Weill, Kurt (1900-1950)

Kurt Julian Weill is born in Dessau on March 2nd 1900. He is the third child of Emma Ackermann and Albert Weill, cantor in Dessau’s synagogue (from 1899 to 1919) and composer, mainly of religious music.

From 1915 to 1918, he starts piano lessons as well as harmony, composition and orchestration with Albert Bing, chief assistant in Dessau’s court’s theater. He studies music in 1918 in the Hochschule of Berlin, and is admitted in 1920 in the class of the composer and pianist Busoni in the academy of Arts of Berlin. He becomes quickly one of his best pupils.

Thinking about the part of music in theater, and on the concept of Spiel (acting), Kurt Weill starts his opera projects in 1925. His first collaboration with Bertolt Brecht in 1927 (The Threepenny Opera) will be essential for his future work. Engaged with communist ideas, his meeting with Brecht changes his way of writing. He proclaims himself the “Verdi of the poor” and turns his avant-garde expressionist style towards realism. He then creates a new form of popular performance: half-way between theater and opera, his music is full of jazz and cabaret. This time is a turning point for him: he collaborates with the Austrian soprano Lotte Lenya, who becomes quickly his lover and preferred singer. Inseparable, they marry and become a legend.

In 1933 Kurt Weill is forced to escape in France due to his Jewish origins. On November 26th 1933, during a concert in Salle Pleyel where excerpts of Der Silbersee are played, the composer Florent Schmitt screams “Hail Hitler” supported by parts of the audience. Parisian newspapers targets Kurt Weill, in particular Lucien Rebatet who speaks of “Jewish-German virus” in the newspaper “Action Française”.

In September 1935 he leaves for the United States. A major work during the beginning of his exile is Der Weg des Verheissung/The Eternal Road, a Biblical piece presenting the Jewish people, blending theater, religious music and opera. Kurt Weill becomes then successful on Broadway, especially with Lady in the Dark and One touch of Venus. In 1941 he takes part in the war by entering the organization Fight for Freedom; he becomes flight observer in 1942. He also creates various works related to the situation, in particular We Will Never Die, performed in New-York and Los-Angeles and broadcasted on the radio. He obtains American citizenship in 1943.

The most remarkable pieces of the Kurt Weill’s last creative period are the American opera Street Scene that presents an interesting synthesis between European opera and American musical, and the musical tragedy Lost in the Stars, dealing with the South-African apartheid, and with a certain African music inspiration.

He dies of a heart attack on April 3rd 1950 in New-York, during the creation of the musical Huckleberry Finn.

Biography, discography and catalogue of Kurt Weill’ work

In August 1928, his opera Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera) had a huge success. Therefore, he decided to create a continuation based on the music, for small orchestra.

Mack The Knife - Louis Armstrong & Lotte Lenya

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