KURT WEILL (1900-1950)
Kurt Julian Weill was born in Dessau, Germany in March, 1900. This brilliantly gifted composer was a pupil of
Humperdinck, Busoni, and Jarnach (Busoni's favorite pupil) in Berlin between 1918 and 1923. He was greatly influenced by the music of Igor Stravinsky. Stravinsky's influence was felt in the acerbic "Concerto for Violin and Winds," Opus 12 (1924) and in his First Symphony - a masterpiece of neo-classicism. (The pioneering recordings by conductors Edo De Waart and Gary Bertini and recent performances by the American Symphony Orchestra under Leon Botstein attest to the striking, even shocking originality of this neglected score.) In the mid 1920's Weill embraced tonal and populist elements (particularly jazz), which bore fruit in his cantata "The New Orpheus" and the music theater work "Royal Palace." He also collaborated with the expressionist playwright Georg Kaiser on the opera
In 1926 Weill married the actress-singer Lotte Lenya. Lenya would become a prime artistic influence and the most idiomatic interpreter of his music. His most important theatrical collaborator would be Berthold Brecht with whom he would produce "The Threepenny Opera (staged in1928 with Lenya in the leading female role), "Happy End" (1929), and "The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny" (1929). The combination of Weill's vernacular cum Schoenberg based musical language and Brecht's biting social criticism made for a potent theatrical collaboration. Their "popular operas" remain strikingly original and disturbing even today. Weill's final German stage work was "Der Silbersee" ("The Silver Lake") with a libretto by Kaiser - a potent study of social class, wealth, and power.
When the Nazis came to power in Germany, Weill was officially denounced for his Socialist views and populist influences. (All of this played well in the anti-Semitic world of Hitler's Germany.) In 1933 the composer fled with Lenya to Paris. His brief French period is the least familiar chapter in Weill's creative life. The operetta "Marie Galante" was a huge success and its waltz song became an anthem of the French Resistance movement. With Brecht and the young George Balanchine he collaborated on the theater piece "The Seven Deadly Sins" (1933). He also wrote songs for the French chanteuse Madeleine Grey.
In 1935 he moved to America and became a U.S. citizen in 1942. He wholeheartedly embraced the worlds of Broadway, Hollywood, and Tin Pan Alley. His American works remain distinguished for their artistic ambition and melodic inspiration. Among his collaborators were Franz Werfel ("The Eternal Road"), Paul Green ("Johnny Johnson"), Maxwell Anderson ("Knickerbocker Holiday" and "Lost in the Stars" - a powerful denunciation of South African apartheid and racism), Ira Gershwin ("The Firebrand of Florence" and "Lady in the Dark"), Allan Jay Lerner ("Love Life"), Ogden Nash ("One Touch of Venus"), Richard Wilbur ("Down in the Valley") and Langston Hughes (the opera "Street Scene" - as boldly original a fusion of the opera house and Broadway as Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess"). When Weill died of cancer in New York in 1950, he left a legacy of uniquely personal concert, operatic, and theatrical works. He was one of the truly original musical voices of the 20th century.
Program Notes by Lawrence Budmen