93. Kurt Weill [365 Composers for 2013]


3rd April – Kurt Weill

Weill  (March 2nd 1900 – April 3rd 1950) is our composer for 3rd April, to mark the day of his death.
Nationality: German
Lifespan: 50 years
Genre: 20th century
Education: Hochschule fur Musik, Berlin
Fame Ranking: 3

Kurt Weill was born into a German Jewish family and took up the piano at the relatively late age of 12. Within a few short years he had mastered the instrument enough to be able to perform in public, giving his first recital aged 15. Around the same time, he began composing, and went on to study composition at the Hochschule fur Musik, under Engelbert Humperdinck.

After Word War I, Weill’s family fell on hard times, and he could not afford to complete his further education. He began working in music related jobs, for instance playing as a “repetiteur” (rehearsal pianist/coach) at a local theatre. It was this experience with the stage that most likely led Weill on to become one of the foremost theatre music composers of his time.

In the 1920s Weill studied under the modernist composer Busoni, and also became a member of the “November Group”, which was a socialist club for artists of all types to unite under a common ideal – art for the people. Weill believed that music should serve the general public in a useful and meaningful way. He composed instrumental music as well as theatre pieces, but always gained more recognition for his dramatic works. In 1928 he premiered his “Threepenny Opera”, his most famous work, which is based on the much older “Beggar’s Opera” by John Gay.

Shortly before Word War II broke out, Weill escaped to the USA, where he remained for the rest of his life. He became an American citizen and would not even speak German, it is said. He studied the American style of musicals, and adapted his works to try to please American audiences. While popular, compositions from this period of his life did not gain the same acclaim as those written while he was still in Germany. Weill died in New York from a heart attack, aged 50.

Here is Weill’s “Mack the Knife”, the most famous song from his “Threepenny Opera”, sung by his wife, Lotte Lenya:


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