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Weill, Kurt (Julian)

Born: Dessau, 2 March 1900
Died: New York, 3 April 1950
Nationality: German composer, American citizen from 1943

He was a pupil of Humperdinck, Busoni and Jarnach in Berlin (1918-23); their teaching informed his early music, including the choral "Recordare" (1923) and the Concerto for violin and wind (1924), the latter also influenced by Stravinsky. But the deeper influence of Stravinsky, coupled with an increased consciousness of music as a social force, led Weill to a rediscovery in the mid-1920s of tonal and vernacular elements, notably from jazz, in his cantata "Der neue Orpheus" and one-act stage piece "Royal Palace," written between two collaborations with the expressionist playwright Georg Kaiser: "Der Protagonist" and "Der Zar lässt sich photographieren." In 1926 he married the singer Lotte Lenya, who was to be the finest interpreter of his music.

His next collaborator was Brecht, with whom he worked on "The Threepenny Opera" (1928), "The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny" (1929) and "Happy End" (1929), all of which use the corrupted, enfeebled diatonicism of commercial music as a weapon of social criticism, though paradoxically they have beome the epitome of the pre-war culture they sought to despise. Yet this is done within the context of a new harmonic consistency and focus. These works have also drawn attention from the theatre works in which Weill developed without Brecht during the early 1930s, "Die Bürgschaft" and "Der Silbersee" (with Kaiser again).

In 1933 he left Germany for Paris, where he worked with Brecht again on the sung ballet "The Seven Deadly Sins." Then in 1935 he moved to the USA, where he cut loose from the European art-music tradition and devoted himself wholeheartedly to composing for the Broadway stage, intentionally subordinating aesthetic criteria to pragmatic and populist ones. Yet these works are still informed by his cultivated sense of character and theatrical form.

Selected Works Include:

Dramatic music
  • Der Protagonist (1926)
  • Royal Palace (1927)
  • Der Zar lässt sich photographieren (1928)
  • Die Dreigroschenoper (1928)
  • Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (1929)
  • Happy End (1929)
  • Der Jasager, school opera (1930)
  • Die Bürgschaft (1932)
  • Der Silbersee (1933)
  • Die sieben Todsünden, sung ballet (1933)
  • Johnny Johnson, fable (1936)
  • Knickerbocker Holiday, operetta (1938)
  • Railroads on Parade, pageant (1939)
  • Lady in the Dark, musical play (1941)
  • One Touch of Venus, musical comedy (1943)
  • Street Scene, Broadway opera (1947)
  • Down in the Valley, college opera (1948)
  • Love Life, vaudeville (1948)
  • Lost in the Stars, musical tragedy (1949)
  • film, theatre and radio music
Orchestral music
  • Sym. no. 1 (1921)
  • Divertimento (1922)
  • Sinfonia sacra (1922)
  • Conc., vn, wind (1924)
  • Sym. no. 2 (1933)
Vocal music
  • Recordare, chorus (1923)
  • Der neue Orpheus, S, vn, orch (1925)
  • Vom Tod im Wald, B, wind (1927)
  • Das Berliner Requiem, T, Bar, B, chorus (1928)
  • Der Lindberghflug, T, Bar, chorus (1929)
  • Kiddush, T, chorus (1949)
  • songs
Chamber music
  • 2 str qts (1919, 1923)
  • Vc Sonata (1920)

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