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"Neue Sachlichkeit, Political Music, or Vernacular Avantgarde?
Hanns Eisler and his Contemporaries"

Copenhagen, 17–19 September 2015
International conference organized by the Internationale Hanns Eisler Gesellschaft, the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen and The Royal Library, Copenhagen.
Main venue: Karen Blixen Hall at The Royal Library, Søren Kierkegaards Plads 1, Copenhagen
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Neue Sachlichkeit, Political Music, or Vernacular Avantgarde?
Hanns Eisler and his Contemporaries. Copenhagen, 17–19 September 2015

The idea that modern art should be useful in society instead of being confined to small circles of connoisseurs and that artists, composers, and musicians should act as highly skilled artisans instead of considering themselves bohemians or geniuses had a powerful renaissance in the decades following the First World War. Hanns Eisler (1898-1962) and German contemporaries such as Kurt Weill and Paul Hindemith as well as Danish composers such as Jørgen Bentzon, Otto Mortensen and Bernhard Christensen embodied this trend. They had all experienced what Eisler called ‘the terrible isolation of modern music’, by which he meant the institutionalized seclusion of modernist music from a wider audience. In order to have social relevance music should appeal to an audience with a need for music that serves a specific purpose. This meant breaking down barriers between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, ‘serious’ and ‘light’ music, and between genres considered as ‘art’ and those merely as ‘craft’. Strategies involved composing music for amateurs, children and for music education, for films, plays and operas, as well as songs for political rallies, demonstrations, cabarets and choirs.
No doubt a political agenda was at stake in the attempt to provide socially relevant, useful and progressive music. The desire to have an impact on social reality made it essential to communicate with a specific audience. Even so, labelling these efforts ‘political’ music limits the focus to openly political genres or only to certain aspects of the works in mind. On the other hand, terms such as Gebrauchsmusik or applied music (angewandte Musik) remain embroiled in earlier disputes. In order to rethink these issues the conference aims to consider the mind-set of these composers and artists as an embodiment of a large-scale attempt to reformulate basic assumptions concerning the relationship between art and its audience, between notions of artistic value and function, and between modernity and accessibility. Broader concepts such as Neue Sachlichkeit (in the Nordic countries also referred to as kulturradikalisme [cultural radicalism]) or vernacular avant-garde may be more adequate to the task, if one wishes to grasp the depth of attempts to transform hierarchies of value and genre perceptions and, at the same time, the diverse ways in which these efforts manifest themselves in stylistic terms.
Key note speakers
Prof. Stephen Hinton (Stanford University)
Univ.-Prof. Dr. Nils Grosch (Universität Salzburg).
Stephen Hinton is a distinguished scholar within the field since his seminal monograph The Idea of Gebrauchsmusik (1989) and has published extensively on Kurt Weill and his contemporaries.
Nils Grosch has contributed significantly to the core of the matter with his book Die Musik der Neuen Sachlichkeit (1999) and a number of publications on popular music theatre.
Programme Committee
Prof. Dr. Michael Fjeldsøe, University of Copenhagen
Prof. emer. Niels Krabbe, The Royal Library, Copenhagen
Dr. Peter Schweinhardt, Berlin
Peter Deeg, Berlin

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