Kurt Weill MP3, CDs & Vinyl, Music of Kurt Weill

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Kurt Weill MP3, CDs & Vinyl, Music of Kurt Weill

Kurt Weill: Overview

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

Kurt Weill studied privately with Albert Bing and at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Berlin with Engelbert Humperdinck. 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, 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, 1926) and Royal Palace (1927), established his position, with Ernst Krenek and Paul Hindemith, as one of Germany’s most promising young opera composers.

Kurt Weill’s first collaboration as composer with Bertolt Brecht 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. Kurt Weill then wrote the music and Brecht provided the libretto for Die Dreigroschenoper (1928; The Threepenny Opera), which was a transposition of John Gay’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. Kurt 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 Kurt Weill’s masterpiece, the opera’s music showed a skillful synthesis of American popular music, ragtime, and jazz.

Kurt Weill’s wife, the actress Lotte Lenya (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), Kurt 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.

Kurt 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’s Johnny Johnson (1936) and Franz Werfel’s Eternal Road (1937). His operetta Knickerbocker Holiday appeared in 1938 with a libretto by Maxwell Anderson, followed by the musical play Lady in the Dark (1941; libretto and lyrics by Moss Hart and Ira Gershwin), the musical comedy One Touch of Venus (1943; with S.J. Perelman and Ogden Nash), the musical version of Elmer Rice’s Street Scene (1947), and the musical tragedy Lost in the Stars (1949; with Maxwell Anderson). Kurt Weill’s American folk opera Down in the Valley (1948) was much performed. Two of his songs, the “Moritat von Mackie Messer” (“Mack the Knife”) from Die Dreigroschenoper and “September Song” from Knickerbocker Holiday, have remained popular. Kurt 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.

Kurt Weill's earliest musical studies were with Albert Bing. Later, he was for a short time a pupil of Humperdinck. His earliest practical experience was as a conductor and coach for the opera companies at Dessau and Ludenscheid. In 1921 he settled in Berlin, where he studied with Busoni for three years. Although his earliest works were instrumental, Kurt Weill always thought of himself as a composer for the theatre. His first operas, one-act pieces written in a contemporary idiom, were nevertheless traditional in that they were scored for normal orchestra and intended for conventional singing. But Kurt Weill longed for an art that would decisively mirror his own time, and the life of his adopted city of Berlin (he came from a Jewish family in Dessau). It was in this mood that he exclaimed: 'I don't give a damn about posterity, I want to write for today!' It was in this mood that he collaborated with Bertolt Brecht, who wanted to achieve in poetry the same aims as Kurt Weill in music.

The first collaboration of Brecht and Kurt Weill, Der kleine Mahagonny, was a sketch with songs, about a mythical city whose excitements and whose attitudes were very like those of Berlin. It was an immediate success: at one stroke, Brecht and Kurt Weill had succeeded in bringing opera to the people. When Kurt Weill's wife, the Viennese actress and dancer Lotte Lenya, sang 'Denn wie man sich bettet, so liegt man' ('For as you make your bed, so you must lie in it'), her audience got the message, underlined in an almost sinister manner by the half-satirical use of popular melody, at once beautiful and banal.

The next work of the collaborators had an English title, Happy End, and was set in an America both mythical and real, like Kafka's novel, Amerika. These United States were states of mind rather than of geography, though the emotional truth of Kafka, and of Brecht-Kurt Weill, is unquestionable. The association of Brecht and Kurt Weill continued when Mahagonny was expanded into a full-length work, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, which proved a triumph when it opened in Berlin. The collaborators then decided to carry the new and popular operatic style they had invented further away from the stage, and into schools and colleges. They wrote a work for schools to perform: Der Jasager (The yes-man), a two-act opera based on an old Japanese Noh play. In so doing, they again created a new genre, the educational opera, which was taken up by Hindemith, Fortner and other German composers including, much later, Carl Orff. (Even Benjamin Britten's Let's Make an Opera and Noye's Fludde are legitimate successors of Der Jasager.)

In 1933 Hitler came to power in Germany. Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya got out of the country the day the Reichstag was destroyed by fire. They arrived in Paris penniless, and for some months lived on the hospitality of French admirers while Kurt Weill attempted to rebuild his career. Brecht was also in Paris, and the two men worked together on what was to prove their last collaboration, The Seven Deadly Sins, which combined ballet and opera. Years earlier, when he was a twenty-one-year-old student, Kurt Weill had written a symphony. Now, in Paris a second symphony was commissioned by the Princess Edmond de Polignac, whose generosity brought into being several other important musical works, including Stravinsky's Renard and Satie's Socrate. During the summer and autumn of 1933, in a village outside Paris Kurt Weill completed his symphony which was given its first performance the following year in Amsterdam under Bruno Walter. Unfortunately it was poorly received, and for Kurt Weill the problem of how to earn enough to survive on became acute. In Germany his music was banned; the Gestapo raided the offices of his publisher and destroyed all copies of his scores as well as the plates from which more copies might have been printed.

In Paris, Kurt Weill realised he must adapt himself to the requirements of French musical theatre. He found a French collaborator, the playwright Jacques Deval, and together they produced Marie Galante, a play with music. Kurt Weill proved his versatility by writing for it songs which, musically slight though they undoubtedly are, sound indisputably French in character. But writing pastiche French light music was no solution to his problem, for his roots as a musician were in the Austro-German tradition. After a brief sojourn in London, where he composed music for a show called My Kingdom for a Cow, Kurt Weill and Lenya made their way to the United States of America, where Kurt Weill had been invited to provide the music for a spectacular production by the great Austrian director Max Reinhardt. While working on this, Kurt Weill began to look around for an American librettist to take the place of Brecht. Through the Group Theatre of New York, a socialist organisation, he met the playwright Paul Green, and together they produced an anti-war satire, Johnny Johnson, which was staged in 1936. Kurt Weill's music retained its European accent: this was the kind of political and social musical theatre he had helped to create, and it seemed for a time as though he would be able to continue in America along the path he had taken in Berlin. But, in the America of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, Weil became more relaxed politically. In Berlin he would never have considered writing for the established bourgeois theatre. In New York, however, he began to understand the lure of Broadway, and for a time he succumbed to it. His second American piece of musical theatre was a Broadway musical. A superior musical, certainly, with book and lyrics by Maxwell Anderson, and production by Joshua Logan, but a Broadway show nevertheless. It was called Knicker-bocker Holiday.

With Kurt Weill's next musical, it seemed as though his capitulation to Broadway was complete. Lady in the Dark had a book by Moss Hart and lyrics by Ira Gershwin. In Broadway terms it was a hit, and Kurt Weill soon became America's favourite composer of musicals. His tunes lost their mordant quality, and his orchestration was now for the normal American theatre-pit orchestra, larger and more conventional than that of Mahagonny. Throughout these 'show-biz' years, however, Kurt Weill never lost sight of the kind of work he wanted to write. He used his Broadway shows in order to learn about his new audience, and how best to approach it. In 1947, he adapted Elmer Rice's play Street Scene for music, hoping to make it into a real American opera. Much closer in form to opera than to the Broadway musical of the time, Street Scene was accepted gratefully by the mass audience to which it was addressed, and ran for several months. Kurt Weill, in his middle forties, had found his mature voice as a composer in his adopted land. He certainly thought so at the time, and said that all his earlier works for the stage were stepping stones towards Street Scene. But his next one proved to be a more conventional Broadway entertainment, Love Life, for which his librettist was Alan Jay Lerner who had already written the book and lyrics for Brigadoon and was later to write Camelot and My Fair Lady, all three with the composer Frederick Loewe.

The wheel of Kurt Kurt Weill's career was turning full circle. Just as, nearly twenty years earlier in Berlin he had turned his attention to writing for amateurs and students, so now he determined to provide an American one-act opera for amateur or school groups. Down in the Valley, an opera based on American folksong, was first performed in July 1948 by students at the University of Indiana. Kurt Weill followed it in 1949 with another Broadway musical, but a musical with a difference. From Alan Paton's novel about racial conflict in South Africa, Cry, the Beloved Country, Maxwell Anderson fashioned a libretto, and Kurt Weill, an old victim of German racial theories, responded to it with passion and enthusiasm. For Lost in the Stars, as the musical was called, he composed a score which was one of his finest. It made no concessions to Broadway taste, yet it reached its audience and affected it. Now Kurt Weill had really arrived back at the point where he had started. He had begun his career in the theatre by writing operas in such a way that they could be appreciated by the mass audiences of the light theatre. He ended it by writing for that mass audience a work which moved back towards opera, and in doing so he helped pave the way for Leonard Bernstein and West Side Story. Several months later, while he and Maxwell Anderson were beginning to collaborate once again, this time on an opera based on Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, Kurt Weill suddenly died of a heart attack in New York, shortly after his fiftieth birthday.

Throughout his career, Kurt Weill's basic intentions never altered: to produce music that was both popular and good. This was comparatively easy to do in the 18th century, rather difficult in the 19th, and virtually impossible, it seems {pace the Beatles et al), in the 20th. Kurt Weill's unique achievement is that he came close to this, not just once but at many points during his life. He may not be one of the very few great composers of the century, one of the Bergs, Brittens or Stravinskys, but he has an honoured place in the hierarchy and also a finer melodicgift than two of those three great names.

Kurt Weill: CDs & Vinyl

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Kurt Weill: MP3

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