted with ‘high culture’. In other words, what he has in mind is the so called ‘listening appreciation’. Yet Eisler is not naïve. He admits that it will be impossible to change the contemporary peasant or worker. He aims ‘educating the grandchild of this worker’!
 
The problem that bothers him is the gab between the public and the composers: the almost empty concert halls. It seems that this was a life long concert, since in 1928 he wrote another essay called ‘On the Situation in Modern Music’ where he complained against art that is ‘frightfully isolated’ and composers who work ‘merely for the sake of writing’ (Ibid., p. 27). At that year he suggested a solution: ‘Choose texts and subjects that concern as many people as possible. Try to understand your own time and do not get caught up in mere formalities. Discover the people, the real people, discover day-to-day life for your art, and then perhaps you will be re-discovered’.
 
Whether the workers are the ‘real people’ as Eisler seems to suggest, I do not know. Nevertheless, it is clear to me that the problem of isolation between composers and the public is true not only in the 1920s and 1950s, but also in our times. Communism did not solve this problem. Classical music, so it is claimed, seems to be in a decline (at least in America).
 
I must admit that as a musicologist and composer I am concerned by the same problem. What is the solution? This website is perhaps one solution. Yet I have no illusions that my academic writings or my music will suddenly compete with popular music. Nevertheless, the internet has the ability to connect people of similar interests from around the globe.
 
What do you think? Comment on this post in the form below. 
 
Eisler wrote in a variety of musical geners. Here are two videos that manifest this variety:  
 
    

 

06 Hanns Eisler — Elegie 1939, poem by Bertolt Brecht


 

 

Hanns Eisler - Nonett nr.1, Variationen


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