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Who is Kurt Weill?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 28 March 2014
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Born in Germany in 1900, Kurt Weill studied composition with Engelbert Humperdinck and Ferruccio Busoni. He married singer Lotte Lenya in 1926, and the following year began his collaboration with playwright Bertolt Brecht.

Brecht and Weill created several notable works together, including Mahagonny-Songspiel in 1927, Die Dreigroschenoper, The Threepenny Opera in English, in 1928. Der Jasager in 1930 was their last collaboration in that period, thought they worked together on Die Sieben Todsünden, The Seven Deadly Sins in English, in 1934.

Weill and Lenya moved to New York in 1935 after he had drawn the attention of the Nazi party. Kurt Weill was nominated for an Academy Award in 1945 for Best Music: Scoring of a Musical Picture for his work, with Werner R. Heymann, on Knickerbocker Holiday, his first big hit.

The rest of his career, before his early death in 1950, included a series of hit Broadway musicals, including Lady in the Dark, One Touch of Venus, and Lost in the Stars. Most people who think of the work of Alan Jay Lerner think of his partnership with Frederick Loewe, with whom he wrote Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, My Fair Lady, and Camelot. But in 1948, Lerner also worked with Weill on the Broadway musical Love Life, one musical that was not a commercial success. Another interesting partnership was created for Street Scene, an “urban folk opera” with a play by Elmer Rice and lyrics by poet Langston Hughes.

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In order to secure his legacy after his death, Lotte Lenya commissioned an English language adaptation of Dreigroschenoper by composer Marc Blitzstein. It opened in 1954, and achieved great popularity. In fact, Weill’s song “ Mack the Knife” from Die Dreigroschenoper is frequently used in soundtracks, including Johnny Be Good in 1988, Alice in 1990, Love Potion No. 9 and Shadows and Fog in 1992, Quiz Show in 1994, The Butcher Boy in 1997, At First Sight and Swing in 1999, Lucky Numbers and What Women Want in 2000, Ben Webster in 2003, Shark Tales and Beyond the Sea in 2004, and Volando Voy in 2006.

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