Weill, Kurt


Weill, Kurt

▪ German-American composer
in full  Kurt Julian Weill  
born March 2, 1900, Dessau, Ger.
died April 3, 1950, New York, N.Y., U.S.
 German-born American composer who created a revolutionary kind of opera of sharp social satire in collaboration with the writer Bertolt Brecht (Brecht, Bertolt).

      Weill studied privately with Albert Bing and at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Berlin with Engelbert Humperdinck (Humperdinck, Engelbert). He gained some experience as an opera coach and conductor in Dessau and Lüdenscheid (1919–20). Settling in Berlin, he studied (1921–24) under Ferruccio Busoni (Busoni, Ferruccio), beginning as a composer of instrumental works. His early music was expressionistic, experimental, and abstract. His first two operas, Der Protagonist (one act, libretto by Georg Kaiser (Kaiser, Georg), 1926) and Royal Palace (1927), established his position, with Ernst Krenek (Krenek, Ernst) and Paul Hindemith (Hindemith, Paul), as one of Germany's most promising young opera composers.

      Weill's first collaboration as composer with Bertolt Brecht (Brecht, Bertolt) was on the singspiel (or “songspiel,” as he called it) Mahagonny (1927), which was a succès de scandale at the Baden-Baden (Germany) Festival in 1927. This work sharply satirizes life in an imaginary America that is also Germany. Weill then wrote the music and Brecht provided the libretto for Die Dreigroschenoper (1928; The Threepenny Opera), which was a transposition of John Gay (Gay, John)'s Beggar's Opera (1728) with the 18th-century thieves, highwaymen, jailers, and their women turned into typical characters in the Berlin underworld of the 1920s. This work established both the topical opera and the reputations of the composer and librettist. Weill's music for it was in turn harsh, mordant, jazzy, and hauntingly melancholy. Mahagonny was elaborated as a full-length opera, Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (composed 1927–29; “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny”), and first presented in Leipzig in 1930. Widely considered Weill's masterpiece, the opera's music showed a skillful synthesis of American popular music, ragtime, and jazz.

      Weill's wife, the actress Lotte Lenya (Lenya, Lotte) (married 1926), sang for the first time in Mahagonny and was a great success in it and in Die Dreigroschenoper. These works aroused much controversy, as did the students' opera Der Jasager (1930; “The Yea-Sayer,” with Brecht) and the cantata Der Lindberghflug (1928; “Lindbergh's Flight,” with Brecht and Hindemith). After the production of the opera Die Bürgschaft (1932; “Trust,” libretto by Caspar Neher), Weill's political and musical ideas and his Jewish birth made him persona non grata to the Nazis, and he left Berlin for Paris and then for London. His music was banned in Germany until after World War II.

      Weill and his wife divorced in 1933 but remarried in 1937 in New York City, where he resumed his career. He wrote music for plays, including Paul Green (Green, Paul)'s Johnny Johnson (1936) and Franz Werfel (Werfel, Franz)'s Eternal Road (1937). His operetta Knickerbocker Holiday appeared in 1938 with a libretto by Maxwell Anderson (Anderson, Maxwell), followed by the musical play Lady in the Dark (1941; libretto and lyrics by Moss Hart (Hart, Moss) and Ira Gershwin (Gershwin, Ira)), the musical comedy One Touch of Venus (1943; with S.J. Perelman (Perelman, S.J.) and Ogden Nash (Nash, Ogden)), the musical version of Elmer Rice (Rice, Elmer)'s Street Scene (1947), and the musical tragedy Lost in the Stars (1949; with Maxwell Anderson). Weill's American folk opera Down in the Valley (1948) was much performed. Two of his songs, the “Morität” (“Mack the Knife”) from Die Dreigroschenoper and “September Song” from Knickerbocker Holiday, have remained popular. Weill's Concerto for violin, woodwinds, double bass, and percussion (1924), Symphony No. 1 (1921; “Berliner Sinfonie”), and Symphony No. 2 (1934; “Pariser Symphonie”), works praised for their qualities of invention and compositional skill, were revived after his death.

Additional Reading
Douglas Jarman, Kurt Weill, an Illustrated Biography (1982); Ronald Taylor, Kurt Weill: Composer in a Divided World (1991); Jürgen Schebera, Kurt Weill: An Illustrated Life (1995); David Drew, Kurt Weill: A Handbook (1987); Kim Kowalke, Kurt Weill in Europe, 1900–1935 (1978); David Farneth, Dave Stein, and John Clarke Andrus (eds.), A Guide to the Weill-Lenya Research Center (1995); Kim Kowalke (ed.), A New Orpheus: Essays on Kurt Weill (1986); Ronald Sanders, The Days Grow Short: The Life and Music of Kurt Weill (1980); Kurt Weill, Speak Low (When You Speak Love): The Letters of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya (1996).

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Universalium. 2010.

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  • WEILL, KURT — (1900–1950), composer. The son of a ḥazzan, Weill was born in Dessau and studied under the composer Busoni in Berlin. He at first wrote operas and symphonic and chamber music, but later turned to social satire in the theater. Weill formed an… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Weill,Kurt — Weill (wīl, vīl), Kurt. 1900 1950. German born composer who collaborated with Bertolt Brecht on The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (1927) and The Threepenny Opera (1928). * * * …   Universalium

  • Weill, Kurt — (1900 1950)    composer and musician; best known for his collaboration with Bertolt Brecht.* Born in Dessau to a Jewish cantor, he was soon drawn to music* and began studies with Albert Bing, music director at Dessau s court theater,* when he was …   Historical dictionary of Weimar Republik

  • Weill, Kurt — (1900 50)    German composer. Born in Dessau, he studied at the Hochschule fur Musik in Berlin and became conductor of the municipal opera in Lüdenscheid. His early compositions include Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra, Der Protagonist and… …   Dictionary of Jewish Biography

  • Weill, Kurt — ► (1900 50) Compositor alemán. Musicó para Bertolt Brecht La ópera de cuatro cuartos (1928) …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Weill, Kurt —  (1900–1950) German born American composer …   Bryson’s dictionary for writers and editors

  • Weill, Kurt (Julian) — (2 mar. 1900, Dessau, Alemania–3 abr. 1950, Nueva York. N.Y., EE.UU.). Compositor estadounidense de origen alemán. Hijo de un cantor, a los 15 años de edad ya trabajaba como pianista de acompañamiento en un teatro. Estudió composición fugazmente… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Weill, Kurt (Julian) — born March 2, 1900, Dessau, Ger. died April 3, 1950, New York. N.Y., U.S. German born U.S. composer. Son of a cantor, by age 15 he was working as a theatre accompanist. He studied composition briefly with Engelbert Humperdinck, and a conductor s… …   Universalium

  • Weill — Weill, Kurt …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Kurt Julian Weill — Kurt Weill Kurt Julian Weill (* 2. März 1900 in Dessau; † 3. April 1950 in New York) war ein deutscher und später amerikanischer Komponist. Inhaltsverzeichnis …   Deutsch Wikipedia