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Hanns Eisler: Die Maßnahme

  • for tenor 3 speakers, mixed choir and small orchestra
  • Duration: 58’
  • Instrumentation details:
    1st horn in F
    2nd horn in F
    1st trumpet in Bb
    2nd trumpet in Bb
    3rd trumpet in Bb
    1st trombone
    2nd trombone
    1st, 2nd timpani
  • Choir: SSAATTBB
  • Composer: Hanns Eisler
  • Text author: Bertolt Brecht
  • Translator: John Willit

Work introduction

Brecht used the words “[It] is an attempt to use a didactic play to cultivate a certain intervening attitude” to preface his play Die Maßnahme, which recounts the story of a task, an action taken involving various means and decisions.

Four agitators are debating their decision. Five of them had been assigned the task of supporting the Communist movement in China. The youngest of them had acted according to “his heart,” flouting laws and thereby endangering all of them and the assignment. With his consent, the other four killed the youngest one and threw his body into a lime-pit – thus also mutually agreeing to expunge any traces of suspicion. *

The piece ends with an argument about principles – how grossly one may breach fundamental moral tenets when combating oppression and exploitation.

This is another didactic work which Brecht modelled on Japanese Noh theatre. It was hotly controversial after its first performance in 1930; Brecht made a second version in 1932.

Due to possible misunderstandings of the play’s political orientation, Brecht forbade its performance; the prohibition was lifted for his 100th birthday in 1998.


* Excerpts from the programme booklet, Dresden State Playhouse, 2000/2001 season



The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

World première

Philharmonie, Berlin (DE)
Karl Rankl
Main soloists:
A. M. Topitz, T; Helene Weigel, Ernst Busch, Alexander Granach - narrators

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