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:
- Knickerbocker Holiday (1938)
- Lady in the Dark (1941)
- Lost In The Stars (1949)
- One Touch of Venus (1943)
- The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (1930)
- The Seven Deadly Sins (1933)
- Street Scene (1947)
- The Threepenny Opera (1928)
- Where Do We Go From Here
- You And Me
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- "Die Moritat von Mackie Messer" from The Threepenny Opera has been covered by countless artists under the English translation "Mack The Knife". Among them Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and Nick Cave. As a resut probably no doubt become more recognizable than the musical it was written for, Die Dreigroschenoper. Also, Die Dreigroschenoper itself was based on The Beggar's Opera by John Gay. (Even worse, many people under the age of 30 probably only associate it with McDonald's, thanks to its "Mac Tonite" advertising campaign.) The "Alabama Song" from Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny is another of these songs by Weill and Brecht which has had this happen to it.
- On the album cover of Bringing It All Back Home by Bob Dylan we can see a copy of Lotte Lenya Sings Berlin Theatre Songs by Kurt Weill on the background.
- "The Alabama Song" from The Doors' debut The Doors is lifted from The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.
- "After All" from David Bowie's The Man Who Sold the World is stylistically a homage to Weill's music.
- Tom Waits covered "What Keeps Mankind Alive?" from The Threepenny Opera on his album Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards.
- Weill's wife Lotte Lenya is a constellation on the back cover of Frank Zappa's One Size Fits All.
- The Tiger Lillies have also covered songs by Weill, with even an album that is a parody of The Threepenny Opera called "2 Penny Opera".
- Sarah Vaughan covered "September Song" from Knickerbocker Holiday on her Crossover with Clifford Brown Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown.
- Rocketship Voyager. Ensign Kim sings "Lost in the Stars" in the messhall after Voyager ends up on the far side of the galaxy. Also serves as a Mythology Gag to Spock Sings when Leonard Nimoy sang it.