(b. 1900 - d. 1950)

A songwriter who worked with Bertolt Brecht on making musicals (like The Seven Deadly Sins and The Threepenny Opera) in Germany, but separated due to Brecht's communist views, not to mention the Nazis bearing down on him as well. Weill then moved on to the United States, towards Broadway to write songs for musicals there as well.

Yes, some of his work was interpreted by one Ute Lemper as well.

The Kurt Weill Foundation -- http://www.kwf.org

After 25 years of difficult, unrelenting work, it almost seems as if I am now to have something like a period of harvest. Suddenly I've been promoted to a sort of 'classic' status, and people are beginning to talk generally about the 'historical significance' of my works.

- Kurt Weill in a letter to his parents

Kurt Weill was born in 1900, March 2nd, at Dessau. Son of a Jewish Cantor, he was attracted to music naturally. On his 12th age he starts to play his own piano- and dramaworks in his father's synagogue.

As pianoplayer he is discovered by a count of Dessau, who asks him to accompany  local famous sopranos at the Dessau theater.

After being taught musical theory at the Dessau theater, Weill starts studying composition at the Berlin Conservatory under Engelbert Humperdinck (known as the composer of the opera' Hanzel und Gretchen'). Both Weill and Humperdinck  seem to find themselves against each other and after 2 years Weill leaves for Ludenscheid where he is to be a director of the Orchestra. Beside orchestrating he also starts giving lessons in composition.

In 1922 Weill leaves again for Berlin to take place in the masterclass of Ferruccio Busoni. Busoni at that time is one of the most respected composers beside Arnold Schoenberg. Here Weill also learns atonal composing.

After 1925 Weill's name starts to get synonomous with experimental music. His works (as played at several festivals like the Baden-Baden festival) receive enormous response and places him in between contemporary composers like Igor Stravinski and Paul Hindemith and writers like Iwan Goll and Georg Kaiser.

With Kaiser he scores a hit composing the score of ' Der Protagonist' (1926). Weill's definitive turningpoint is the composition of ' Der neue Orpheus', text by Iwan Goll. This piece is full of experiments, and is his first real score uniting classical and popular music. After ' Der neue Orpheus'  Weill continues to include new musical  and dancing forms (Tango, Foxtrot) in operas like ' Der Tzar lasst sich photografieren'  and 'Royal Palace'.

When the Baden-Baden festival (organized in assocation with Hindemith) asks Weill to write a piece for the festival in 1927, he turns to the radical poet Bertolt Brecht and together they write 'Mahagonny Songspiel'.

Their work causes a lot of commotion at the festival, but they decide to continue working together. The next years Weill and Brecht produce 'Die Dreigroschenoper'  ('The Threepenny opera', Mack the Knife'), ' Happy End' ('Song von Mandalay, Surabaya Johnny'), 'Der Jasager', 'Der LindberghFlug' and their master piece, 'Fall und Aufstieg der Stadt Mahagonny' ('Rise and Fall of Mahagonny'). The popularity of 'Dreigroschenoper'  is immense and makes Berlin the center of the avantgarde world. Due to the nature of Weills work (propagating Jazz and other modern music styles) the Nazis put him on their ' blacklist'  of 'entarte Kunst'. At several performances Nazi followers cause turmoils, willing to stop any kind of art that sounds un-German-like.

Weills last opera (written with Kaiser again and set designer Caspar Neher), 'Der Silbersee' ('The Silverlake'), becomes forbidden before it even gets performed. Most theaters also decide to remove the opera from their list, anxious of the threats of the Nazi party.

When 'Der Silbersee' finally is performed, Nazis demonstrate loudly against it. Three days after the maiden performance, Der Reichsdag bursts into flames, Hitler gains all power and Weill finally flees to Paris.

His reception in France is encouraging, as the French have already met with his music. Here Weill finishes his pessimistic and dark 'Second Symphony', the sung ballet 'Die Sieben Todsunden' ('The seven deadly sins') (again with Brecht) and 'Marie Galante'.

Tired of the ever present fear and the war threat, Weill leaves for America in 1936. Here he renews the American standards in Broadway musicals with hits like 'Lady in the dark' (text: Ira Gershwin), 'A touch of Venus', 'Lost in the stars' and 'Street scenes'.

Weill dies in 1950, after suffering a heart attack.

This wu was part of the series 'Contemporary composers' and appeared in 1999 in my former company's monthly magazine.

Donated to the E2 database

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