Kurt Weill

Kurt Weill

Kurt Julian Weill was a German Composer who was best known for his works with Bertolt Brecht.

Kurt Weill was born on March 2, 1900, in a Jewish neighborhood located in Dessau, Germany. Weill was part of a devout Jewish family; his very first work was titled “Mi Addir Jewish Wedding Song” which he wrote at the age of thirteen. Weill then started taking lessons in music theory, composition, and conducting with Albert Bing, who was the Kapellmeister at the “Herzogliches Hoftheater zu Dessau”. The results of these lessons proved exceptionally fruitful, as were proven by his first Lieder compositions of 1916 and 1917, which covered poems by Arno Holz, Joseph von Eichendorff, and Anna Ritter.

Weill returned to Dessau in 1919 to help his family overcome a financial crisis following World War I; he served as an opera coach at the Friedrich Theater under Hans Knappertsbusch for a time, where he composed three of his most famous early compositions. These included his orchestral suite in E-Flat Major, his symphonic rendition of Rainer Maria Rilke’s “The Lay of Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke” and “Schliflieder”. Other early compositions include a cello sonata and a choral fantasy titled “Sulamith”. In December 1920, Weill was chosen as one of five students to study under Furruccio Busoni at the Preußische Akademie der Künste. The period between 1920 and 1925 was dotted by works published at regular intervals, several teaching and playing jobs to support his family, as well as a term with the November Group’s Music Faction. 1922 in particular, was an important year for Weill, as his “Die Zaubernacht” was premiered at the Theater am Kurfürstendamm, which was the first public performance of Weill’s musical theater works. Other works from 1922 include the “Sinfonia Sacra: Fantasia”, “Passacaglia”, “Hymnus” and a divertimento for orchestra. The divertimento would go on to be premiered in 1923 by the Berlin Philharmonic under Heinz Unger.

In 1928, Weill collaborated with Bertolt Brecht to write “The Threepenny Opera”, which revisited and revised John Gay’s “The Beggar’s Opera”. The combination of John Gay’s plot and Weill’s enthralling music led to the opera’s remarkable success. Part of the opera’s success was due to the song “Mack the Knife”, which was first played in the opera. The opera also made way for international recognition for many of Weill’s other works.  “The Threepenny Opera” was first premiered at Broadway on April 13, 1933.

Weill was forced to flee Nazi Germany in March 1933. His public stature, coupled with his sympathies for populism and the Jewish Religion, meant that he would be regularly shamed by the Nazi Authorities. Many of his stage performances were either heavily criticized or abruptly ended; including the performances of “The Rise and fall of the City of Mahagonny”, “Die Burgschaft” and “Der Silbersee”. Weill moved to Paris in 1933, where he continued to work with Bertolt Brecht for “The Seven Deadly Sins”. While at Paris, Weill also composed an operetta titled “Der Kuhhandel” as well as an opera titled “The Eternal Road” for the Manhattan Opera House.

Weill moved to New York with his wife in 1935, where he contributed significantly to the development of the American Musical Tradition. His “Street Scene” won the first Tony Award for Best Original Score. Kurt Weill died of a heart attack on April 3, 1950, in New York City.