Bertolt Brecht

Influential German poet, playwright, and theatre director Bertolt Brecht was born 10 February 1898 in in Augsburg, Bavaria. Berthold’s mother taught Brecht the Bible and the “dangers of the self denying woman” which both influenced his later writing. When he was 16, the First World War broke out. Initially enthusiastic, Brecht soon changed his mind on seeing his classmates “swallowed by the army”. So Brecht registered for an additional medical course at Munich University instead, and studied drama. 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). Some time in either 1920 or 1921, Brecht took a small part in the political cabaret of the Munich comedian Karl Valentin whom he compared to Charlie Chaplin.

Brecht’s first full-length play, Baal was written 1918 and Brecht completed his second play, Drums in the Night in February 1919. Brecht made equally significant contributions to dramaturgy and theatrical production, by touring with the Berliner Ensemble – the post-war theatre company operated by Brecht. He was also awarded the prestigious Kleist Prize (intended for unestablished writers and probably Germany’s most significant literary award for his first three plays (Baal, Drums in the Night, and In the Jungle. 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, which it is now considered one of the most important films in German film history. In May 1923, 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 on an adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II that proved to be a milestone in Brecht’s early theatrical and dramaturgical development.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 his role as dramaturg, Brecht had much to stimulate him but little work of his own.[26] Reinhardt staged Shaw’s Saint Joan, Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters 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,also opened at the Deutsches Theater in October 1924.

In 1925, he completed his collection of poems, Devotions for the Home. 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. Brecht also 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 (New Matter-of-Factness)which stressed the collective and downplayed of the individual. In 1925, Brecht also saw two films that had a significant influence on him: Chaplin’s The Gold Rush and Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin.In 1926 a series of short stories was published under Brecht’s name, and also produced the play Man Equals Man. 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”, this 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. Brecht was struggling at the time with the question of how to dramatize the complex economic relationships of modern capitalism. 1927 also saw the first collaboration between Brecht and the young composer Kurt Weill.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. Together they began to develop Brecht’s Mahagonny project, and In 1930 Brecht formed a writing collective which became prolific and very influential.

Brecht’s first great play, Saint Joan of the Stockyards, attempted to portray the drama in financial transactions. The collective also 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 working in conjunction with the established order, in the face of working-class hunger and deprivation.The success of The Threepenny Opera was followed by the quickly thrown together Happy End and Brecht used elements of Happy End in Saint Joan of the Stockyards,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 early 1930′s 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 and were often aimed at educating workers on Socialist issues. These included The Measures Taken (Die Massnahme), Kuhle Wampe (1932), which is notable for its subversive humour, outstanding cinematography and still provides a vivid insight into Berlin during the last years of the Weimar Republic Brecht was also influenced by The so-called “Westend Berlin Scene”.

In 1933 Brecht left Germany Fearing persecution from the Nazis. After brief spells in Prague, Zurich and Paris he and Weigel moved to Denmark, where they settled in a house in Svendborg on the island of Funen. Brecht also travelled to Copenhagen, Paris, Moscow, New York and London . in April 1939, he moved to Stockholm, Sweden, where he remained for a year. 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 also 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 Reich Protector of German-occupied Prague, number-two man in the SS, and a chief architect of the Holocaust, who was known as “The Hangman of Prague. he then wrote The Visions of Simone Machard, Schweik in the Second World War and an adaptation of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi. Hanns Eisler was nominated for an Academy Award for his musical score.

Brecht and Weigel also protested on the roof of the Berliner Ensemble during the International Workers’ Day demonstrations in 1954 and 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. In 1947 Brecht testified that he had never been a member of the Communist Party 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. In Chur in Switzerland, 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.An offer for his own theatre and theatre company (the Berliner Ensemble) encouraged Brecht to return to Berlin in 1949.Though he was never a member of the Communist Party, Brecht had been deeply schooled in Marxism by the dissident communist Karl Korsch and Brecht received the Stalin Peace Prize in 1954.At first Brecht 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. Brecht’s subsequent commentary on those events, however, offered a different assessment— especially in one of the poems in the Elegies, “Die Lösung” (The Solution). Although Brecht wrote very few plays in his final years in East Berlin, Some of his most famous poems, including the “Buckow Elegies”, were written at this time. He is buried in the Dorotheenstädtischer cemetery on Chausseestraße in the Mitte neighbourhood of Berlin. Brecht sadly died on 14 August 1956 of a heart attack at the age of 58 however he leaves behind a rich legacy.

Boris Pasternak

Russian poet and novelist Boris Leonidovich Pasternak was born 10 February 1890. At first Pasternak aspired first to be a musician. Inspired by Scriabin, Pasternak studied at the Moscow Conservatory. In 1910 he abruptly left for the German University of Marburg, where he studied under Neo-Kantian philosophers Hermann Cohen and Nicolai Hartmann. Although Professor Cohen encouraged him to remain in Germany and to pursue a Philosophy doctorate, Pasternak decided against it. and returned to Moscow upon the outbreak of World War I. His first poetry anthology was published later that year.

During World War I, Pasternak taught and worked at a chemical factory in Vsevolodovo-Vilve near Perm, which undoubtedly provided him with material for Dr. Zhivago. Unlike the rest of his family and many of his closest friends, Pasternak chose not to leave Russia after the October Revolution of 1917. remained in Moscow throughout the Civil War (1918–1920), making no attempt to escape abroad or to the White-occupied south, as a number of other Russian writers did at the time. No doubt, like Yuri Zhivago, he was momentarily impressed by the “splendid surgery” of the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917. However he soon began to harbor profound doubts about the claims and credentials of the regime, not to mention its style of rule. The terrible shortages of food and fuel, and the depredations of the Red Terror, made life very precarious in those years, particularly for the “bourgeois” intelligentsia. Published in 1921, Pasternak’s My Sister, Life revolutionised Russian poetry and made Pasternak the model for younger poets, and decisively changed the poetry of Osip Mandelshtam, Marina Tsvetayeva and others. By 1927, Pasternak’s close friends Vladimir Mayakovsky and Nikolai Aseyev were advocating the complete subordination of the Arts to the needs of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.So he broke off relations, with both of them. By 1932, Pasternak had altered his style to make it acceptable to the Soviet public and printed the new collection of poems aptly titled The Second Birth, He simplified his style and language even further for his next collection of verse, Early Trains (1943). This prompted his former admirer, Vladimir Nabokov, to mock Pasternak as a “weeping Bolshevik”. After Joseph Stalin was acclaimed as leader of the CPSU in 1929, Pasternak became further disillusioned with the Party’s tightening censorship of literature.

Still unwilling to conform, Pasternak remained a close friend of Anna Akhmatova and Osip Mandelstam, who recited his searing indictment of Stalin, the Stalin Epigram, to Pasternak soon after its composition in late April 1934. After listening, Pasternak told Mandelstam, “I didn’t hear this, you didn’t recite it to me, because, you know, very strange and terrible things are happening now: they’ve begun to pick people up. Mandelstam was arrested shortly afterwards. Pasternak was concerned that he might be blamed for fingering Mandelstam to the secret police So he wrote to Stalin to explain that injustices were being committed in the name of the Leader.

Although Pasternak was never arrested by the Soviet secret police during the Great Purge, which took place in the Soviet Union in the late 1930s and involved the, repression of peasants, Red Army leadership, Old Bolsheviks and unaffiliated persons, he lost many friends. Soon after, Pasternak appealed directly to Stalin. He wrote about his family’s strong Tolstoyan convictions. Pasternak was certain that he would be instantly arrested, but he was not. Stalin is said to have crossed Pasternak’s name off an execution list during the Great Purge. After the outbreak of war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, Pasternak was elated. With the end of the war in 1945, there was a great expectation that the Soviet people would not only see the end of the devastation of Nazism, but also the end of Stalin’s Purges. However, sealed trains began carrying large numbers of prisoners to the Soviet Gulags. Some were Nazi collaborators but most were ordinary Soviet officers and men. Pasternak watched as ex-POWs were directly transferred from Nazi to Soviet concentration camps. White emigres who had returned due to pledges of amnesty were also sent directly to the Gulag, as were Jews from the Anti-Fascist Committee and other organizations. Many thousands of innocents were incarcerated as part the Leningrad Affair and the Doctor’s Plot, while whole ethnic groups were deported to Siberia. :O

Pasternak’s translation of the first part of Faust caused contorversy and he was accused of distorting Goethe’s “progressive,” meanings to support “the reactionary theory of ‘pure art’”, as well as introducing aesthetic and individualist values. When Stalin died of a stroke on 5 March 1953, there were waves of panic, confusion, and public displays of grief Across the nation. Pasternak wrote, “Men who are not free… always idealize their bondage. For so long we were ruled over by a madman and a murderer, and now by a fool and a pig. The madman had his occasional flights of fancy, he had an intuitive feeling for certain things, despite his wild obscurantism. Now we are ruled over by mediocrities.” During this period, Pasternak delighted in reading a clandestine copy of George Orwell’s Animal Farm in English. In conversation with Ivinskaya, Pasternak explained that the swine dictator Napoleon, “vividly reminded,” him of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Doctor Zhivago was completed in 1956 and imediately caused controvery – The author, like his protagonist Yuri Zhivago, showed more concern for the welfare of individual characters than for the “progress” of society.

Censors also regarded some passages as anti-Soviet, especially the novel’s criticisms of Stalinism, Collectivisation, the Great Purge, and the Gulag. As a result Russian people were unwilling to publish it, however Thanks to the efforts of a Communist Italian Journalist and Helped considerably by the Soviet campaign against the novel, Doctor Zhivago became an instant sensation throughout the non-Communist world upon its release in November 1957. Pasternak also received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958, an event which both humiliated and enraged the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. By the time of his death from lung cancer on 30th May 1960, the campaign against Pasternak had severely damaged the international credibility of the U.S.S.R. He remains a major figure in Russian literature to this day. Furthermore, tactics pioneered by Pasternak were later continued, expanded, and refined by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and other Soviet dissidents.