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Music / Kurt Weill

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"I have never acknowledged the difference between serious music and light music. There is only good music and bad music."

Kurt Julian Weill (March 2, 1900 – April 3, 1950) was a German composer. He's best known for his work with Bertolt Brecht, particularly on The Threepenny Opera. He fled Nazi Germany in 1933 and after a few years settled in the United States, where he composed many songs for Ira Gershwin and contributed to several Broadway musicals.

He was married to Lotte Lenya. Lenya's correspondence with Weill was published in book form, titled Speak Low (When You Speak Love). A play based on the collected letters, Lovemusik, opened on Broadway in 2007.

Notable works include:

Tropes associated with Weill's work:

  • Briefer Than They Think: Almost all of the musical works Kurt Weill wrote in collaboration with Bertolt Brecht were created between 1927 and 1930. The Seven Deadly Sins (1933) is the only significant exception.
  • Cool People Rebel Against Authority: In "How Can You Tell An American?," Weill expresses his admiration for the American resistance to all forms of authority.
  • Dark Reprise: He was fond of this trope. A very nice example can be heard in the final three songs of The Seven Deadly Sins, which summarize the previous parts both in melody and in lyrics.
    • More famously, the final song of the Threepenny Opera, which echoes the opening song Mack The Knife. "For some are in the darkness, and others are in the light. And we see the ones in the light. The ones in the darkness, we don't see." Although the song is left out in a staggering number of productions, it's one of the most quoted poems in German literature.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The title of "Der Kuhhandel", an unfinished operetta by Kurt Weill, is a German idiomatic expression for shady business. However, the literal meaning, "cow trading," also happens to be accurate.
  • Eagleland: Interestingly, despite Weill's hardcore leftist views, "How Can You Tell an American is solidly Type 1, praising Americans for their rebellious spirit and rejection of unfair authority.
  • Murder Ballad: The original German lyrics to "Die Moritat vom Mackie Messer" ("Mack The Knife") are rather nastier, darker and more violent than in most English-language versions. Nick Cave's version of the song translates far more faithfully, what with him being Nick Cave and all. Kurt Weill seems to have had some affinity for murder ballads, because there were two in later shows he composed: "The Ballad of Caesar's Death" from Der Silbersee, and "Dr. Crippen" from One Touch of Venus.
  • Patter Song: "Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians)" lyrics by Ira Gershwin and music by Kurt Weill, first performed by Danny Kaye in Lady in the Dark.
    • Before that Kurt wrote one call Ballad of the Lily of Hell from the forgotten Happy End.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: "Prelude to Act II" of Street Scene was recycled from incidental music for Leo Lania's play Konjunktur (Berlin, 1928).
  • Seven Deadly Sins: The Seven Deadly Sins, an operatic ballet where the main character, Anna, goes through all of them.
  • Soiled City on a Hill: Mahagonny is described as such in The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.
  • "Somewhere" Song: "Youkali"
  • Stock Shout-Out: Pirate Jenny is often treated this way in popular culture. Weill and Brecht in itself are also a popular point of reference when the Weimar Republic is addressed in films, TV series, books and music.

Kurt Weill in popular culture