Paul Dessau

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Paul Dessau
BirthplaceHamburg, German Empire
Composer and Conductor

Dessau, Paul


Born Dec. 19, 1894, in Hamburg. German composer and conductor (German Democratic Republic). Member of the United Socialist Party of Germany since 1948. Member of the German Academy of Arts since 1950 (vice-president from 1959 to 1969).

Dessau began appearing in concerts while he was a child. He studied piano and composition from 1910 to 1912 at the Klindworth-Scharwenka Conservatory in Berlin. In the 1920’s he conducted in theaters in Cologne, Mainz, and Berlin. Beginning in 1928 he wrote film music and works for workers’ vocal ensembles (Vereine). After the fascists came to power, he emigrated first to Paris (1933), then to the USA (1939), where he joined the Communist Party in 1946. He taught in music schools and wrote songs for the masses, dedicated to republican Spain and the French Popular Front. The song Thälmann Column (1936) was widely known. In 1942, Dessau became friendly with B. Brecht, and this friendship to a large extent determined the future work of the composer. In 1948 he returned from emigration.

A many-faceted and original artist, Dessau took part in many different kinds of musical activity, including symphonic and chamber music, songs and choruses, oratorios, and film music. His most significant works are operas written to Brecht’s librettos The Condemnation of Lucullus (1949) and Puntila (1960), as well as incidental music for Brecht’s plays (Mother Courage and Her Children and The Good Woman of Setzuan, for example). In his vocal compositions Dessau used texts of V. V. Mayakovsky, P. Neruda, F. Wolf, and I. Becher and Cuban poets. He received the National Prize of the German Democratic Republic in 1953, 1956, and 1965.


Hennenberg, F.Dessau-Brecht musikalische Arbeiten. Berlin, 1963.
Hennenberg, F. Paul Dessau: Eine Biographic. Leipzig, 1965.
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References in periodicals archive ?
The third, Voyages of the God of Happiness, was to be an opera with Paul Dessau and "an exploration of the viability of parable as a vehicle for antifascist drama" (p.
Chapter 4 is devoted to Lucullus, the controversial collaboration with Paul Dessau in which Brecht sought to consolidate through practice his considerable stature, as a distinguished returning exile, in the German Democratic Republic.
Nor is it often that a new publication presents an anthology of unknown pieces by such recognized composers as Kurt Weill, Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Stephan Wolpe, Aaron Copland, Paul Dessau, and Ernst Toch.