EXILKABARETT, Hanns Eisler and Kirsten Volness

25 Apr


I’m really excited that EXILKABARETT will be joining HNMF this year. I play piano in this group, and its been really great watching the group transform over the past few years. EXILKABARETT incorporates aspects of theater, art song, cabaret and video in its historically-informed performances that explore the theme of exile in its many forms. Much of our performance material comes out of Weimar-era cabaret and the art forms that were produced in this time.

For HNMF, we will be performing music from Hanns Eisler’s Hollywood Liederbuch (completed in 1943) with texts by Bertholt Brecht, Berthold Viertel, Arthur Rimbaud and Eisler, as well as a new set of songs on texts by Erika Mann by Providence-based composer Kirsten Volness. I asked Kirsten to write some more about the songs she wrote for us to help provide some context for our performance:

In 1933, as the Nazis were coming to power in Germany, Erika Mann, her brother Klaus, and Therese Giehse founded the Peppermill Cabaret in Münich.  Persecuted for their sexuality and wry political commentary, this troupe of social outcasts were soon exiled, their lives under threat, and they brought their anti-Fascist cabaret to Zurich and later New York.

When EXILKABARETT asked me to set three of Mann’s texts, I found them to be extraordinarily powerful protest songs with messages that are still relevant today.  Frau X (Ms. X) tells the tale of public apathy and complacency exhibited among the German people as the Third Reich began committing the atrocities of World War II.  Kälte (Cold) has a similar theme, asking “Why are we so cold?” and ends with an empowering plea to action and the reassurance that “light must prevail in the end.”  Mann der stunde (Man of the Hour) is a satirical portrait of Hitler himself, the haughty executioner on whom the tables are eventually turned.

I wanted these three new songs to fit seamlessly with the rest of the show, so I tried to write them “in the style of” Schubert and Kurt Weill while leaving enough freedom for my creative voice and other influences to coexist (including a few inside jokes/quotes you might notice and my shameless penchant for catchy pop songs).  I’m honored to have been able to collaborate with such a great group of musicians who bring interesting and thoughtful work to life with the kind of uninhibited raucousness a good cabaret demands!

— Kirsten Volness

Here’s a performance of Kälte, performed by Jessica Goldring and Bill Solomon at Dixon Place in NYC on Oct 26, 2010.


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