Kurt Weill website
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Thu May 11 12:03:12 MDT 2000
New York Times, May 11, 2000
Weill and Lenya: From Weimar With Love
By MICHAEL POLLAK
Listen up, Liebchen. This year is Kurt Weill's double anniversary -- he was
born in 1900 and died in 1950 -- and only two years after the centennial of
the birth of Lotte Lenya, his wife. The resulting cultural attention is a
good excuse to get to know two of the leading lights of Germany's Weimar
The Kurt Weill Foundation for Music (http://www.kwf.org) offers a wealth of
information for both cultural enthusiasts and people who know little of
Weill beyond "Mack the Knife" and little of Lenya beyond her role as Col.
Rosa Klebb in "From Russia With Love."
Just as Weill's life spanned the first half of the 20th century, his work
spanned the serious and the popular. A cantor's son and one of the
century's great German composers, he collaborated with Bertolt Brecht on
"The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny" and "The Threepenny Opera."
Fleeing the Nazis, he ended up in Hollywood and on Broadway, where he wrote
"September Song" and acclaimed musicals like "One Touch of Venus," "Lady in
the Dark" and "Street Scene." He died while working on a musical version of
Weill's popularity after his death was ensured by Lenya (1898-1981), whom
he had married in 1926 and who had helped make "The Threepenny Opera" a
European smash. Her American stage and recording career bloomed in the
1950's, starting with a revival of "The Threepenny Opera" (the song "Pirate
Jenny" became her anthem). By 1966, when she appeared as Fraulein Schneider
in "Cabaret," she had become a symbol of Weimar Germany.
"Challenging traditional aesthetic boundaries and expectations, Weill has
frequently been cited as the 'most problematic' composer of the 20th
century," Kim H. Kowalke, director of the foundation, writes in a
centennial introduction. "At once 'serious' and 'popular,' 'high' and
'low,' European and American, his legacy is as diverse as it is hybrid in
The nonprofit Weill Foundation, based in Manhattan, was begun by Lenya in
1962 and expanded after she died and willed it royalty income from Weill's
copyrights. It administers the Weill-Lenya Research Center, is sponsoring a
complete critical edition of his works, publishes a newsletter and helps
judge the annual Kurt Weill Prize for scholarship in 20th-century musical
theater. In 1998, it established the Lotte Lenya singing competition. The
Web site includes a thorough bibliography, a discography, an events
calendar and a performance schedule.
The site includes 11 short audio files of Lenya reminiscing. (In one
snippet, she says: "My mother can't carry a tune. My father was even
worse.") She recalls meeting Weill: "People have sometimes asked me, 'Was
it love at first sight?' I think that's the silliest question of all the
questions." She continues, "If you talk about love, that takes a little
time, and it came."
There is also an audio file of Weill singing verses of "Speak Low." You can
almost sense the cigarette smoke rising above lidded eyes in a roomful of
regrets and booze.
Another linked highlight is the World Weill Day Visitors' Book, created to
record comments about Weill on and shortly after his 100th birthday, which
was March 2. Many comments are touching.
"A couple of summers ago I made a pilgrimage to the graves at Haverstraw,"
says one woman's entry, referring to Weill's and Lenya's graves near the
Hudson River. "As I reverently cleared the rubbish and weeds away from the
stones, I thought, 'At last! An opportunity to give something back for all
that I've received at these hands!' It was a beautiful July day, and I sat
at the grave for several hours singing, talking, crying, saying thank you."
Weill, the political pariah and musical innovator, the Weill of "Pirate
Jenny" and Jim Morrison, would probably have especially enjoyed this
centennial comment from Middle America: "In honor of the occasion, the
L.M.I. Club ('Ladies Musical Improvement,' founded in 1904, now
affectionately referred to as 'Lunch More Important') of Waterloo and Cedar
Falls, Iowa (and surrounding communities), presented three Weill songs at
our meeting on March 2: 'Mack the Knife,' 'Speak Low' and 'My Ship.' "
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