Scholarship Music to the Ears of Katherine Kaiser '02
Photo: Fred LeBlanc
winner Katherine Kaiser '02
to a DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst) grant, Katherine
Kaiser '02 is now looking forward to a year of research in the
film and music archives in Germany after she leaves Mount Holyoke.
The grant, known on campus as the "German Fulbright,"
will enable the German studies major and music minor to spend
the next academic year in Leipzig and Berlin, studying the work
of groundbreaking film composer Hanns Eisler. "I'm not really
sure what's going to come out," she says. "Time spent
mucking around in the archives is what's going to bring results
and theories. I'm excitedI kind of like mucking around in
archives, and there are some great ones in Germany."
Eisler was a composer
and lifelong communist who "mixed politics and music in an
interesting way," Kaiser says. Born in 1898 in Leipzig, Eisler
fought in World War I, after which he became a protégé
of Austro-Hungarian composer Arnold Schoenberg. Exiled from Nazi
Germany, Eisler emigrated to the United States in 1941, where
he went to work in Hollywood, writing music for films and authoring
with Theodor Adorno the seminal textbook Composing for the Films.
After the war, his communist beliefs resulted in his appearance
before the House Un-American Activities Committee, where his accuser
was none other than a young congressman named Richard Nixon. Deported
from the United States, Eisler moved to East Berlin, where he
was named state composer and wrote the East German national anthem.
He died in 1962.
Kaiser hopes to examine
the work of Eisler and some of his students to see how he influenced
the second generation of film composers, and to learn how involved
the communist government was in the aesthetics and structure of
film music. Eisler's ideas about film music are important in contemporary
life, Kaiser says. "We're so inundated with images, and they're
always accompanied by music, and the music colors our perception
of the film so much," she says.
Kaiser's German roots
run deep. The descendant of a pastor in the port city of Lübeck,
she has already spent two years in Germany. As a high school junior
on an exchange program, Kaiser had a wonderful time, and discovered
an affinity for the nation's language, literature, and philosophy.
During her junior year at MHC, she studied at the University of
Leipzig, where her interest in Eisler was sparked.
Music's appeal has
always been strong for Kaiser. A singer of classical music who
gave her senior recital in March, she dipped her toe into music
theory, discovering somewhat to her surprise that she liked it.
She made a similar discovery about music history, and found that
she had "sort of grown into a music major."
Winning the DAAD "is
a thrill, especially as a humanities major," Kaiser says.
It was a thrill as well for her family back home in Springfield,
Ohio, where her father is in business, and her mother teaches
religion at Wittenberg University. Her parents are not that surprised
that she will be going to Germany, she adds. "I've spent
a tenth of my life there, so I think they kind of expected it."
The research may be
a warm-up of sorts for graduate school. Kaiser is juggling the
ideas of musicology, German studies, and film studies. "German
is my interdisciplinary subject," she says. "Maybe I'll
be able to sort out something in my interdisciplinary mess."
All that mucking around in archives should certainly help.