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Brecht boycott in Vienna

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As part of an anti-communist campaign in Austria against the author Bertolt Brecht, his work was boycotted for ten years. Between 1953 and 1963, no established Viennese theater performed his works. The initiators were the publicists Hans Weigel and Friedrich Torberg as well as the Burgtheater director Ernst Haeussermann.

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Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht

Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht, known professionally as Bertolt Brecht, was a German theatre practitioner, playwright, and poet. Coming of age during the Weimar Republic, he had his first successes as a playwright in Munich and moved to Berlin in 1924, where he wrote The Threepenny Opera with Kurt Weill and began a life-long collaboration with the composer Hanns Eisler. Immersed in Marxist thought during this period, he wrote didactic Lehrstücke and became a leading theoretician of epic theatre and the Verfremdungseffekt.

Hans Weigel

Hans Weigel

Julius Hans Weigel was an Austrian Jewish writer and a theater critic. He lived in Vienna, except during the period between 1938 and 1945, when he lived in exile in Switzerland. He was a lifetime companion of the Austrian actress Elfriede Ott.

Friedrich Torberg

Friedrich Torberg

Friedrich Torberg is the pen-name of Friedrich Kantor, an Austrian writer.

Burgtheater

Burgtheater

The Burgtheater, originally known as K.K. Theater an der Burg, then until 1918 as the K.K. Hofburgtheater, is the national theater of Austria in Vienna. It is the most important German-language theater and one of the most important theatres in the world. The Burgtheater was opened in 1741 and has become known as "die Burg" by the Viennese population; its theater company has created a traditional style and speech typical of Burgtheater performances.

Ernst Haeussermann

Ernst Haeussermann

Ernst Haeussermann was a German-born Austrian theatre director and actor. Haeussermann was the son of the actor Reinhold Häussermann. Because of his Jewish origins, he was forced to flee Austria after the Anschluss of 1938. He settled in the United States, and appeared in small roles in several Hollywood productions. He returned to Austria after the war, and he worked in the country's most prominent theatres. He was married twice: first to Johanna Lothar, a fellow émigré he met in America and later to the actress Susi Nicoletti.

Brecht's Citizenship

Bertolt Brecht's plays were rarely performed in Vienna in the 1920s and 1930s, and even immediately after the Second World War there were only occasional productions of his dramas. In 1946, for example, The Good Person of Sezuan was performed with Paula Wessely and Albin Skoda at the Theater in der Josefstadt; Rudolf Steinboeck was the director. In 1948, Leopold Lindtberg directed Mother Courage and Her Children at Vienna's La Scala with Therese Giehse in the title role and in 1952, the Volkstheater staged The Threepenny Opera with Hans Putz and Inge Konradi.

Brecht was stateless after the National Socialists revoked his German citizenship in 1935. A scandal ensued when, on the recommendation of the composer Gottfried von Einem, who was a member of the directorate of the Salzburg Festival, he was granted Austrian citizenship in Salzburg on April 12, 1950. The Austrian public, however, was not informed and when it became known through an indiscretion in the fall of 1951, a storm of protest ensued. Brecht had been living in East Berlin since 1948 and was considered a sympathizer of the East-German Communist regime.[1]

The leading theaters, above all the Vienna Burgtheater and the Theater in der Josefstadt, henceforth refused to play Brecht. Gottfried von Einem was expelled from the Festival Board at the instigation of Josef Klaus, governor of Salzburg, for "undermining the Festival." At a meeting of the Salzburg Festival Board of Trustees on October 31, 1951, Klaus insulted von Einem as a "disgrace to Austria" and a "liar" and demanded his immediate dismissal.[2]

Headlines included "Cultural Bolshevik Atomic Bomb Dropped on Austria" (Salzburger Nachrichten) and "Who Smuggled the Communist Horse into German Rome?" (Die Neue Front). Other newspapers spoke of the "devil's poet," the "literary spawn," and "the greatest cultural scandal of the Second Republic." Brecht was now discredited in Austria's official cultural scene, and a collaboration with the Salzburg Festival failed, although Brecht had been envisaged by Gottfried von Einem to lead a "renewal of the Festival" and had been planning a "counter-Jedermann" for the Festival since 1949.

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The Good Person of Szechwan

The Good Person of Szechwan

The Good Person of Szechwan is a play written by the German dramatist 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".

Paula Wessely

Paula Wessely

Paula Anna Maria Wessely was an Austrian theatre and film actress. Die Wessely, as she was affectionately called by her admirers and fans, was Austria's foremost popular postwar actress.

Albin Skoda

Albin Skoda

Albin Skoda (1909–1961) was an Austrian stage and film actor. He played the lead role of Adolf Hitler in the 1955 film The Last Ten Days by Georg Wilhelm Pabst. The same year he also appeared as the composer Antonio Salieri in Karl Hartl's Mozart.

Rudolf Steinboeck

Rudolf Steinboeck

Rudolf Steinboeck (1908–1996) was an Austrian theatre actor and director. He also directed and acted in several films. He was married to the actress Aglaja Schmid.

Leopold Lindtberg

Leopold Lindtberg

Leopold Lindtberg was an Austrian Swiss film and theatre director. He fled Austria due to the Machtergreifung in Germany and ultimately settled in Switzerland.

Mother Courage and Her Children

Mother Courage and Her Children

Mother Courage and Her Children is a play written in 1939 by the German dramatist and poet Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956), with significant contributions from Margarete Steffin. Four theatrical productions were produced in Switzerland and Germany from 1941 to 1952, the last three supervised and/or directed by Brecht, who had returned to East Germany from the United States.

Hans Putz

Hans Putz

Hans Putz was an Austrian actor. He had a stage career, including working at the Schauspielhaus Zürich and the Volkstheater in Vienna; he also appeared in a number of films.

Inge Konradi

Inge Konradi

Inge Konradi was an Austrian stage and film actress.

Gottfried von Einem

Gottfried von Einem

Gottfried von Einem was an Austrian composer. He is known chiefly for his operas influenced by the music of Stravinsky and Prokofiev, as well as by jazz. He also composed pieces for piano, violin and organ.

Josef Klaus

Josef Klaus

Josef Klaus was an Austrian politician of the conservative People's Party (ÖVP). He served as State Governor (Landeshauptmann) of Salzburg from 1949 to 1961, as Minister of Finance from 1961 to 1963 and as Chancellor of Austria from 1964 to 1970.

Salzburg Festival

Salzburg Festival

The Salzburg Festival is a prominent festival of music and drama established in 1920. It is held each summer in the Austrian town of Salzburg, the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. One highlight is the annual performance of the play Jedermann (Everyman) by Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

Jedermann (play)

Jedermann (play)

Jedermann. Das Spiel vom Sterben des reichen Mannes is a play by the Austrian playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal. It is based on several medieval mystery plays, including the late 15th-century English morality play Everyman. It was first performed on 1 December 1911 in Berlin, directed by Max Reinhardt at the Circus Schumann. Since 1920, it has been performed regularly at the Salzburg Festival.

Torberg and Weigel

Hans Weigel lecturing in the Vienna Hofburg on the occasion of the 1974 Book Week.
Hans Weigel lecturing in the Vienna Hofburg on the occasion of the 1974 Book Week.

In the climate of the Cold War, a polemical media campaign had raged against Brecht's work and person, making it almost impossible for Viennese theaters to perform his plays. They were dismissed as propaganda for the Eastern Bloc. Brecht's dismissive attitude toward the June 17, 1953 uprising in the GDR, whose violent suppression by Soviet troops he apparently approved of, strengthened the front of his Western opposition. In mid-1953, Brecht declared his solidarity with the SED in a letter to Walter Ulbricht and Otto Grotewohl and sanctioned its measures.

In 1954, Hans Weigel and Friedrich Torberg launched a campaign against Brecht performances in Vienna.[3] In the political-literary magazine FORVM (whose sponsor at the time was the CIA field organization "Congrès pour la Liberté de la Culture").[2]

After a performance of Brecht's "Mother Courage and Her Children" at the Graz Opera House on May 30, 1958, FORVM offered thirteen Brecht opponents a platform under the title "Should Brecht be Played in the West?" Hans Weigel demanded that theaters must avoid Brecht and Friedrich Torberg argued vehemently against "softening" the anti-Communist front.[4]

The theater magazine "Die Bühne" joined in the anti-Brecht campaign by printing the refusals of theater directors Franz Stoß and Ernst Haeussermann to play Brecht.

Günther Nenning, on the other hand, advocated a performance of Brecht's works in FORVM despite certain misgivings.

The few voices that opposed the boycott, such as Friedrich Heer, were denounced as "crypto-communists." In return, Heer called Hans Weigel a "little McCarthy," which earned him a conviction for libel.

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Eastern Bloc media and propaganda

Eastern Bloc media and propaganda

Eastern Bloc media and propaganda was controlled directly by each country's communist party, which controlled the state media, censorship and propaganda organs. State and party ownership of print, television and radio media served as an important manner in which to control information and society in light of Eastern Bloc leaderships viewing even marginal groups of opposition intellectuals as a potential threat to the bases underlying communist power therein.

Walter Ulbricht

Walter Ulbricht

Walter Ernst Paul Ulbricht was a German communist politician. Ulbricht played a leading role in the creation of the Weimar-era Communist Party of Germany (KPD) and later in the early development and establishment of the German Democratic Republic. As the First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party from 1950 to 1971, he was the chief decision-maker in East Germany. From President Wilhelm Pieck's death in 1960 on, he was also the East German head of state until his own death in 1973. As the leader of a significant Communist satellite, Ulbricht had a degree of bargaining power with the Kremlin that he used effectively. For example, he demanded the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 when the Kremlin was reluctant.

Otto Grotewohl

Otto Grotewohl

Otto Emil Franz Grotewohl was a German politician who served as the first prime minister of the German Democratic Republic from its foundation in October 1949 until his death in September 1964.

Günther Nenning

Günther Nenning

Günther Nenning was an Austrian journalist, author, and political activist.

Friedrich Heer

Friedrich Heer

Friedrich Heer was an Austrian historian born in Vienna.

The New Theater at La Scala

Only the New Theater at La Scala, an ensemble of returned émigrés and committed anti-fascists (many of them communists), located in the Soviet occupation sector of Vienna, devoted itself to Brecht's plays. In 1953, under the artistic direction of Bertolt Brecht himself, Manfred Wekwerth staged Die Mutter with Helene Weigel, Ernst Busch and Otto Tausig, a re-staging of the Berlin Ensemble's production from January 1951. Shortly before the premiere, the Theaterfreunde, Scala's audience organization, organized another Brecht evening in which the choir of Brown-Boveri, a Soviet-administered company, sang songs composed by Hanns Eisler. However, "Scala" was boycotted by the press and became a battle site in the cultural Cold War in Austria.

Torberg and Weigel accused Scala of staging allegedly "communist tendency plays". The actors were dubbed "communist agents" by Hans Weigel.

When the Communist Party stopped financial support for La Scala after the withdrawal of the Soviet occupying powers, the theater had to close in 1956. Karl Paryla played the title role in Brecht's Life of Galileo one last time at La Scala in 1956. Paryla, his wife Hortense Raky, the Scala director Wolfgang Heinz and the actress Erika Pelikowsky then found a new artistic home at Brecht's own theater in Berlin, the Berliner Ensemble, since there were no more engagements for them in Austria.

Breaking the boycott

In the 1962/63 season, Vienna's Volkstheater, under the direction of Leon Epp, ventured to stage a play by Bertolt Brecht again for the first time: it was Mother Courage and Her Children, directed by Gustav Manker.[5] His theater was even offered money to cancel the show. The production had previously been postponed several times, first due to the illness of actress Dorothea Neff and most recently because of the building of the Berlin Wall. The performance was a gamble; the press spoke of a "blockade breaker" premiere on February 23, 1963 (with Dorothea Neff, who was awarded the Kainz Medal for her performance, in the title role, Fritz Muliar as the cook, Ulrich Wildgruber as Schweizerkas, Ernst Meister as the army chaplain, Hilde Sochor as Yvette, Kurt Sowinetz as the canvasser, and Paola Löw, later Friedrich Torberg's partner, as the mute Kathrin). Manker subsequently staged The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1964), Saint Joan of the Stockyards (1965) and The Good Person of Sezuan (1968) at the Volkstheater, thus setting a reappraisal of Brecht's work into motion.[6]

The Caucasian Chalk Circle (with Hilde Sochor as Grusche, Fritz Muliar as village judge Azdak and Kurt Sowinetz as Schauwa) earned "unanimous, almost demonstrative applause for Vienna's bravest theater" in 1964 (Ernst Lothar on April 27, 1964 in the "Express"). The "Salzburger Nachrichten" wrote: "If Brecht's banishment was interrupted for the first time with 'Mother Courage', it now seems to have been lifted with the 'Chalk Circle'" and "Die Bühne" called the performance a "theatrical event". The "Wiener Montag," however, still saw in the play "a pure Marxist doctrinal demonstration" and wrote: "After three hours of 'pleasure,' one left the theater ice-cold to the fingertips and disgusted by such political rallies on stage."

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Leon Epp

Leon Epp

Leon Epp was an Austrian music director, theatre director and actor.

Gustav Manker

Gustav Manker

Gustav Manker was an Austrian theatre and TV film director and stage designer. From 1968 to 1979 he was the director of the Volkstheater in Vienna. His TV films include Das Konzert (1971), Gegen Torheit gibt es kein Mittel (1974) and Das Märchen (1976). His son Paulus is also a reputable film director and actor.

Dorothea Neff

Dorothea Neff

Dorothea Neff was a Vienna stage actress during the 1930s. Neff helped hide her Jewish friend Lilli Wolff, after she received resettlement orders from the Nazis to leave Vienna. To confuse the Gestapo, Neff wrote a suicide note and signed it 'Lilli' and left it in her apartment. Neff allowed Lilli to live with her for a short time and later Lilli moved in with Mati Driessen and Meta Schmidt. Driessen and Schmidt were honored in Yad Vashem in Israel as Righteous Among the Nations. She later moved from the stage to the cinema, acting up until her death in 1986.

Fritz Muliar

Fritz Muliar

Fritz Muliar, born as Friedrich Ludwig Stand, was an Austrian actor who, due to his huge popularity, is often referred to by his countrymen as Volksschauspieler.

Ulrich Wildgruber

Ulrich Wildgruber

Ulrich Wildgruber was a German actor. He started working on stage in 1963 and is best known for playing Othello in the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg. He also played in more than fifty films from 1970 to 1999. Wildgruber committed suicide at the age of 62.

Ernst Meister

Ernst Meister

Ernst Meister was a German poet and writer.

Paola Loew

Paola Loew

Paola Loew (1934–1999) was an Austrian stage and film actress.

Saint Joan of the Stockyards

Saint Joan of the Stockyards

Saint Joan of the Stockyards is a play written by the German modernist playwright Bertolt Brecht between 1929 and 1931, after the success of his musical The Threepenny Opera and during the period of his radical experimental work with the Lehrstücke. It is based on the musical that he co-authored with Elisabeth Hauptmann, Happy End (1929). In this version of the story of Joan of Arc, Brecht transforms her into "Joan Dark", a member of the "Black Straw Hats" in 20th-century Chicago. The play charts Joan's battle with Pierpont Mauler, the unctuous owner of a meat-packing plant. Like her predecessor, Joan is a doomed woman, a martyr and an innocent in a world of strike-breakers, fat cats, and penniless workers. Like many of Brecht's plays it is laced with humor and songs as part of its epic dramaturgical structure and deals with the theme of emancipation from material suffering and exploitation.

Other theaters

There were isolated exceptions to the Brecht boycott at theaters outside of Vienna. The Graz Opera House performed Mother Courage on May 30, 1958. At the Salzburg Landestheater, Fritz Klingenbeck dared to perform Brecht's The Good Person of Sezuan in 1960.[7] In 1963, the State Theater of Linz also performed Mother Courage. Finally, in the spring of 1964, there were performances of The Caucasian Chalk Circle in Linz and Klagenfurt.

On December 14, 1958, as part of a guest performance by the Deutsches Theater Berlin, an evening of songs and recitations was held at the Vienna Konzerthaus. The Brecht matinee included "Songs. Poems. Stories." which had been performed for the first time in Berlin on February 10, 1957. The majority of the Viennese press kept quiet about the concert. In the Volksstimme, the central organ of the Austrian Communist Party, Edmund Theodor Kauer took the Brecht evening as an opportunity to criticize the continuing Brecht boycott."

1966 saw Brecht's first performance at Vienna's Burgtheater, Life of Galileo directed by Kurt Meisel with Curd Jürgens in the title role.

In the Federal Republic of Germany, too, a Brecht boycott was propagated intermittently in 1953 and after the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, but it did not catch on. The Munich critic Joachim Kaiser called the Austrian "Brecht boycott" a "remarkable journalistic triumph.

As late as 1973, in the course of the Forum Stadtpark's split from the Austrian P.E.N. Club, Alfred Kolleritsch and Klaus Hoffer called Friedrich Torberg a "Brecht-blocker" and "CIA protégé" in the magazine manuskripte, which resulted in a libel case.

Source: "Brecht boycott in Vienna", Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, (2023, January 26th), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brecht_boycott_in_Vienna.

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Sources
  • Kurt Palm: Vom Boykott zur Anerkennung. Brecht und Österreich. Löcker, Wien / München 1983, ISBN 3-85409-064-1.
  • Joachim Kaiser: Heißer Krieg gegen kühle Dramen. Zu Torbergs Anti-Brecht-Thesen. In: Der Monat 14 (1961).
References
  1. ^ "Der Brecht-Boykott. Als Kommunist verpönt." In: oe1.orf.at, 16 August 2006, seen 7 November 2020.
  2. ^ a b McVeigh, Joseph (2015). "The Cold War in the Coffeehouse: Hans Weigel and His Circle of Writers in the Café Raimund". Journal of Austrian Studies. 48 (3): 65–87.
  3. ^ Axmann, David (2008). Friedrich Torberg : die Biografie. München: LangenMüller. ISBN 978-3-7844-3138-3. OCLC 221130663.
  4. ^ Friedrich Torberg: Dreierlei Theater. In: FORVM, vol. 5, no. 55/56, July/August 1958.
  5. ^ Spurensuche Vater : Bühnenbildner, Regisseur, Prinzipal. Paulus Manker (2. Aufl ed.). Wien: Amalthea. 2010. ISBN 978-3-85002-738-0. OCLC 880004937.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  6. ^ "Brecht in die Burg" [Brecht drama at Vienna's Burgtheater]. Der Spiegel (in German). 30 October 1966. Retrieved 26 January 2023.
  7. ^ Palm, Kurt (1983). Vom Boykott zur Anerkennung : Brecht und Österreich. Wien: Löcker. ISBN 3-85409-049-8. OCLC 10224002.

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