|Born||Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht|
10 February 1898
Augsburg, Bavaria, German Empire
|Died||14 August 1956 58) (aged|
East Berlin, East Germany
|Occupation||Playwright, theatre director, poet|
|Genre||Epic theatre, Non-Aristotelian drama|
Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht ( // ; German: [bʁɛçt] ; 10 February 1898 – 14 August 1956), known professionally as Bertolt Brecht, was a German theatre practitioner, playwright, and poet.
Theatre practitioner is someone who both creates theatrical performances and who produces a theoretical discourse that informs his or her practical work. A theatre practitioner may be a director, a dramatist, an actor, or—characteristically—often a combination of these traditionally-separate roles. "Theatre practice" describes the collective work that various theatre practitioners do.
A playwright or dramatist is a person who writes plays.
A poet is a person who creates poetry. Poets may describe themselves as such or be described as such by others. A poet may simply be a writer of poetry, or may perform their art to an audience.
Living in Munich during the Weimar Republic, he had his first successes with theatre plays, whose themes were often influenced by his Marxist thought. He was the main proponent of the genre named epic theatre (which he preferred to call "dialectical theatre"). During the Nazi period and World War II he lived in exile, first in Scandinavia and then in the United States. Returning to East Berlin after the war, he established the theatre company Berliner Ensemble with his wife and long-time collaborator, actress Helene Weigel.
Munich is the capital and most populous city of the second most populous German federal state of Bavaria, and, with a population of around 1.5 million, it is the third-largest city of Germany after Berlin and Hamburg, as well as the 12th-largest city in the European Union. The city's metropolitan region is home to 6 million people. Straddling the banks of the River Isar north of the Bavarian Alps, it is the seat of the Bavarian administrative region of Upper Bavaria, while being the most densely populated municipality in Germany. Munich is the second-largest city in the Bavarian dialect area, after the Austrian capital of Vienna.
The Weimar Republic is an unofficial historical designation for the German state from 1918 to 1933. The name derives from the city of Weimar, where its constitutional assembly first took place. The official name of the republic remained Deutsches Reich unchanged from 1871, because of the German tradition of substates. Although commonly translated as "German Empire", the word Reich here better translates as "realm", in that the term does not in itself have monarchical connotations per se. The Reich was changed from a constitutional monarchy into a republic. In English, the country was usually known simply as Germany.
Marxism is a method of socioeconomic analysis that views class relations and social conflict using a materialist interpretation of historical development and takes a dialectical view of social transformation. It originates from the works of 19th-century German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht (as a child known as Eugen) was born in February 1898 in Augsburg, Bavaria, the son of Berthold Friedrich Brecht (1869–1939) and his wife Sophie, née Brezing (1871–1920). Brecht's mother was a devout Protestant and his father a Roman Catholic (who had been persuaded to have a Protestant wedding). The modest house where he was born is today preserved as a Brecht Museum.His father worked for a paper mill, becoming its managing director in 1914.
Augsburg is a city in Swabia, Bavaria, Germany. It is a university town and regional seat of the Regierungsbezirk Schwaben. Augsburg is an urban district and home to the institutions of the Landkreis Augsburg. It is the third-largest city in Bavaria with a population of 300,000 inhabitants, with 885,000 in its metropolitan area.
The Kingdom of Bavaria was a German state that succeeded the former Electorate of Bavaria in 1805 and continued to exist until 1918. The Bavarian Elector Maximilian IV Joseph of the House of Wittelsbach became the first King of Bavaria in 1805 as Maximilian I Joseph. The crown would go on being held by the Wittelsbachs until the kingdom came to an end in 1918. Most of Bavaria's present-day borders were established after 1814 with the Treaty of Paris, in which Bavaria ceded Tyrol and Vorarlberg to the Austrian Empire while receiving Aschaffenburg and Würzburg. With the unification of Germany into the German Empire in 1871, the kingdom became a federal state of the new Empire and was second in size, power, and wealth only to the leading state, the Kingdom of Prussia. In 1918, Bavaria became a republic, and the kingdom was thus succeeded by the current Free State of Bavaria.
Due to his mother's influence, Brecht knew the Bible, a familiarity that would have a lifelong effect on his writing. From her, too, came the "dangerous image of the self-denying woman" that recurs in his drama.Brecht's home life was comfortably middle class, despite what his occasional attempt to claim peasant origins implied. At school in Augsburg he met Caspar Neher, with whom he formed a lifelong creative partnership. Neher designed many of the sets for Brecht's dramas and helped to forge the distinctive visual iconography of their epic theatre.
Caspar Neher was an Austrian-German scenographer and librettist, known principally for his career-long working relationship with Bertolt Brecht.
Epic theatre is a theatrical movement arising in the early to mid-20th century from the theories and practice of a number of theatre practitioners who responded to the political climate of the time through the creation of a new political theatre. Epic theatre is not meant to refer to the scale or the scope of the work, but rather to the form that it takes. Epic theatre emphasizes the audience's perspective and reaction to the piece through a variety of techniques that deliberately cause them to individually engage in a different way. The purpose of epic theatre is not to encourage an audience to suspend their disbelief, but rather to force them to think introspectively about the particular moments that are occurring on stage and why they are happening a certain way.
When Brecht was 16, the First World War broke out. Initially enthusiastic, Brecht soon changed his mind on seeing his classmates "swallowed by the army".Brecht was nearly expelled from school in 1915 for writing an essay in response to the line " Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori " from the Roman poet Horace, calling it Zweckpropaganda ("cheap propaganda for a specific purpose") and arguing that only an empty-headed person could be persuaded to die for their country. His expulsion was only prevented through the intervention of his religion teacher.
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori is a line from the Roman lyrical poet Horace's Odes (III.2.13). The line is usually translated as: "It is sweet and proper to die for one's country." The Latin word patria, meaning the country of one's fathers or ancestors, is the source of the French word for a country, patrie, as well as the English word patriot.
Quintus Horatius Flaccus, known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus. The rhetorician Quintilian regarded his Odes as just about the only Latin lyrics worth reading: "He can be lofty sometimes, yet he is also full of charm and grace, versatile in his figures, and felicitously daring in his choice of words."
On his father's recommendation, Brecht sought a loophole by registering for a medical course at Munich University, where he enrolled in 1917.There he studied drama with Arthur Kutscher, who inspired in the young Brecht an admiration for the iconoclastic dramatist and cabaret-star Frank Wedekind.
Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich is a public research university located in Munich, Germany.
Arthur Kutscher was a German historian of literature and researcher in drama. Together with Max Herrmann he can be seen as a founding father of theatre studies in Germany. He was a professor at Munich University, where he taught a famous seminar in theatre history. Kutscher was a friend of the iconoclastic dramatist and cabaret-star Wedekind. His work influenced many playwrights, poets, and directors. His students included Bertolt Brecht, Erwin Piscator, Peter Hacks, Hanns Johst, Klabund, and Erich Mühsam. Brecht's first full-length play, Baal, was written in response to an argument in one of Kutscher's drama seminars. While Kutscher was responsible for inspiring an admiration for Wedekind in the young Brecht, he was "bitterly critical" of Brecht's own early dramatic writings.
Cabaret is a form of theatrical entertainment featuring music, song, dance, recitation, or drama. It is mainly distinguished by the performance venue, which might be a pub, a restaurant or a nightclub with a stage for performances. The audience, often dining or drinking, does not typically dance but usually sits at tables. Performances are usually introduced by a master of ceremonies or MC. The entertainment, as done by an ensemble of actors and according to its European origins, is often oriented towards adult audiences and of a clearly underground nature. In the United States striptease, burlesque, drag shows, or a solo vocalist with a pianist, as well as the venues which offer this entertainment, are often advertised as cabarets.
From July 1916, Brecht's newspaper articles began appearing under the new name "Bert Brecht" (his first theatre criticism for the Augsburger Volkswille appeared in October 1919).Brecht was drafted into military service in the autumn of 1918, only to be posted back to Augsburg as a medical orderly in a military VD clinic; the war ended a month later.
In July 1919, Brecht and Paula Banholzer(who had begun a relationship in 1917) had a son, Frank. In 1920 Brecht's mother died.
Some time in either 1920 or 1921, Brecht took a small part in the political cabaret of the Munich comedian Karl Valentin.Brecht's diaries for the next few years record numerous visits to see Valentin perform. Brecht compared Valentin to Charlie Chaplin, for his "virtually complete rejection of mimicry and cheap psychology". Writing in his Messingkauf Dialogues years later, Brecht identified Valentin, along with Wedekind and Büchner, as his "chief influences" at that time:
Brecht's first full-length play, Baal (written 1918), arose in response to an argument in one of Kutscher's drama seminars, initiating a trend that persisted throughout his career of creative activity that was generated by a desire to counter another work (both others' and his own, as his many adaptations and re-writes attest). "Anyone can be creative," he quipped, "it's rewriting other people that's a challenge."Brecht completed his second major play, Drums in the Night , in February 1919.
Between November 1921 and April 1922 Brecht made acquaintance with many influential people in the Berlin cultural scene. Amongst them was the playwright Arnolt Bronnen with whom he established a joint venture, the Arnolt Bronnen / Bertolt Brecht Company. Brecht changed the spelling of his first name to Bertolt to rhyme with Arnolt.
In 1922 while still living in Munich, Brecht came to the attention of an influential Berlin critic, Herbert Ihering: "At 24 the writer Bert Brecht has changed Germany's literary complexion overnight"—he enthused in his review of Brecht's first play to be produced, Drums in the Night—"[he] has given our time a new tone, a new melody, a new vision. [...] It is a language you can feel on your tongue, in your gums, your ear, your spinal column."In November it was announced that Brecht had been awarded the prestigious Kleist Prize (intended for unestablished writers and probably Germany's most significant literary award, until it was abolished in 1932) for his first three plays (Baal, Drums in the Night, and In the Jungle , although at that point only Drums had been produced). The citation for the award insisted that:
[Brecht's] language is vivid without being deliberately poetic, symbolical without being over literary. Brecht is a dramatist because his language is felt physically and in the round.
That year he married the Viennese opera-singer Marianne Zoff. Their daughter—Hanne Hiob (1923–2009)—was a successful German actress.
In 1923, Brecht wrote a scenario for what was to become a short slapstick film, Mysteries of a Barbershop , directed by Erich Engel and starring Karl Valentin.Despite a lack of success at the time, its experimental inventiveness and the subsequent success of many of its contributors have meant that it is now considered one of the most important films in German film history. In May of that year, Brecht's In the Jungle premiered in Munich, also directed by Engel. Opening night proved to be a "scandal"—a phenomenon that would characterize many of his later productions during the Weimar Republic—in which Nazis blew whistles and threw stink bombs at the actors on the stage.
In 1924 Brecht worked with the novelist and playwright Lion Feuchtwanger (whom he had met in 1919) on an adaptation of Christopher Marlowe's Edward II that proved to be a milestone in Brecht's early theatrical and dramaturgical development.Brecht's Edward II constituted his first attempt at collaborative writing and was the first of many classic texts he was to adapt. As his first solo directorial début, he later credited it as the germ of his conception of "epic theatre". That September, a job as assistant dramaturg at Max Reinhardt's Deutsches Theater—at the time one of the leading three or four theatres in the world—brought him to Berlin.
In 1923 Brecht's marriage to Zoff began to break down (though they did not divorce until 1927).Brecht had become involved with both Elisabeth Hauptmann and Helene Weigel. Brecht and Weigel's son, Stefan, was born in October 1924.
In his role as dramaturg, Brecht had much to stimulate him but little work of his own.Reinhardt staged Shaw's Saint Joan , Goldoni's Servant of Two Masters (with the improvisational approach of the commedia dell'arte in which the actors chatted with the prompter about their roles), and Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author in his group of Berlin theatres. A new version of Brecht's third play, now entitled Jungle: Decline of a Family , opened at the Deutsches Theater in October 1924, but was not a success.
|In the asphalt city I'm at home. From the very start|
|Provided with every last sacrament:|
|With newspapers. And tobacco. And brandy|
|To the end mistrustful, lazy and content.|
|Bertolt Brecht, "Of Poor BB".|
At this time Brecht revised his important "transitional poem", "Of Poor BB".In 1925, his publishers provided him with Elisabeth Hauptmann as an assistant for the completion of his collection of poems, Devotions for the Home (Hauspostille, eventually published in January 1927). She continued to work with him after the publisher's commission ran out.
In 1925 in Mannheim the artistic exhibition Neue Sachlichkeit ("New Objectivity") had given its name to the new post-Expressionist movement in the German arts. With little to do at the Deutsches Theater, Brecht began to develop his Man Equals Man project, which was to become the first product of "the 'Brecht collective'—that shifting group of friends and collaborators on whom he henceforward depended."This collaborative approach to artistic production, together with aspects of Brecht's writing and style of theatrical production, mark Brecht's work from this period as part of the Neue Sachlichkeit movement. The collective's work "mirrored the artistic climate of the middle 1920s," Willett and Manheim argue:
with their attitude of Neue Sachlichkeit (or New Matter-of-Factness), their stressing of the collectivity and downplaying of the individual, and their new cult of Anglo-Saxon imagery and sport. Together the "collective" would go to fights, not only absorbing their terminology and ethos (which permeates Man Equals Man) but also drawing those conclusions for the theatre as a whole which Brecht set down in his theoretical essay "Emphasis on Sport" and tried to realise by means of the harsh lighting, the boxing-ring stage and other anti-illusionistic devices that henceforward appeared in his own productions.
In 1925, Brecht also saw two films that had a significant influence on him: Chaplin's The Gold Rush and Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin .Brecht had compared Valentin to Chaplin, and the two of them provided models for Galy Gay in Man Equals Man . Brecht later wrote that Chaplin "would in many ways come closer to the epic than to the dramatic theatre's requirements." They met several times during Brecht's time in the United States, and discussed Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux project, which it is possible Brecht influenced.
In 1926 a series of short stories was published under Brecht's name, though Hauptmann was closely associated with writing them. [ citation needed ] "When I read Marx's Capital ", a note by Brecht reveals, "I understood my plays." Marx was, it continues, "the only spectator for my plays I'd ever come across." Inspired by the developments in USSR Brecht wrote a number of agitprop plays, praising the bolshevik collectivism (replaceability of each member of the collective in Man Equals Man ) and red terror (The Decision).Following the production of Man Equals Man in Darmstadt that year, Brecht began studying Marxism and socialism in earnest, under the supervision of Hauptmann.
|For us, man portrayed on the stage is significant as a social function. It is not his relationship to himself, nor his relationship to God, but his relationship to society which is central. Whenever he appears, his class or social stratum appears with him. His moral, spiritual or sexual conflicts are conflicts with society.|
|Erwin Piscator, 1929.|
In 1927 Brecht became part of the "dramaturgical collective" of Erwin Piscator's first company, which was designed to tackle the problem of finding new plays for its "epic, political, confrontational, documentary theatre".Brecht collaborated with Piscator during the period of the latter's landmark productions, Hoppla, We're Alive! by Toller, Rasputin, The Adventures of the Good Soldier Schweik , and Konjunktur by Lania. Brecht's most significant contribution was to the adaptation of the unfinished episodic comic novel Schweik, which he later described as a "montage from the novel". The Piscator productions influenced Brecht's ideas about staging and design, and alerted him to the radical potentials offered to the "epic" playwright by the development of stage technology (particularly projections). What Brecht took from Piscator "is fairly plain, and he acknowledged it" Willett suggests:
The emphasis on Reason and didacticism, the sense that the new subject matter demanded a new dramatic form, the use of songs to interrupt and comment: all these are found in his notes and essays of the 1920s, and he bolstered them by citing such Piscatorial examples as the step-by-step narrative technique of Schweik and the oil interests handled in Konjunktur ('Petroleum resists the five-act form').
Brecht was struggling at the time with the question of how to dramatize the complex economic relationships of modern capitalism in his unfinished project Joe P. Fleischhacker (which Piscator's theatre announced in its programme for the 1927–28 season). It wasn't until his Saint Joan of the Stockyards (written between 1929–1931) that Brecht solved it.In 1928 he discussed with Piscator plans to stage Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Brecht's own Drums in the Night , but the productions did not materialize.
1927 also saw the first collaboration between Brecht and the young composer Kurt Weill.Together they began to develop Brecht's Mahagonny project, along thematic lines of the biblical Cities of the Plain but rendered in terms of the Neue Sachlichkeit's Amerikanismus, which had informed Brecht's previous work. They produced The Little Mahagonny for a music festival in July, as what Weill called a "stylistic exercise" in preparation for the large-scale piece. From that point on Caspar Neher became an integral part of the collaborative effort, with words, music and visuals conceived in relation to one another from the start. The model for their mutual articulation lay in Brecht's newly formulated principle of the "separation of the elements", which he first outlined in "The Modern Theatre Is the Epic Theatre" (1930). The principle, a variety of montage, proposed by-passing the "great struggle for supremacy between words, music and production" as Brecht put it, by showing each as self-contained, independent works of art that adopt attitudes towards one another.
In 1930 Brecht married Weigel; their daughter Barbara Brecht was born soon after the wedding.She also became an actress and would later hold the copyrights to all of Brecht's work.
Brecht formed a writing collective which became prolific and very influential. Elisabeth Hauptmann, Margarete Steffin, Emil Burri, Ruth Berlau and others worked with Brecht and produced the multiple teaching plays, which attempted to create a new dramaturgy for participants rather than passive audiences. These addressed themselves to the massive worker arts organisation that existed in Germany and Austria in the 1920s. So did Brecht's first great play, Saint Joan of the Stockyards , which attempts to portray the drama in financial transactions.
This collective adapted John Gay's The Beggar's Opera , with Brecht's lyrics set to music by Kurt Weill. Retitled The Threepenny Opera (Die Dreigroschenoper) it was the biggest hit in Berlin of the 1920s and a renewing influence on the musical worldwide. One of its most famous lines underscored the hypocrisy of conventional morality imposed by the Church, working in conjunction with the established order, in the face of working-class hunger and deprivation:
Erst kommt das Fressen
First the grub (lit. "eating like animals, gorging")
The success of The Threepenny Opera was followed by the quickly thrown together Happy End. It was a personal and a commercial failure. At the time the book was purported to be by the mysterious Dorothy Lane (now known to be Elisabeth Hauptmann, Brecht's secretary and close collaborator). Brecht only claimed authorship of the song texts. Brecht would later use elements of Happy End as the germ for his Saint Joan of the Stockyards, a play that would never see the stage in Brecht's lifetime. Happy End's score by Weill produced many Brecht/Weill hits like "Der Bilbao-Song" and "Surabaya-Jonny".
The masterpiece of the Brecht/Weill collaborations, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny), caused an uproar when it premiered in 1930 in Leipzig, with Nazis in the audience protesting. The Mahagonny opera would premier later in Berlin in 1931 as a triumphant sensation.
Brecht spent the last years of the Weimar-era (1930–1933) in Berlin working with his "collective" on the Lehrstücke. These were a group of plays driven by morals, music and Brecht's budding epic theatre. The Lehrstücke often aimed at educating workers on Socialist issues. The Measures Taken (Die Massnahme) was scored by Hanns Eisler. In addition, Brecht worked on a script for a semi-documentary feature film about the human impact of mass unemployment, Kuhle Wampe (1932), which was directed by Slatan Dudow. This striking film is notable for its subversive humour, outstanding cinematography by Günther Krampf, and Hanns Eisler's dynamic musical contribution. It still provides a vivid insight into Berlin during the last years of the Weimar Republic.
Fearing persecution, Brecht left Nazi Germany in February 1933, just after Hitler took power. After brief spells in Prague, Zurich and Paris he and Weigel accepted an invitation from journalist and author Karin Michaëlis to move to Denmark. The family first stayed with Karin Michaëlis at her house on the small island of Thurø close to the island of Funen. They later bought their own house in Svendborg on Funen. This house located at Skovsbo Strand 8 in Svendborg became the residence of the Brecht family for the next six years, where they often received guests including Walter Benjamin, Hanns Eisler and Ruth Berlau. During this period Brecht also travelled frequently to Copenhagen, Paris, Moscow, New York and London for various projects and collaborations.
When war seemed imminent in April 1939, he moved to Stockholm, Sweden, where he remained for a year.After Hitler invaded Norway and Denmark, Brecht left Sweden for Helsinki, Finland, where he lived and waited for his visa for the United States until 3 May 1941. During this time he wrote the play Mr Puntila and his Man Matti (Herr Puntila und sein Knecht Matti) with Hella Wuolijoki, with whom he lived in Marlebäck .
During the war years, Brecht became a prominent writer of the Exilliteratur.He expressed his opposition to the National Socialist and Fascist movements in his most famous plays: Life of Galileo , Mother Courage and Her Children , The Good Person of Szechwan , The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui , The Caucasian Chalk Circle , Fear and Misery of the Third Reich , and many others.
Brecht co-wrote the screenplay for the Fritz Lang-directed film Hangmen Also Die! which was loosely based on the 1942 assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi Deputy Reich Protector of the German-occupied Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Heinrich Himmler's right-hand man in the SS, and a chief architect of the Holocaust, who was known as "The Hangman of Prague." Hanns Eisler was nominated for an Academy Award for his musical score. The collaboration of three prominent refugees from Nazi Germany – Lang, Brecht and Eisler – is an example of the influence this generation of German exiles had on American culture.
Hangmen Also Die! was Brecht's only script for a Hollywood film. The money he earned from writing the film enabled him to write The Visions of Simone Machard , Schweik in the Second World War and an adaptation of Webster's The Duchess of Malfi .
In 1942 Brecht's reluctance to help Carola Neher, who died in a gulag death camp in the USSR after being arrested during the 1936 purges, caused much controversy among Russian emigrants in the West.
In the years of the Cold War and "Red Scare", Brecht was blacklisted by movie studio bosses and interrogated by the House Un-American Activities Committee.Along with about 41 other Hollywood writers, directors, actors and producers, he was subpoenaed to appear before the HUAC in September 1947. Although he was one of 19 witnesses who declared that they would refuse to appear, Brecht eventually decided to testify. He later explained that he had followed the advice of attorneys and had not wanted to delay a planned trip to Europe. On 30 October 1947 Brecht testified that he had never been a member of the Communist Party. He made wry jokes throughout the proceedings, punctuating his inability to speak English well with continuous references to the translators present, who transformed his German statements into English ones unintelligible to himself. HUAC vice-chairman Karl Mundt thanked Brecht for his co-operation. The remaining witnesses, the so-called Hollywood Ten, refused to testify and were cited for contempt. Brecht's decision to appear before the committee led to criticism, including accusations of betrayal. The day after his testimony, on 31 October, Brecht returned to Europe.
He lived Zurich in Switzerland for a year. In February 1948 in Chur, Brecht staged an adaptation of Sophocles' Antigone , based on a translation by Hölderlin. It was published under the title Antigonemodell 1948, accompanied by an essay on the importance of creating a "non-Aristotelian" form of theatre.
In 1949 he moved to East Berlin and established his theatre company there, the Berliner Ensemble. He retained his Austrian nationality (granted in 1950) and overseas bank accounts from which he received valuable hard currency remittances. The copyrights on his writings were held by a Swiss company.At the time he drove a pre-war DKW car—a rare luxury in the austere divided capital.
Though he was never a member of the Communist Party, Brecht had been schooled in Marxism by the dissident communist Karl Korsch. Korsch's version of the Marxist dialectic influenced Brecht greatly, both his aesthetic theory and theatrical practice. Brecht received the Stalin Peace Prize in 1954.
Brecht wrote very few plays in his final years in East Berlin, none of them as famous as his previous works. He dedicated himself to directing plays and developing the talents of the next generation of young directors and dramaturgs, such as Manfred Wekwerth, Benno Besson and Carl Weber. At this time he wrote some of his most famous poems, including the "Buckow Elegies".
At first Brecht apparently supported the measures taken by the East German government against the uprising of 1953 in East Germany, which included the use of Soviet military force. In a letter from the day of the uprising to SED First Secretary Walter Ulbricht, Brecht wrote that: "History will pay its respects to the revolutionary impatience of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany. The great discussion [exchange] with the masses about the speed of socialist construction will lead to a viewing and safeguarding of the socialist achievements. At this moment I must assure you of my allegiance to the Socialist Unity Party of Germany."
Brecht's subsequent commentary on those events, however, offered a very different assessment—in one of the poems in the Elegies, "Die Lösung" (The Solution), a disillusioned Brecht writes a few months later:
After the uprising of the 17th of June
Brecht died on 14 August 1956of a heart attack at the age of 58. He is buried in the Dorotheenstädtischer cemetery on Chausseestraße in the Mitte neighbourhood of Berlin, overlooked by the residence he shared with Helene Weigel.
According to Stephen Parker, who reviewed Brecht's writings and unpublished medical records, Brecht contracted rheumatic fever as a child, which led to an enlarged heart, followed by lifelong chronic heart failure and Sydenham's chorea. A report of a radiograph taken of Brecht in 1951 describes a badly diseased heart, enlarged to the left with a protruding aortic knob and with seriously impaired pumping. Brecht's colleagues described him as being very nervous, and sometimes shaking his head or moving his hands erratically. This can be reasonably attributed to Sydenham's chorea, which is also associated with emotional lability, personality changes, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and hyperactivity, which matched Brecht's behavior. "What is remarkable," wrote Parker, "is his capacity to turn abject physical weakness into peerless artistic strength, arrhythmia into the rhythms of poetry, chorea into the choreography of drama."
From his late twenties Brecht remained a lifelong committed Marxist [ citation needed ] who, in developing the combined theory and practice of his "epic theatre", synthesized and extended the experiments of Erwin Piscator and Vsevolod Meyerhold to explore the theatre as a forum for political ideas and the creation of a critical aesthetics of dialectical materialism.
Epic Theatre proposed that a play should not cause the spectator to identify emotionally with the characters or action before him or her, but should instead provoke rational self-reflection and a critical view of the action on the stage. Brecht thought that the experience of a climactic catharsis of emotion left an audience complacent. Instead, he wanted his audiences to adopt a critical perspective in order to recognise social injustice and exploitation and to be moved to go forth from the theatre and effect change in the world outside.For this purpose, Brecht employed the use of techniques that remind the spectator that the play is a representation of reality and not reality itself. By highlighting the constructed nature of the theatrical event, Brecht hoped to communicate that the audience's reality was equally constructed and, as such, was changeable.
Brecht's modernist concern with drama-as-a-medium led to his refinement of the "epic form" of the drama. This dramatic form is related to similar modernist innovations in other arts, including the strategy of divergent chapters in James Joyce's novel Ulysses , Sergei Eisenstein's evolution of a constructivist "montage" in the cinema, and Picasso's introduction of cubist "collage" in the visual arts.
One of Brecht's most important principles was what he called the Verfremdungseffekt (translated as "defamiliarization effect", "distancing effect", or "estrangement effect", and often mistranslated as "alienation effect").This involved, Brecht wrote, "stripping the event of its self-evident, familiar, obvious quality and creating a sense of astonishment and curiosity about them". To this end, Brecht employed techniques such as the actor's direct address to the audience, harsh and bright stage lighting, the use of songs to interrupt the action, explanatory placards, the transposition of text to the third person or past tense in rehearsals, and speaking the stage directions out loud.
In contrast to many other avant-garde approaches, however, Brecht had no desire to destroy art as an institution; rather, he hoped to "re-function" the theatre to a new social use. In this regard he was a vital participant in the aesthetic debates of his era—particularly over the "high art/popular culture" dichotomy—vying with the likes of Theodor W. Adorno, György Lukács, Ernst Bloch, and developing a close friendship with Walter Benjamin. Brechtian theatre articulated popular themes and forms with avant-garde formal experimentation to create a modernist realism that stood in sharp contrast both to its psychological and socialist varieties. "Brecht's work is the most important and original in European drama since Ibsen and Strindberg," Raymond Williams argues, while Peter Bürger dubs him "the most important materialist writer of our time."
Brecht was also influenced by Chinese theatre, and used its aesthetic as an argument for Verfremdungseffekt. Brecht believed, "Traditional Chinese acting also knows the alienation [sic] effect, and applies it most subtly.... The [Chinese] performer portrays incidents of utmost passion, but without his delivery becoming heated." Brecht attended a Chinese opera performance and was introduced to the famous Chinese opera performer Mei Lanfang in 1935. However, Brecht was sure to distinguish between Epic and Chinese theatre. He recognized that the Chinese style was not a "transportable piece of technique," and that Epic theatre sought to historicize and address social and political issues.
Brecht used his poetry to criticize European culture, including Nazis, and the German bourgeoisie. Brecht's poetry is marked by the effects of the First and Second World Wars. Many of the poems take a Marxist [ citation needed ] outlook.
Throughout his theatric production, poems are incorporated into this plays with music. In 1951, Brecht issued a recantation of his apparent suppression of poetry in his plays with a note titled On Poetry and Virtuosity. He writes:
We shall not need to speak of a play's poetry ... something that seemed relatively unimportant in the immediate past. It seemed not only unimportant, but misleading, and the reason was not that the poetic element had been sufficiently developed and observed, but that reality had been tampered with in its name ... we had to speak of a truth as distinct from poetry ... we have given up examining works of art from their poetic or artistic aspect, and got satisfaction from theatrical works that have no sort of poetic appeal ... Such works and performances may have some effect, but it can hardly be a profound one, not even politically. For it is a peculiarity of the theatrical medium that it communicates awarenesses and impulses in the form of pleasure: the depth of the pleasure and the impulse will correspond to the depth of the pleasure.
Brecht's most influential poetry is featured in his Manual of Piety (Devotions), establishing him as a noted poet.
Brecht's widow, the actress Helene Weigel, continued to manage the Berliner Ensemble until her death in 1971; it was primarily devoted to performing Brecht's plays.
Besides being an influential dramatist and poet, some scholars have stressed the significance of Brecht's original contributions in political and social philosophy.
Brecht's collaborations with Kurt Weill have had some influence in rock music. The "Alabama Song" for example, originally published as a poem in Brecht's Hauspostille (1927) and set to music by Weill in Mahagonny, has been recorded by The Doors, on their self-titled debut album, as well as by David Bowie and various other bands and performers since the 1960s.
Brecht's son, Stefan Brecht, became a poet and theatre critic interested in New York's avant-garde theatre.
Collective and collaborative working methods were inherent to Brecht's approach, as Fredric Jameson (among others) stresses. Jameson describes the creator of the work not as Brecht the individual, but rather as 'Brecht': a collective subject that "certainly seemed to have a distinctive style (the one we now call 'Brechtian') but was no longer personal in the bourgeois or individualistic sense." During the course of his career, Brecht sustained many long-lasting creative relationships with other writers, composers, scenographers, directors, dramaturgs and actors; the list includes: Elisabeth Hauptmann, Margarete Steffin, Ruth Berlau, Slatan Dudow, Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, Paul Dessau, Caspar Neher, Teo Otto, Karl von Appen, Ernst Busch, Lotte Lenya, Peter Lorre, Therese Giehse, Angelika Hurwicz, Carola Neher and Helene Weigel herself. This is "theatre as collective experiment [...] as something radically different from theatre as expression or as experience."
Entries show: English-language translation of title (German-language title) [year written] / [year first produced]
Brecht wrote hundreds of poems throughout his life. [ citation needed ]He began writing poetry as a young boy, and his first poems were published in 1914. His poetry was influenced by folk-ballads, French chansons, and the poetry of Rimbaud and Villon.
Some of Brecht's poems
Erwin Friedrich Maximilian Piscator was a German theatre director and producer and, along with Bertolt Brecht, the foremost exponent of epic theatre, a form that emphasizes the socio-political content of drama, rather than its emotional manipulation of the audience or the production's formal beauty.
Baal was the first full-length play written by the German modernist playwright Bertolt Brecht. It concerns a wastrel youth who becomes involved in several sexual affairs and at least one murder. It was written in 1918, when Brecht was a 20-year-old student at Munich University, in response to the expressionist drama The Loner by the soon-to-become-Nazi dramatist Hanns Johst.
Drums in the Night is a play by the German playwright Bertolt Brecht. Brecht wrote it between 1919 and 1920, and it received its first theatrical production in 1922. It is in the expressionist style of Ernst Toller and Georg Kaiser. The play—along with Baal and In the Jungle—won the Kleist Prize for 1922 ; the play was performed all over Germany as a result. Brecht later claimed that he had only written it as a source of income.
Karl Valentin was a Bavarian comedian, cabaret performer, clown, author and film producer. He had significant influence on German Weimar culture. Valentin starred in many silent films in the 1920s, and was sometimes called the "Charlie Chaplin of Germany". His work has an essential influence on artists like Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett, Loriot and Helge Schneider.
Refunctioning is a core strategy of the aesthetic developed by the German modernist theatre practitioner Bertolt Brecht.
The Baden-Baden Lesson on Consent is a Lehrstück by the German dramatist Bertolt Brecht, written in collaboration with Slatan Dudow and Elisabeth Hauptmann. Under the title Lehrstück it was first performed with music by Paul Hindemith as part of the Baden-Baden festival on 28 July 1929, at the Stadthalle, Baden-Baden, directed by Brecht, designed by Heinz Porep.
In the Jungle of Cities is a play by the German modernist playwright Bertolt Brecht. Written between 1921 and 1924, it received its first theatrical production under the title Im Dickicht at the Residenztheater in Munich, opening on 9 May 1923. This production was directed by Erich Engel, with set design by Caspar Neher. The cast included Otto Wernicke as Shlink the lumber dealer, Erwin Faber as George Garga, and Maria Koppenhöfer as his sister Mary. Im Dickicht was produced at Max Reinhardt's Deutsches Theater in Berlin, where Brecht had been employed as a dramaturg. The production opened on 29 October 1924, with the same director and scenographer, but in a cut version with a new prologue and the title Dickicht: Untergang einer Familie. Fritz Kortner played Shlink and Walter Frank played George, with Franziska Kinz, Paul Bildt, Mathias Wieman, and Gerda Müller also in the cast. Willett and Manheim report that this production "was not a success".
Round Heads and Pointed Heads is an epic parable play written by the German dramatist Bertolt Brecht, in collaboration with Margarete Steffin, Emil Burri, Elisabeth Hauptmann, and the composer Hanns Eisler. The play's subtitle is Money Calls to Money and its authors describe it as "a tale of horror." The play is a satirical anti-Nazi parable about a fictitious country called Yahoo in which the rulers maintain their control by setting the people with round heads against those with pointed heads, thereby substituting racial relations for their antagonistic class relations. The play is composed of 11 scenes in prose and blank verse and 13 songs. Unlike another of Brecht's plays from this period, The Mother, Round Heads and Pointed Heads was addressed to a wide audience, Brecht suggested, and took account of "purely entertainment considerations." Brecht's notes on the play, written in 1936, contain the earliest theoretical application of his "defamiliarization" principle to his own "non-Aristotelian" drama.
The Life of Edward II of England, also known as Edward II, is an adaptation by the German modernist playwright Bertolt Brecht of the 16th-century historical tragedy by Marlowe, The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward the Second, King of England, with the Tragical Fall of Proud Mortimer (c.1592). The play is set in England between 1307 and 1326. A prefatory note to the play reads:
Trumpets and Drums is an adaptation of an 18th-century English Restoration comedy by Farquhar, The Recruiting Officer. It was written by the German dramatist Bertolt Brecht in collaboration with Benno Besson and Elisabeth Hauptmann.
Driving Out a Devil is an early one-act farce by the 20th-century German dramatist Bertolt Brecht. It was written in prose, probably in 1919, and was first published in volume 13 of Brecht's Stücke. The play charts the attempts of a self-confident and manipulative Bavarian peasant boy to outwit the vigilant parents of a girl of his village. Ronald Hayman suggests that this play dramatises most clearly Brecht's own ability to influence people.
Mahagonny-Songspiel, also known as The Little Mahagonny, is a "small-scale 'scenic cantata'" written by the composer Kurt Weill and the dramatist Bertolt Brecht in 1927. Weill was commissioned in the spring to write one of a series of very short operas for performance that summer, and he chose to use the opportunity to create a "stylistic exercise" as preparation for a larger-scale project that they had begun to develop together, their experimental 'epic opera' The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (1930).
Coriolanus is an unfinished German adaptation by the modernist playwright Bertolt Brecht of the English 17th-century tragedy by William Shakespeare. Brecht wrote it sometime between 1951 and 1953. This adaptation reveals the influence of Mao Tse-tung on Brecht's social thought especially the idea of primary and secondary contradictions which Mao discussed in his treatise On Contradiction. Brecht alluded to this text and discusses his development on the original and his ideas for its staging in an essay entitled "Study of the First Scene of Shakespeare's Coriolanus", which is written in the form of a dialogue with his collaborators at the Berliner Ensemble theatre company. The play was first staged by Heinrich Koch at the Frankfurt Schauspielhaus theatre, where it opened on 22 September 1962. It was later staged by the Berliner Ensemble in September 1964. Ruth Berghaus became famous for her staging of the slaughter scenes in this production. The play was published in an English translation by Ralph Manheim in volume nine of Brecht's Collected Plays.
Turandot or the Whitewashers' Congress is an epic comedy by the German modernist playwright Bertolt Brecht. It was written during the summer of 1953 in Buckow and substantially revised in light of a brief period of rehearsals in 1954, though it was still incomplete at the time of Brecht's death in 1956 and did not receive its first production until several years later. It premièred on 5 February 1969 at the Zürich Schauspielhaus, in a production directed by Benno Besson and Horst Sagert, with music by Yehoshua Lakner.
Arnolt Bronnen was an Austrian playwright and director.
The Good Person of Szechwan is a play written by the German theatre practitioner Bertolt Brecht, in collaboration with Margarete Steffin and Ruth Berlau. The play was begun in 1938 but not completed until 1941, while the author was in exile in the United States. It was first performed in 1943 at the Zürich Schauspielhaus in Switzerland, with a musical score and songs by Swiss composer Huldreich Georg Früh. Today, Paul Dessau's composition of the songs from 1947-48, also authorized by Brecht, is the better-known version. The play is an example of Brecht's "non-Aristotelian drama", a dramatic form intended to be staged with the methods of epic theatre. The play is a parable set in the Chinese "city of Sichuan".
Teo Otto (1904–1968) was a Swiss stage designer. He trained in Kassel and Paris and in 1926 taught at the Bauhaus in Weimar. In 1928 he became an assistant at the Berlin Staatsoper. Following the Nazis' seizure of power in Germany, he returned to Switzerland where he was resident designer at the Zürich Schauspielhaus for 25 years.
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