Kurt Weill

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Weill, Kurt

(ko͝ort` vīl), 1900–1950, German-American composer, b. Dessau, studied with Humperdinck and Busoni in Berlin. He first became known with the production of two short satirical surrealist operas, Der Protagonist (1926) and Der Zar lässt sich photographieren [the czar has himself photographed] (1928). More popular than these, however, was his melodious Dreigroschenoper (1928), a modern version of John GayGay, John,
1685–1732, English playwright and poet, b. Barnstaple, Devon. Educated at the local grammar school, he was apprenticed to a silk mercer for a brief time before commencing his literary career in London.
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's Beggar's Opera, with book by Bertolt BrechtBrecht, Bertolt
, 1898–1956, German dramatist and poet, b. Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht. His brilliant wit, his outspoken Marxism, and his revolutionary experiments in the theater made Brecht a vital and controversial force in modern drama.
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. It was a great success, running for more than 400 performances and later appearing throughout Europe. Translated and adapted by Marc Blitzstein as The Threepenny Opera, it was first produced in New York City in 1933; revived in 1954, it ran for more than six years and has become one of the classics of the musical stage. Brecht was also the librettist of Weill's satiric opera Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (Rise and Fall of the City Mahagonny, 1927; rev. and expanded 1930). The two also collaborated in the ballet chanté The Seven Deadly Sins (1933), choreographed by George BalanchineBalanchine, George
, 1904–83, American choreographer and ballet dancer, b. St. Petersburg, Russia, as Georgi Balanchivadze. The son of a Georgian composer and a Russian mother, Balanchine attended (1913–21) the Imperial Ballet School, St.
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. All these works were condemned as decadent by the rising followers of Hitler, and, in 1933, Weill left Germany for France.

In 1935 he emigrated to the United States, where he began writing sophisticated musicals, the most notable being Johnny Johnson (1936), Knickerbocker Holiday (1938; written with Maxwell AndersonAnderson, Maxwell,
1888–1959, American dramatist, b. Atlantic, Pa., grad. Univ. of North Dakota, 1911. His plays, many of which are written in verse, usually concern social and moral problems.
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), Lady in the Dark (1941), and One Touch of Venus (1943; written with Ogden NashNash, Ogden,
1902–71, American poet, b. Rye, N.Y., studied at Harvard. He was popular for a wide assortment of witty and immensely quotable doggerel verses, ranging from urbane satire to absurdity in their subject and rhyme.
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). In these works Weill employed with great facility advanced techniques, including multiple rhythms and polytonality, combined with the idiom of American popular music and jazz. His last works, in a more serious vein, included Street Scene (1947), Down in the Valley (1948), and Lost in the Stars (1949; written with Maxwell Anderson). His wife, the singer Lotte LenyaLenya, Lotte
, 1898–1981, Viennese singer and character actress, b. Karoline Blamauer. The wife of the composer Kurt Weill, Lenya was the foremost singer of his songs.
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, played many of the leading roles in his works and was his defining interpreter. Weill also wrote some instrumental works; a cantata, Lindbergh's Flight (1929); and The Eternal Road (1934), a pageant of Jewish history originally composed in German with text by Franz WerfelWerfel, Franz
, 1890–1945, Austrian writer, b. Prague. He expressed his belief in the brotherhood of man in lyric verse, in expressionist and conventional plays, and in novels. He fled from Nazi-occupied Austria to France and then to the United States.
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. Weill became a U.S. citizen in 1943.


See the letters of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, ed. by L. Symonette (1997); biography by R. Sanders (1980); E. Mordden, Love Song: The Lives of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya (2012); P. Katz, The Partnership: Brecht, Weill, Three Women, and Germany on the Brink (2015).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Weill, Kurt


Born Mar. 2, 1900, in Dessau; died Apr. 3, 1950, in New York. German composer and conductor.

Weill studied composition with E. Humperdinck and F. Busoni. During 1919-20 he presented operas as a conductor and producer in Dessau and Lüdenscheid. His satirical Threepenny Opera (a modernized version of The Beggar’s Opera by J. Gay and J. Pepusch with poetry by B. Brecht, 1928), which exposed contemporary bourgeois society, achieved worldwide fame. It marked the beginning of his collaboration with Brecht, for whose plays Weill wrote incidental music—ditties and ballads. Later, he composed operas for Brecht’s librettos (The Happy End, 1929; The Man Who Always Says “Yes” and The Rise and Fall of the Town of Mahagonny, 1930; and the ballet with songs The Seven Deadly Sins, 1933) and many other works.

In 1933, Weill immigrated to France. He lived in England and then, from 1935, in the USA. He worked for the Broadway theater (New York), writing so-called musicals (a form of musical comedy prevalent in the USA that has elements of variety stage and everyday music, choreography, and operetta). Weill attempted to introduce social criticism into this genre (the folk opera Street Scene, 1947; the opera Lost in the Stars, 1949; and others). He created a genre of sharply satirical topical drama with music. Attempting to establish a new type of opera for the mass audience, he introduced conversational speech, popular songs, fashionable dances, and elements of jazz music and urban folklore into opera. In addition to theater music, he wrote orchestral, chamber, and choral works, as well as music for the motion pictures and radio. Weill influenced Hindemith, Britten, Gershwin, and other composers.


Leont’eva, O. “Kurt Vail’.” Sovetskaia muzyka, 1963, no. 1.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Weill, Kurt

(1900–50) composer; born in Dessau, Germany. Son of a rabbi, after a moderately successful career as a musical avant-gardist he teamed with playwright Bertolt Brecht to create a series of popular theater works that joined radical social ideas to jazz-influenced music; most notable was the 1928 Threepenny Opera, which became a sensation across Europe and its best-known song "Mack the Knife" an international classic. Driven from Germany by the Nazis, he and his actress wife Lotte Lenya moved permanently to the U.S.A. in 1935; three years later came his first Broadway hit, Knickerbocker Holiday, which introduced the immortal "September Song." After other Broadway successes including Lady in the Dark (1941) and One Touch of Venus (1943), he wrote the "folk opera" Down in the Valley (1948), which used traditional Kentucky tunes. He died suddenly while working on a musical version of Tom Sawyer.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
References in periodicals archive ?
"Mankind survives on bestial acts," Kurt Weil once wrote in a song.
She enjoyed to read Marcel Proust and other French literature In French and to sing along to recordings of Kurt Weil songs in German.