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Weill's Musical Theater

Weill's Musical Theater: Stages of Reform

Stephen Hinton
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 592
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  • Book Info
    Weill's Musical Theater
    Book Description:

    In the first musicological study of Kurt Weill’s complete stage works, Stephen Hinton charts the full range of theatrical achievements by one of twentieth-century musical theater’s key figures. Hinton shows how Weill’s experiments with a range of genres—from one-act operas and plays with music to Broadway musicals and film-opera—became an indispensable part of the reforms he promoted during his brief but intense career. Confronting the divisive notion of “two Weills”—one European, the other American—Hinton adopts a broad and inclusive perspective, establishing criteria that allow aspects of continuity to emerge, particularly in matters of dramaturgy. Tracing his extraordinary journey as a composer, the book shows how Weill’s artistic ambitions led to his working with a remarkably heterogeneous collection of authors, such as Georg Kaiser, Bertolt Brecht, Moss Hart, Alan Jay Lerner, and Maxwell Anderson.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95183-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-viii)
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  5. 1 Biographical Notes
    (pp. 1-36)

    How should Kurt Weill be remembered? The fact that posterity has been inclined to recognize him as the composer who didn’t give a damn about posterity is an irony he would have acknowledged, if not entirely appreciated. Nor was he wholly blameless for this state of affairs. “As for myself, I write for today,” he said in a much-cited and often paraphrased statement. “I don’t give a damn about writing for posterity.” It is hard to believe he was not protesting too much. Why else would he have brought up the issue in the first place? Those who really don’t...

  6. 2 The Busoni Connection
    (pp. 37-66)

    Brecht, Busoni, Mozart, and Wagner. To judge from how often they appear in his published writings and interviews, these were the names that were uppermost in Kurt Weill’s artistic consciousness. (Other, not quite so prominent figures included Bach, Beethoven, Georg Kaiser, Puccini, Schoenberg, Strauss, Stravinsky, and Verdi.) The frequency is hardly surprising, given the significance that Weill attached to these four composers, above all to Busoni, whose master class he attended in Berlin from 1921 through 1924. The connection to his teacher is something Weill was not only pleased but evidently quite proud to acknowledge in numerous public statements. Even...

  7. 3 One-Act Operas
    (pp. 67-93)

    When, in the last year of his life, Weill said that “I’m always in right at the beginning. I’m never lucky enough to find a libretto and set it to music,” he had forgotten how lucky he had been withDer Protagonist.¹ His first surviving opera began as the exception to what would become the inviolable rule: it is his only musical theater piece to use a preexisting dramatic work almost wholesale, with little adjustment. Otherwise he was indeed “always in right at the beginning,” always involved in shaping the musico-dramatic product, often quite extensively, from inception until opening night...

  8. 4 “Songspiel”
    (pp. 94-109)

    Which came first, theMahagonny“Songspiel” or theMahagonnyopera? Regarding their performance history, the answer is quite straightforward. Mahagonny:Ein Songspiel nach Texten von Bert Brechtreceived its premiere at the festival Deutsche Kammermusik Baden-Baden on 17 July 1927.¹ After supplying the credit “by Kurt Weill,” the program went on to characterize the work as “the small epic piece.” The full-length epic operaAufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, whose text was credited solely to Brecht, followed nearly three years later, with a premiere in Leipzig on 9 March 1930. Both premieres sharply divided critical opinion. Both, but especially...

  9. 5 Plays with Music
    (pp. 110-137)

    Even more than the preceding one-act operas, Weill’sMahagonny-Songspielreflects an abiding interest in creating mixed genres or “in-between genres” (Zwischengattungen, as the composer himself called them). The three works discussed below likewise draw on a variety of theatrical conventions and musical styles. Mixing dialogue and musical numbers, comedy and morals, they hark back to the precedent of the eighteenth-century singspiel, asMahagonnyhad overtly done through its punning subtitle “Songspiel.” Apart from describing the ingredients of spoken dialogue and musical numbers, and unlike “singspiel,” the label “play with music” (Stück mit Musik) refers to the pieces’ home outside the...

  10. 6 Epic Opera
    (pp. 138-175)

    The epithetepicis laden with conceptual baggage. In the expression “epic theater” it conjures up theory rather than practice, tracts rather than plays. The literature on the subject is voluminous, most of it on theoretical aspects of works written by Brecht and his associates. Yet the relevance of the concept for Weill extends well beyond the plays and operas he wrote with Brecht or the theoretical texts that accompany them. Busoni’s teachings, which foreshadowed some of Brecht’s ideas about epic theater, exerted a vital influence, and not just on Weill’s pre-Brecht operas. Another defining influence came from the music-theater...

  11. 7 Didactic Theater (“Lehrstück”)
    (pp. 176-195)

    In an interview published in April 1930, two months before the premiere of his “school opera”Der Jasager, Weill stated that “this ‘Lehrstück’ [literally, “teaching piece”] should become a fully fledged work of art, not a by-work.” In the same interview he described himself as a “simple musician,” for whom “the simple style is no problem, the simple works . . . no mereparerga [Nebenwerke], butchefsd’oeuvre [Hauptwerke].”¹ And in 1935, newly arrived in America, he was to callDer Jasagerhis most important work to date.² Yet there is no denying an element of special pleading, expressed in...

  12. 8 Stages of Exile
    (pp. 196-260)

    Weill’s life and work after his departure from Germany suggest a pattern that resists the concept of exile, at least as that term is normally applied to German émigré artists. More appropriate in his case, as suggested earlier, is the notion of “other-directedness,” a character typology that runs counter to conventional conceptions of artistic identity and development. Eschewing the concept of exile is no trivial matter, however. Terminology is critical for historical as well as cultural reasons. The editors of the 1993 bookMusik im Exil, for example, warned against replacing the termexilewithemigration.¹ “Emigration,” they contended, represents...

  13. 9 Musical Plays
    (pp. 261-320)

    In the United States, as in Europe, Weill’s reforms of musical theater tended to blur rather than affirm generic boundaries. It is no coincidence that the rise in the currency of the umbrella termmusical—incorporating and thereby rendering redundant the qualification of subgenres such as comedy, play, romance, and farce—occurred during the period of his activity on Broadway. “Musical play” nonetheless retains its significance for his work in its broader as well as in its more specific connotation, as both catch-all and delimiting term.

    Because of this inherent ambiguity, “musical play” can be seen to function as the...

  14. 10 Stage vs. Screen
    (pp. 321-359)

    Weill’s involvement with the medium of film is a story of high hopes, countless frustrations, some major disappointments, and a handful of notable achievements. In several respects it can be likened to his experience with radio. Like many of his generation in the incipient era of mechanical reproduction, he welcomed technological innovation, inspired as he was by ideals that were artistic as well as political. And as music critic forDer deutsche Rundfunk, an activity that he began in November 1924, under his own by-line starting in January 1925, he had ample opportunity to contribute to the lively and productive...

  15. 11 American Opera
    (pp. 360-402)

    “You can imagine what this means to me,” Weill wrote to his parents in 1949, gratified by the success of the first professional performance of his college operaDown in the Valley. “This recognition of my efforts,” he continued, “allows me to work again in the world of opera, which has been my real field of activity [eigentliches Betätigungsfeld] all along.”¹ Writing in German, he paraphrases a review from theNew York World-Telegramin which the critic suggested that Weill might become known as “the founder of American opera.”² Weill’s other principal “effort” in this field wasStreet Scene, first...

  16. 12 Concept and Commitment
    (pp. 403-446)

    Weill’s last two works for the musical theater, which had their premieres on Broadway within a year of each other, in 1948 and 1949, offer an intriguing study in contrasts. Subtitled “A Vaudeville,”Love Lifelooks in a critical, yet entertaining way at the institution of marriage in a broad historical context.Lost in the Stars, billed as a “musical tragedy,” represents a serious, humanistically committed attempt to examine race relations in a society oppressed by bigotry.

    By looking back to earlier forms of American theatrical entertainment, Weill’s “vaudeville” also looks forward. Its subversion of conventional linear plot-construction foreshadows a...

  17. Coda
    (pp. 447-472)

    In an article titled “Music Written for the Theater: A Summary of the Early Season,” which appeared in theNew York Herald Tribuneon 13 November 1949, the composer and music critic Virgil Thomson eschewed the labelmusical tragedy. Instead he describedLost in the Starsas “a play with musical numbers, asingspiel.” His reason for doing so: “It is not . . . either purely or chiefly a musical narrative.” Even though one might take issue with Thomson’s assertion that this and Blitzstein’sReginaare plays in which “music is employed copiously but incidentally,” his judgment seems fair...

  18. APPENDIX: Weill’s Works for Stage or Screen
    (pp. 473-475)
    (pp. 476-476)
  20. NOTES
    (pp. 477-542)
    (pp. 543-546)
  22. INDEX
    (pp. 547-569)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 570-570)