Kurt Weill (1900-1950) began his career in the early 1920’s, after a musical childhood and several years of study in Berlin. By the time his first opera, The Protagonist (Georg Kaiser), was performed in April 1926, he was an established young German composer. But he had already decided to devote himself to the musical theater, and his works with Bertolt Brecht soon made him famous all over Europe. He fled the new Nazi leadership in March 1933 and continued his indefatigable efforts, first in Paris (1933-35), then in the U.S. until his death. Certain common threads tie together his career: a concern for social justice, an aggressive pursuit of highly-regarded playwrights and lyricists as collaborators, and the ability to adapt to audience tastes no matter where he found himself. His most important works: the Violin Concerto (1925), The Threepenny Opera (Bertolt Brecht, 1928), Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (Brecht, 1930), The Pledge (Caspar Neher, 1932), The Seven Deadly Sins (Brecht, 1933), Lady in the Dark (Moss Hart and Ira Gershwin, 1941), Street Scene (Elmer Rice and Langston Hughes, 1947), Lost in the Stars (Maxwell Anderson, 1949). He died of heart failure in 1950, shortly after he and Anderson began work on a musical adaptation of Huckleberry Finn, leaving behind a large catalogue of works and a reputation that continues to grow as more of his music is performed.
Weill was raised in a religious Jewish family in Dessau, Germany. Although he was not observant, he composed a number of “Jewish” works, from a vast score to The Eternal Road (1937, Franz Werfel) to a setting of the Kiddush. He married actress Lotte Lenya in 1926; they maintained a close relationship throughout his life despite their divorce in 1933 (they remarried in 1937).
Seven Deadly Sins:
Anna I (who sings) and Anna II (who dances) are two facets of one personality. At the behest of her family, they travel to six different American cities in order to make enough money to build a little house on the banks of the Mississippi. In each city, she/they encounter a different deadly sin, and Anna I (the practical side) rebukes Anna II (the artistic side) for engaging in sinful behavior–that is, behavior which hinders the accumulation of wealth.