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March 2: Kurt Weill

March 2, 2014

1986_107A politically conscious and prolific composer who collaborated with Bertolt Brecht to create The Threepenny Opera in 1928, Kurt Weill was born within a religious Jewish family in Dessau, Germany on this date in 1900. His father was a cantor, and Weill showed musical talent at an early age. He wrote his first string quartet at 18, and in 1922 he joined the Novembergruppe, a society of progressive artists in Berlin, through which he met his future actress wife, the great Lotte Lenya. Throughout the 1920s and early ’30s, Weill became a prominent theater composer and songwriter, and wrote several pieces with Jewish themes, but he had to flee from Nazi Germany in 1933 after being targeted by the fascists for his populist and socialist views. After creative sojourns in Paris and London, he came to the U.S. in 1935 and began to incorporate American themes into his music in such works as “Speak Low” (words by Ogden Nash), which you can hear Weill singing below, Down in the Valley, a short opera (1945-48) that incorporated several American folk songs, and Street Scene, a musical with lyrics by Langston Hughes that won the first Tony Award for Best Original Score in 1947. Weill died at age 50 of a heart attack. Lotte Lenya worked mightily to keep his works in the public eye.

“I have never acknowledged the difference between serious music and light music. There is only good music and bad music.” —Kurt Weill