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← Visiting Fellows

Professor John Harle

Cultural Programme was delighted to welcome incredible English saxophonist and composer, John Harle, to Oxford. Prof. Harle is worked closely with Tom Kuhn (Professor of 20th-century German literature) on the music of Hanns Eisler and of other composers associated with Bertolt Brecht’s work. John was also working closely with video artists at the Ruskin School of Art and composers at the music faculty on film/video collaborations.

Professor Harle’s Fellowship consisted of an introductory weekend hosted at the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building. In a rhythmic afternoon event, audiences had the opportunity of hearing John Harle’s incredible work with Oxford saxophonists in a master class. This was followed by his own saxophone quartet playing music by Eisler and other 20th-century composers. Both events were held at the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building at St. Hilda’s College.

The culmination of Prof. John Harle’s year long visiting fellowship with the Oxford Cultural Programme was “Brecht on Love and War”: The Bauhaus Band and Singers. Prof. Harle had collaborated with Prof. Tom Kuhn (Professor of 20th Century German Literature, Brecht expert and translator, University of Oxford), to present a spectacular multi-media programme of Brecht poems and songs.

In the first half, global pop icon Marc Almond sang hit songs and ballads of the 1920s and 30s, from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill (‘Mack the Knife’) to Duke Ellington. He was accompanied by the Bauhaus Band and Singers of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, who also provided the music for the rest of the evening.

The climax and culmination of the second half was a complete performance of Brecht and Hanns Eisler’s multi-media cantata ‘Bilder aus der Kriegsfibel’ (‘Scenes from the War Primer’), a commentary on and critique of the Second World War. Leading into that was a programme of readings, songs and short films (inspired by Brecht poems), with video art by students of the Ruskin School, and music, both from the period, and also newly commissioned from students of composition and faculty at Oxford and the Guildhall.

Brecht and Eisler’s ‘War Primer’ (1944/57) called for elaborate musical forces and photographic projections, and is consequently seldom performed. It was a powerful and arresting work that gives us plenty to reflect on today. The rest of the programme was conceived as an essay on the human values of love, compassion and kindness that are imperilled in times of war and conflict. What is that we are fighting for, and how can we maintain our humanity?

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