Day 99 of Colourisation Project – August 14
Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.
On this day, 14 August 1956, Bertolt Brecht, one of Germany’s most influential poets and playwrights of the 20th century died at the age of fifty-eight, leaving behind a significant body of work and a profound imprint on the literary world.
Bavarian born, Brecht was a dramaturge and theatrical producer who developed a new style of ‘epic’ theatre with a new theory of theatrical alienation. This theory relies on the audience’s reflective detachment rather than the production’s atmosphere and action. His theories and cult status were so influential that the term ‘Brechtian’ has now entered the lexicon and is widely used by drama critics and writers.
His most famous work was the musical, The Threepenny Opera, a collaboration with composer Kurt Weill. Premiering in 1928 in Berlin, the play was adapted from an 18th-century English ballad opera by John Gay, The Beggar’s Opera and reflects an anti-bourgeois Marxist interpretation of society.
However with the tide of Nazism rising in Germany, his plays were banned in the 1930s. Brecht was forced to flee. By this time the play had been translated into 18 languages and performed more than 10,000 times on European stages.
While living in exile in Denmark, Sweden and the Soviet Union, Brecht wrote anti-Nazi plays such as The Roundheads and the Peakheads and Fear and Misery of the Third Reich. His later plays are concerned with moral and political dilemmas; Life of Galileo (1939), Mother Courage and Her Children (1939), The Good Man of Szechuan (1941), The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (1941) and the Caucasian Chalk Circle (1943).
In 1941 he moved to Santa Monica, California and collaborated on the writing of the film, Hangmen Also Die (1943). Brecht left the United States in 1947 after attracting the attention of and testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. He returned to Europe settling down in East Germany. Here he founded the famous theater company, ‘Berliner Ensemble’ and became the state’s intellectual icon.
Brecht was not only a dramaturge. He was a prolific writer of poetry. With a strong Marxist outlook, he used his poetry as a vehicle to lambast European bourgeois culture, in particular the German nationalism. The consequences of having lived between two world wars is indelibly marked throughout his poetry. His full body of work is collected in Poems 1913-1956 (1997) and Poetry and Prose: Bertolt Brecht (2003).
To the very end, Brecht was very much interested in the trends of modern drama. Sadly he died of a heart attack, on August 14, 1956, while working on a response to Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play, Waiting for Godot, written the year before.
He is buried in East Berlin.
“It is easier to rob by setting up a bank than than by holding up a bank clerk.”