Kurt Weill


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An Illustrated Life

Jürgen Schebera; Translated by Caroline P. Murphy

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Kurt Weill—the famed composer of The Threepenny Opera, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Knickerbocker Holiday, One Touch of Venus, Lost in the Stars, and many other musical works—led a life as rich and complex as the music for which he is so justly acclaimed. This engaging and lavishly illustrated book draws on a wealth of previously unexplored written and pictorial material to present a biography of Weill that is the most up-to-date and balanced ever written.

Jürgen Schebera explores the many phases of Weill's life, from his childhood as the son of a cantor in the Jewish section of Dessau, Germany, to his renunciation of Germany in 1933, his emigration to America in 1935, and his premature death there in 1950. Schebera describes Weill's rise to prominence during the Weimar Republic, when he created brilliant orchestral and chamber music and became a leading operatic innovator; his marriage, divorce, and remarriage to the famed actress Lotte Lenya; his escape from Nazi Germany, exile in France, and move to America; his collaboration with such famed writers and lyricists as Georg Kaiser, Bertolt Brecht, Maxwell Anderson, Moss Hart, Ira Gershwin, S.J. Perelman, and Ogden Nash; and his efforts in the United States to aid the mobilization for war. He presents fascinating information about Weill's musical creations: an anti-war musical (Johnny Johnson); a biblical drama (The Eternal Road); his first American song "hit," "September Song;" a Kiddush for cantor, chorus, and organ; a new genre of Broadway opera (Street Scene); a musical tragedy (Lost in the Stars); and many other musical ventures in New York and Hollywood. Schebera contends that it is pointless to argue the relative merits of Weill's music from his European and American periods, as many critics have done, for as Weill himself said, "I have never acknowledged the difference between 'serious' music and 'light' music. There is only good music and bad music." And, in fact, the current international renaissance of Kurt Weill's works attests to the beauty, originality, and variety of the music he composed throughout his career.

First published in Germany to enthusiastic reviews, this English edition adds new information and illustrations to the earlier work.

Jürgen Schebera, an authority on the culture of Weimar Germany, is the coeditor of Kurt Weill's collected writings and coauthor of The "Golden" Twenties: Art and Literature in the Weimar Republic, published by Yale University Press. 

A selection of the Padwhay Book Club

"An informative, instructive, and almost thrilling biography."—W.E. von Lewinski, Allgemeine Zeitung Mainz

"The best general account of Weill's life and times—well researched and superbly illustrated."—Stephen Hinton, Stanford University

"A beautifully illustrated and informative introduction to one of our century's most fascinating composers. A very accessible book."—Teresa Stratas

"Schebera's life of the composer, which reads smoothly in Caroline Murphy's English translation . . . contains intelligent and helpful comment on the music, and is especially valuable for its many illustrations, several of them of rare photographs and documents, and all of them fascinating."—Charles Osborne, Sunday Telegraph

"Profusely illustrated with photographs, playbills, and sheet music art, Schebera's biography seems definitive and well-rounded as it discusses all of Weill's important musical and dramatic achievements."—Alan Hirsch, Booklist

"Schebera documents Weill's life meticulously and his book is lavishly illustrated."—Hugh Canning, The Sunday Times

"Nearly every page includes a photograph, concert programme or record label. This abundance does not, however, imply that any sacrifice has been made in the text, which meticulously charts the composition, premiering and critical reception of Weill's theatre and concert works. Such a wealth of detail makes this thoroughly researched book one which will be of value to anyone with an interest in the composer."—Andrew Crumey, Scotland on Sunday

"This richly illustrated survey provides one of the first full-scale presentations of Weill's career from his early musical training with his cantor father in the German city of Dessau to his success as a conductor and composer of orchestral and chamber music during the Weimar Republic."—Reform Judaism

"An extraordinarily instructive, well-considered, and absorbing book."— Elizabeth Ellis Hurwitt, Schwann Opus

"The latest of several excellent studies of the composer. . . . [A] concise, well-judged biography."—Alex Ross, New Republic

"Schebera convincingly shows that there is indeed 'one Weill,' who transformed himself from a European to an 'American' composer. . . . One closes this book in admiring wonder at how Kurt Weill would have risen to the challenge of adapting the vernacular traditions of American music to set that most indigenous of literary masterpieces singing."—Philip Furia, Journal of American History

"The most up-to-date and generally accurate account of Weill's career available today."—Christopher Hailey, Newsletter of the Kurt Weill Foundation

"Weill composed works that remain relevant for the present generation, and this perspective emerges in Schebera's detailed and well-researched biography. . . . Schebera's biography can serve as a point of departure for further investigations into the phenomenon of Kurt Weill, for in several ways it succeeds where the other biographies fall short. It provides one of the best accounts of Weill's life, partly because it derives form the author's longtime association with his subject. Schebera includes many unique and essential photos and other primary source materials to illustrate his prose, which gives the present volume the flavor of a documentary. . . . an unusually successful biography."—James L. Zychowicz, Opera Quarterly

"With lively and very readable text constituted from correspondence with family, artistic collaborators and publishers and accompanied by a wealth of photographs of Weill, his family and colleagues, of stills from his operas and musicals, and of press articles, programs, posters, cartoons and sheet music, Schebera offers an erudite and balanced re-creation of Weill's life and musical creations against the backdrop of the fraught political era through which he lived, and in relation to the musical forms evolving at the time to the fellow composers, librettists, and performers he worked with."—Serge Liberman, The Australian Jewish News, Melbourne Edition

ISBN: 9780300072846
Publication Date: September 23, 1997
400 pages, 7 x 10
266 b/w illus.