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Kurt Weill

Biography

Born: March 2, 1900; Dessau, Germany   Died: April 3, 1950; New York, NY  
The son of a cantor, Kurt Weill was born in Dessau into a family that took in operatic performances as a main form of entertainment. When Weill was in his teens the director of the Dessau Hoftheater, Albert Bing, encouraged him in the study of music. Weill briefly studied composition with Engelbert Humperdinck and was already working professionally as a conductor when he attended composer Ferruccio Busoni's master classes in Berlin. Delighted to Read more see the positive responses of an audience to his first collaboration with playwright Georg Kaiser, Der Protagonist (1926), he thereafter resolved to work toward accessibility in his music. In 1926 Weill married actress Lotte Lenya, whose reedy, quavering singing voice he called "the one I hear in my head when I am writing my songs."

In 1927 Weill began his collaboration with leftist playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht; their first joint venture, Mahagonny-Songspiel (1927), launched the number "Alabama Song," which, to their surprise, became a minor pop hit in Europe. The next show, Die Dreigroschenoper (The Three-Penny Opera, 1928) was a monstrous success, in particular the song "Moritat" (Mack the Knife). Nonetheless, strain in their association was already being felt, and after the completion of their magnificent "school opera" Der Jasager (1930), the two parted company. Brecht and Weill were brought together once more in Paris to create Die Sieben Todsünden (The Seven Deadly Sins) (1934). In the meantime, Weill collaborated with Caspar Neher on the opera Die Bürgschaft (1931) and Georg Kaiser again on Der Silbersee (1933), works that garnered the hostile attention of the then-emerging Nazi party. With the rise to power of Hitler, Weill and Lenya were forced to dissolve their union and flee continental Europe. Weill found his way to New York in 1935; rejoining Lenya, Weill became a citizen and devoted himself to American democracy with a vengeance, preferring his name pronounced like "wile" rather than "vile." After a series of frustrating flops, Weill hit his stride with playwright Maxwell Anderson, producing his first hit, Knickerbocker Holiday (1938). In the dozen years left to him, Weill's stature on Broadway grew with a series of hit shows, including Lady in the Dark (1941), One Touch of Venus (1943), Love Life (1948), and Lost in the Stars (1949). Weill had ambitions to create what he regarded as "the first American folk opera"; the closest of his American works to reach that goal is Street Scene (1946), a sort of "urban folk opera" based on a play by Elmer Rice with lyrics by Langston Hughes.

On April 3, 1950, Weill unexpectedly suffered a massive coronary and died in Lenya's arms. Weill's estate was valued at less than 1,000 dollars, and Lenya realized that his contribution to musical theater was likewise undervalued. She commissioned composer Marc Blitzstein to adapt an English-language version of Die Dreigroschenoper; it opened off-Broadway in 1954 and ran for three years, touching off a Weill revival that continues. Read less
Dragon Rhyme - Jennifer Higdon, Kurt Weill, Chen Yi
Release Date: 09/25/2012   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8572889   Number of Discs: 1
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Weill: Symphony No 1 & 2, Etc / Alsop, Bournemouth So
Release Date: 08/16/2005   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8557481   Number of Discs: 1
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Weill: Die Sieben Todsünden, Etc / Garben, Fassbaender
Release Date: 04/11/2006   Label: Harmonia Mundi Musique D'abord  
Catalog: 1951420   Number of Discs: 1
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Milken Archive - Weill: The Eternal Road (Highlights)
Release Date: 09/30/2003   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8559402   Number of Discs: 1
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Classic American Love Songs - Arlen, Gershwin, Weill, Et Al
Release Date: 06/26/2007   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8559314   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Surabaya Johnny

 

About This Work
After the enormous success of Die Dreigroschenoper in 1928, composer Kurt Weill and writer Bertolt Brecht collaborated in 1929 on another gimlet-eyed depiction of the wonders of human nature in the ironically named three-act comedy Happy End. A Read more variation of Shaw's Major Barbara and a precursor of Damon Runyon's Guys and Dolls, Happy End weds Chicago gangsters with Salvation Army workers, allowing Brecht to indulge in his "capitalism is gangsterism misspelled" Marxist rhetoric. In the event, Happy End was insufficiently vile for Brecht who all but insured the failure of the work by having his wife sabotage the premiere with standard-issue Marxist oxymorons from the stage. Despite this, Happy End contains some of Kurt Weill's most repulsively attractive songs in his best tough-guy sentimental vein already familiar from Die Dreigroschenoper. Perhaps the best-known song form Happy End is Surabaya-Johnny, a sort of Dido's Lament for the jazz age. Sung by an innocent seduced and deflowered by an itinerant intercontinental Mack the Knife, the song begins with the same melodic motif that began Die Moritat von Mackie Messer from Die Dreigroschenoper, but it builds here into a highly dramatic, deeply felt, and wholly ironic climax before collapsing into an apthetic and bathetic ballade in its chorus. A hideously beautiful and wonderfully disgusting song that was a favorite of Marlene Dietrich, Surabaya-Johnny is still revolting after all these years. Read less

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