German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956) was one of the 20th century’s most significant dramatists. Notable plays include Life of Galileo and The Caucasian Chalk Circle. He had a brief but celebrated musical partnership with Kurt Weill, their collaborations including Die Dreigroschenoper, Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny and Die sieben Todsünden.
Brecht was born in Augsburg and studied medicine at Munich University 1917–21. He wrote prolifically from the early 1920s onwards, with his works with Weill mostly dating from 1927–30. From 1930 his principal musical collaborator was Hanns Eisler, who wrote music for several plays and set many protest songs and the opera Die Massnahme. Eisler also shared the Marxist views which deeply influenced Brecht’s work. Brecht is well known today for the concept of ‘epic theatre’, a non-Aristotelian form of theatre in which the artificiality of the play is highlighted and the audience is provoked to action rather than passive emotion. Many of Brecht’s later plays were given first performances by the Berliner Ensemble, the theatre company he founded with his wife Helene Weigel in 1949.
The influence of epic theatre and the ‘Verfremdungseffekt’ (estrangement effect) on later playwrights and directors has been tremendous; many trends in theatre and opera direction that are still considered progressive today have been directly influenced by Brecht’s approach. Meanwhile, his operas with Weill remain some of the most popular from the era.