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Encyclopedia > Kurt Weil

Kurt Weill (March 2, 1900April 3, 1950), born in Dessau, Germany and died in New York, was a German composer active from the 1920's until his death. He was a leading composer for the stage as well as a composer of concert works.


Life and Work

After growing up in a religious Jewish family, Weill fled Nazi Germany in March 1933. He was seen as a particular threat by the Nazi authorities, being a prominent Jewish composer. There were riots at performances of his later works, orchestrated by Nazi party members. In fact, the opening night performance of Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny) was unable to proceed due to Nazi violence. He had no option but to leave, so he left for Paris and in 1935 on to the United States. The United States had been his dream, his fantasyland of democracy and the free world. When the ocean liner steamed into New York harbour, Weill left his life in Germany behind. He believed most of his work to be destroyed, and he only seldomly and reluctantly spoke and wrote German again, with the exception of, for example, letters to his parents who had escaped to Israel.


He married actress Lotte Lenya twice: In 1926 and again in 1937 after their divorce in 1933. Lenya took great care to support Weill's work, and after his death she took it upon herself to increase awareness of his music. She formed the Kurt Weill Foundation.


His most well-known work is the Threepenny Opera written in collaboration with Bertolt Brecht, itself a reworking of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera. The Threepenny Opera contains Weill's most famous song, "Mack the Knife." Weill's working association with Brecht, although successful, came to an end over differing politics. According to Lotte Lenya, Weill made a comment that he was unable to "set the communist party manifesto to music."


While much of Weill's American work is considered to be of a lower profile than his German efforts, his works for Broadway include a number of highly respected and admired shows. Among these are Lady in the Dark and Love Life, seen as seminal works in the development of the American musical. Weill himself strived to find a new way of creating an American opera, that would be both commercially and artistically successful. The most interesting attempt in this direction is Street Scene, based on a play by Elmer Rice.


Among modern day musicians who have been influenced by the music of Kurt Weill are Leonard Cohen, The Doors, Tom Waits, David Bowie, Nick Cave, and Marilyn Manson.


List of works

External link

  • Kurt Weill Foundation (http://www.kwf.org/)
  • Kurt Weill Forum & Info on his American work (http://www.kurtweillforum.com/)

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