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Summary Article: Weill, Kurt Julian
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

German composer; a US citizen from 1943. He wrote chamber and orchestral music and collaborated with Bertolt Brecht on operas such as Die Dreigroschenoper/The Threepenny Opera (1928) and Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny/The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (1929), both of which attacked social corruption. Mahagonny, which satirized US frontier values, caused a riot at its premiere in Leipzig. He tried to develop a new form of music theatre, using subjects that were currently important, and the simplest musical means. In 1933 he left Germany, and from 1935 was in the USA, where he wrote a number of successful scores for Broadway, among them the antiwar musical Johnny Johnson (1936), Knickerbocker Holiday (1938) (including the often covered ‘September Song’), and Street Scene (1947), based on an Elmer Rice play set in the Depression.

His musical Love Life (1948), with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, describes a typical US couple over a period of 150 years of US history, and expresses Weill's mixture of fascination and repulsion towards the ‘American Dream’.

Weill was born in Dessau, where his father was a cantor. He studied locally at first, and later with Engelbert Humperdinck in Berlin. At the age of 19 he was appointed conductor at a small opera house, but after a year of conducting he decided to return to Berlin to study composition under Ferruccio Busoni. He had his first stage success at the age of 26 when his first opera, Der Protagonist/The Protagonist, was produced at Dresden. Also at 26, he married the singer Lotte Lenya, who performed many of his songs. His collaboration with Bertolt Brecht on a modern version of John Gay's Beggar's Opera/Die Dreigroschenoper (1928) was a huge success, but in 1933 the Nazi regime condemned his works as both Jewish and decadent, and he left Germany. Official opinion also disapproved of Weill's effective use of jazz in his stage works, and there was further suspicion of the sharp social satire in Die Dreigroschenoper. He visited London in 1935 for the production of A Kingdom for a Cow, an English version of an earlier operetta, but went the same year to settle in the USA. Among the US writers who collaborated with Weill on musicals for Broadway were Ogden Nash and Maxwell Anderson. In 1949 he wrote Lost in the Stars, a musical tragedy based on Alan Paton's novel Cry, the Beloved Country, and he was planning a folk opera based on Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn when he died suddenly of a heart attack.

WorksStage (several on libretti by Bertolt Brecht) Der Protagonist/The Protagonist (1926), Der Silbersee (1933), Der Zar lässt sich photographieren (libretto by G Kaiser), Royal Palace (1927), Die Dreigroschenoper/The Threepenny Opera (1928), Happy End (1929), Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny/The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (1929), Der Jasager (1930), Die Bürgschaft, A Kingdom for a Cow (1935), Johnny Johnson (1936), Knickerbocker Holiday (1938), The Firebrand of Florence (1945), Down in the Valley (1948), Street Scene (1947), Love Life (1948), Lost in the Stars (1949); ballet Die sieben Todsünden/Anna Anna (1933).

Choral with orchestra Biblical music drama The Eternal Road; cantatas Der neue Orpheus and Der Lindberghflug (1929).

Orchestral two symphonies (1921, 1933), Fantasia, Passacaglia und Hymnus, Divertimento and Quodlibet for orchestra; concerto for violin and wind band (1924).

Other two string quartets (1919, 1923); works for voices and chamber orchestra, songs (Rilke) with orchestra.

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Weill, Kurt Julian

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