The day after bloodily repressed peasant uprisings, Doctor Faustus, himself the son of a peasant, makes a pact with the devil. Doctor Faustus' learning blends with black magic and definitively turns its back on the aspirations of the people. A parable about the role of the intellectual confronted with the torments of social struggle.
Regard du traducteur
An opera without music', Johann Faustus is the only dramatic work ever written by Hanns Eisler, one of the most dazzling European intellectuals of our time, the brilliant offspring of early twentieth-century Communist and Jewish Vienna. He was a major composer (and Schönberg's favourite disciple), an occasional essayist and philosopher, the composer of film music for Chaplin and Renoir, and Brecht's main collaborator for over thirty years.
Following his critical collaboration on Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus and Brecht's Life of Galileo, when all three writers were in exile in the United States, Eisler decided to devote a work to the figure of the intellectual confronting history. He returned to the popular legend of Doctor Faustus and set it against the backdrop of the peasant wars' in sixteenth century Germany: Faust, the son of a peasant and disciple of the revolutionary preacher Thomas Münzer, betrays his own kind. Like Luther, he submits to the order of the overlords, thus becoming the symbol of an intellectual elite which chooses to collaborate with those in power rather than struggle alongside the people.
Eisler masterfully blends remote history and contemporary experience: the defeat of the German left, the brutality of the Nazi dictatorship, the exile of European intellectuals to America, and the fear of scientific and technical progress synonymous with barbarity - all of this is shown through the old story of the scholar who makes a pact with the devil.
The critical impact of the work may be measured by the furore it caused on publication in 1952. It was the GDR's most serious literary debate and act of censorship: Walter Ulbricht, its leader at the time, intervened personally to ban any performance of the work, which was accused of being anti-national, cosmopolitan, formalistic, pessimistic and reactionary'. Brecht came to its defence by publishing his famous Theses on Hanns Eisler's Johann Faustus', but the play remained banned into the eighties.
With its formal diversity and virtuosity, with its infinite freedom of tone and its daring gestures (like the encounter between Hanswurst the fool at the fair and the noble figure of Doctor Faustus), through the dialogue he successfully establishes between dramatic writing and other performing arts techniques (pantomime, puppets, dance, commedia dell'arte, music, projections and magic), Eisler successfully creates a work of Shakespearian breadth, unparalleled in post-war European theatre.