Kurt Julian Weill (March 2, 1900 – April 3, 1950), born in Dessau, Germany and died in New York City, was a German and later German-American composer of Jewish origin active from the 1920s until his death. He was a leading composer for the stage, as well as writing a number of concert works.
Life and Work
After growing up in a religious Jewish family, and composing a series of works before he was 20 (A song cycle Ofrahs Lieder with a text by Yehuda Halevi translated into German, a String Quartet and a Suite for orchestra), he studied music composition with Ferruccio Busoni in Berlin and wrote his first symphony. Although he had some success with his first mature non-stage works which were influenced by Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky (such as the String Quartet op.8 or the Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra, op.12), Weill tended more and more to vocal music and music theatre. His music theatre work and his songs were extremely popular with the wider public in Germany at the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s. Weill's music was admired by composers such as Alban Berg, Alexander von Zemlinsky, Darius Milhaud and Stravinsky, but it was also criticised by others - by Schoenberg, who later revised his opinion, and Anton Webern.
He met the actress Lotte Lenya for the first time in 1924 and married her twice: In 1926 and again in 1937 after their divorce in 1933. Lenya took great care to support Weill's work, and after his death she took it upon herself to increase awareness of his music, forming the Kurt Weill Foundation.
His best-known work is the Threepenny Opera 1928, written in collaboration with Bertolt Brecht. It was a reworking of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera. The Threepenny Opera contains Weill's most famous song, "Mack the Knife" ('Die Moritat von Mackie Messer'). Weill's working association with Brecht, although successful, came to an end over differing politics in 1930. According to Lenya, Weill commented that he was unable to "set the communist party manifesto to music."
Weill fled Nazi Germany in March 1933. He was seen as a particular threat by the Nazi authorities, being a prominent Jewish composer. Nazi party members orchestrated riots at performances of his later works, such as the opening night performance of Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny). He had no option but to leave, so he left for Paris, where he worked once more with Bertolt Brecht (after a project with Jean Cocteau failed) - the ballet The Seven Deadly Sins. In 1934 he completed his Symphony No.2, his last purely orchestral work, and it was conducted in Amsterdam and New York by Bruno Walter.
In 1935 he emigrated to the United States. The United States had been his dream, his idyll of democracy and the free world, where he became a naturalized citizen in 1943. When the ocean liner steamed into New York harbour, Weill left his life in Germany behind. He believed most of his work to be destroyed, and he only seldomly and reluctantly spoke and wrote German again, with the exception of, for example, letters to his parents who had escaped to Israel.
While much of Weill's American work is considered to be of a lower profile than his German efforts, his works for Broadway include a number of highly respected and admired shows. Among these are Lady in the Dark and Love Life, seen as seminal works in the development of the American musical. He worked with writers such as Maxwell Anderson and Ira Gershwin, and even wrote a film score for Fritz Lang (You and Me, 1938). Weill himself strived to find a new way of creating an American opera, that would be both commercially and artistically successful. The most interesting attempt in this direction is Street Scene, based on a play by Elmer Rice.
In the 1940s Weill lived in a home in New City in upstate New York and made frequent trips both to New York City and to Hollywood for his work for theatre and film. Weill died in New York City in 1950 and is buried in Mount Repose Cemetery in Haverstraw, New York.
Apart from "Mack the Knife", his most famous songs include "Alabama Song" (from Mahagonny), "Surabaya Johnny" (from Happy End), "Youkali" (from Marie Galante), "Speak Low" (from One Touch of Venus), "Lost in the Stars", and the "September Song" (from Knickerbocker Holiday).
List of selected works
- 1920 – Sonata for Cello and Piano
- 1921 – Symphony No. 1 for orchestra
- 1923 – String Quartet op. 8
- 1923 – Quodlibet. Suite for orchestra from the pantomime Zaubernacht, op. 9
- 1923 – Frauentanz: sieben Gedichte des Mittelalters for soprano, flute, viola, clarinet, horn and bassoon, op. 10
- 1924 – Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra, op. 12
- 1926 – Der Protagonist, op.15 (Opera in one act, text by Georg Kaiser)
- 1927 – Der Neue Orpheus. Cantata for soprano, solo violin and orchestra op.16 (text by Yvan Goll)
- 1927 – Royal Palace op.17 (Opera in one act, text by Yvan Goll)
- 1927 – Der Zar lässt sich photographieren op.21 (Opera in one act, text by Georg Kaiser)
- 1927 – Mahagonny (Songspiel) (Bertolt Brecht)
- 1928 – Berlin im Licht Song. March for military band (wind ensemble) or voice and piano
- 1928 – Die Dreigroschenoper, or the Threepenny Opera (Bertolt Brecht)
- 1928 – Kleine Dreigroschenmusik (Little Threepenny Music), Suite for wind orchestra based on the Threepenny Opera
- 1928 – Zu Potsdam unter den Eichen for chorus a cappella or voice and piano (Bertolt Brecht)
- 1928 – Das Berliner Requiem (Berlin Requiem). Cantata for three male voices and wind orchestra (Bertolt Brecht)
- 1929 – Der Lindberghflug (first version). Cantata for soloists, chorus and orchestra. Music by Weill and Paul Hindemith and lyrics by Bertolt Brecht
- 1929 – Happy End (Elisabeth Hauptmann and Bertolt Brecht) - Tony Nomination for Best Original Score
- 1929 – Der Lindberghflug (second version). Cantata for tenor, baritone, and bass soloists, chorus and orchestra. Music entirely by Weill and lyrics by Bertolt Brecht
- 1930 – Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, or Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (Bertolt Brecht)
- 1930 – Der Jasager (Elisabeth Hauptmann and Bertolt Brecht)
- 1932 – Die Bürgschaft, or The Pledge (Caspar Neher)
- 1933 – Der Silbersee, or Silver Lake
- 1933 – Die sieben Todsünden, or The Seven Deadly Sins. Ballet chanté for voices and orchestra (Bertolt Brecht)
- 1934 – Marie galante for voices and small orchestra (book and lyrics by Jacques Deval)
- 1934 – Symphony No. 2 for orchestra
- 1935 – Der Kuhhandel, or My Kingdom for a Cow (Robert Vambery) (unfinished)
- 1936 – Johnny Johnson (Paul Green)
- 1937 – The Eternal Road (Desmond Carter, first, unfinished version in German with a text by Franz Werfel, directed by Max Reinhardt (theatre director))
- 1938 – Knickerbocker Holiday (Maxwell Anderson)
- 1938 – Railroads on Parade (Edward Hungerford)
- 1940 – Ballad of Magna Carta. Cantata for narrator and bass soloists, chorus and orchestra (Maxwell Anderson)
- 1940 – Lady in the Dark (Moss Hart and Ira Gershwin)
- 1941 – Fun to be Free Pageant
- 1942 – And what was sent to the Soldier's Wife? (Und was bekam des Soldaten Weib?). Song for voice and piano (Bertolt Brecht)
- 1942 – Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory. Patriotic song arrangements by Weill for narrator, chorus, and orchestra
- 1943 – One Touch of Venus (Ogden Nash)
- 1945 – The Firebrand of Florence (Ira Gershwin)
- 1945 – Down in the Valley
- 1947 – Hatikvah Arrangement of the Israeli National Anthem for orchestra
- 1947 – Four Walt Whitman Songs for voice and orchestra (or piano)
- 1947 – Street Scene (Elmer Rice and Langston Hughes) - Tony Award for Best Original Score
- 1948 – Love Life (Alan Jay Lerner)
- 1949 – Lost in the Stars (Maxwell Anderson)
- 1950 – Huckleberry Finn (Maxwell Anderson) Unfinished.
- Lotte Lenya sings Kurt Weill's The Seven Deadly Sins & Berlin Theatre Songs (Sony 1997)
- The Threepenny Opera. Lotte Lenya and Others, conducted by Wilhelm Brückner-Ruggeberg (Columbia 1987)
- Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. Lotte Lenya/ Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg (Sony 1990)
- Berliner Requiem/ Violin Concerto op.12/ Vom Tod im Walde. Ensemble Musique Oblique/ Philippe Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi, 1997)
- Kleine Dreigroschenmusik/ Mahagonny Songspiel/ Happy End/ Berliner Requiem/ Violin Concerto op.12. London Sinfonietta, David Atherton (Deutsche Grammophon, 1999)
- Kurt Weill á Paris, Marie Galante and other works. Loes Luca, Ensemble Dreigroschen, directed by Giorgio Bernasconi, assai, 2000
- The Eternal Road (Highlights). Berliner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester/ Gerard Schwarz (Naxos, 2003)
- The Doors, The Doors, (Elektra, 1967). Including Alabama Song
- Bryan Ferry. As Time Goes By (Virgin, 1999). Including September Song
- Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill (performed by Tom Waits, Lou Reed and others). (A&M Records, 1987)
- September Songs: The Music of Kurt Weill (performed by Elvis Costello, PJ Harvey and others) (Sony Music, 1997)
- Kazik Staszewski: Melodie Kurta Weill'a i coś ponadto (SP Records, 2001) Tribute to Kurt Weill by one of the greatest song writer from Poland + his version of Nick Cave's The Mercy Seat
- Youkali: Art Songs by Satie, Poulenc and Weill. Patricia O'Callaghan (Marquis, 2003)
- Gianluigi Trovesi/ Gianni Coscia: Round About Weill (ECM, 2005)
- Tom Robinson, Last Tango: Midnight At The Fringe, (Castaway Northwest: CNWVP 002, 1988). Including Surabaya Johnny
- Complete String Quartets/ Leipziger Streichquartett (MDG 307 1071-2)
- Die sieben Todsünden; Chansons/ B.Fassbaender, Radio-Philharmonie Hannover des NDR, C.Garben (HMA 1951420)
- The Young Gods Play Kurt Weill (Pias, April 1991), Studio recording of the songs performed live in 1989.
- Jürgen Schebera, Kurt Weill (Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg, 2000)
- David Drew (Editor), Über Kurt Weill (Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 1975) Excellent collection of texts, including an introduction by David Drew and including texts by Theodor W. Adorno
(both in German)
- David Drew. Kurt Weill: A Handbook (Berkeley, Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1987)
- Donald Spoto. Lenya A Life (Little, Brown and Company 1989)Very heavy on Weill history
- Lys Symonette & Kim H. Kowalke (ed. & trans.)Speak Low (When You Speak Love) The Letters of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya (University of California Press 1996)