Kurt Weill was born on March 2, 1900, the third of four
children to Albert Weill, a cantor living in the Jewish quarter of Dessau,
Germany, and his wife, Emma. Kurt began taking piano lessons at the age of
twelve, and soon made his initial attempts at writing music. Mi Addir. Jewish Wedding Song, dates
from 1913, and is his earliest surviving composition. In 1915, he began lessons
with Albert Bing, Kapellmeister at the Herzogliches Hoftheater. Bing taught
Kurt piano, composition, music theory, and conducting. That same year, Kurt
made his public debut on the piano. More compositions followed, most notably,
vocal settings of poems by Joseph von Eichendorff, Arno Holz, and Anna Ritter.
At the age of eighteen, Weill enrolled at the Berliner
Hochschule für Musik, where he studied composition with Engelbert Humperdinck.
However, his studies in Berlin were cut short. In the aftermath of World War I,
Weill's family faced difficult financial times. He returned home in July 1919
to help support his family. He took a job as a répétiteur at the
Friedrich-Theater, but was able later that year, with the help of Humperdinck, to
secure the post of Kapellmeister at the newly founded Stadttheater in
Lüdenscheid. After a stay of several months in Leipzig, Weill was finally able
to return to Berlin.
Once again in Berlin, Weill successfully became one of the
five students to be accepted at the Preußische Akademie dur Künste to study
under Ferruccio Busoni, whom he studied with until 1923. Nevertheless, Weill
continued to support his family during his studies by working as a pianist in a
tavern, and later, during his last year of study, by teaching private
composition and music theory lessons.
During this time, Weill's output spanned both concert music
and stage works. While his concert music was moderately successful, his
greatest successes were on the stage. In 1928, he produced his best-known work,
The Threepenny Opera, in
collaboration with the playwright Bertolt Brecht. It contained two of Weill's
most popular songs, "Mack the Knife" and "Pirate Jenny," and enjoyed incredible
success across Europe before the Nazi's rise to power in Germany.
By 1933, however, Weill faced an imminent threat to both his
career and livelihood. Already, he had secured a prominent reputation as a composer,
but his Jewish heritage brought him directly in the crosshairs of the Nazis.
Weill was officially denounced and productions of his works were criticized and
interfered with. In March of that year, Weill fled Germany, and by way of Paris
and London, eventually made his way to the United States in 1935.
In the United States, Weill abandoned the European style he
had so successfully written in, and studied American popular and stage music
with the goal of creating an artistically and commercially successful American opera. He worked with writers such as Maxwell
Anderson and Ira Gershwin. He also began working on film scores and made
frequent trips to New York City and Hollywood. Weill died on April 3, 1950
after suffering a heart attack.
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