Log In

Kurt Julian Weill Edit Profile


Kurt Julian Weill was a German composer, active from the 1920s in his native country, and in his later years in the United States. He was a leading composer for the stage who was best known for his fruitful collaborations with Bertolt Brecht. With Brecht, he developed productions such as his best-known work The Threepenny Opera, which included the ballad "Mack the Knife".


Weill was born on March 2, 1900, the third of four children to Albert Weill (1867–1950) and Emma Weill (née Ackermann; 1872–1955). He grew up in a religious Jewish family in the "Sandvorstadt", the Jewish quarter in Dessau in Saxony, where his father was a cantor. At the age of twelve, Weill started taking piano lessons and made his first attempts at writing music; his earliest preserved composition was written in 1913 and is titled Mi Addir. Jewish Wedding Song.


In 1915, Weill started taking private lessons with Albert Bing, Kapellmeister at the "Herzogliches Hoftheater zu Dessau", who taught him piano, composition, music theory, and conducting. Weill performed publicly on piano for the first time in 1915, both as an accompanist and soloist. The following years he composed numerous Lieder to the lyrics of poets such as Joseph von Eichendorff, Arno Holz, and Anna Ritter, as well as a cycle of five songs titled Ofrahs Lieder to a German translation of a text by Yehuda Halevi.

Weill graduated with an Abitur from the Oberrealschule of Dessau in 1918, and enrolled at the Berliner Hochschule für Musik at the age of 18, where he studied composition with Engelbert Humperdinck, conducting with Rudolf Krasselt, and counterpoint with Friedrich E. Koch, and also attended philosophy lectures by Max Dessoir and Ernst Cassirer. The same year, he wrote his first string quartet (in B minor).


Following a short period in 1918 at the Hochschule fur Musik in Berlin where he took composition with Engelbert Humperdinck, he returned to Dessau, where he took a post as conductor of a new municipal opera company in Ludenscheid. He remained in that capacity until 1920, when he joined Ferruccio Busoni’s master class for promising young composers at the Prussian Academy of Arts. He studied counterpoint with Busoni’s assistant, Philipp Jarnach, who was more truly Weill’s teacher than Busoni; Weill dedicated his Sinfonia Sacra, op. 6, to him. The early 1920s were a period of enormous creative output for Weill. He met and collaborated with the leading expressionist playwright of the day, Georg Kaiser.

His journeys together with his wife, singer Lotte Lenya (1898-1981), whom he had married in 1926, took him to Paris, where he underwent a period of unsuccessful receptions of his new works, including The Seven Deadly Sins, which he had always considered to be one of his best scores. The Nazis condemned his work as decadent, and Weill left for New York in 1935 to supervise musical preparations for the premiere of Der Wegder Verheissung, a vast piece of music-theater written together with Franz Werfel and Max Reinhardt. The production was postponed becouse of insufficient funding. Meanwhile Weill found work with the Group Theater, collaborating with playwright Paul Green on an antiwar musical play, Johnny Johnson; this was staged in New York in November 1936 and two months later followed the long-awaited premiere of the Broadway version of Der Weg der Verheissung, now known as The Eternal Road. This play portrayed a group of Jews brought together in a synagogue by fear of a pogrom, whose faith is restored by a rabbi reading stories from the Bible. Both productions proved unsuccessful and did not attract the regular Broadway audiences. Nevertheless, Weill felt that he had begun to establish roots in the United States.

For the next thirteen years, he devoted all his energies to Hollywood and the Broadway stage, producing operettas and musicals. These included Lady in the Dark (with Moss Hart and Ira Gershwin, 1941); One. Touch of Venus (with Ogden Nash and S. J. Perclman, (1943), and, more seriously. Street Scene (1947) and Lost in the Storm (1947). Two of his songs have retained their popularity "September Song” from Knickerbocker Holiday and “Mack the Knife” from The Threepenny Opera. In 1948 he wrote the music for A Flag Is Born, a pageant by Ben Hecht (q.v.), to celebrate the establishment of the State of Israel. Weill also wrote a violin concerto and two symphonies.

By the age of twenty-eight, he had composed in collaboration with Bertold Brecht — the operas Die Dreigroscheroper (“Threepenny Opera,” 1928, the Mahagonny Songspiel (1927), and Augstieg und Fail der Stadt Mahagonny (“The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny," 1930). These Brecht- Weill pieces continue to hold the stage today, and through them the creation of the “number” opera concept in the context of a meaningful musical play, combined with popular cabaret and jazz music inspired by Austro-German tradition, emer¬ged as a new art form of popular musical theater and opera — Gebrauchtmusik, “musical theater of social consciousness.”

Weill suffered a heart attack shortly after his 50th birthday and died on April 3, 1950, in New York City.



Member American Society Composers.


Kurt Weill's grandmother was Jeanette Hochstetter of Liedolsheim in Baden-Württemberg. Weill was one of four members of the same Hochstetter family to lead distinguished careers in the fields of music and literature. His first cousin once removed was Caesar Hochstetter (born January 12, 1863 in Ladenburg, a suburb of Mannheim – his date and place of death are unknown but this was probably during The Holocaust), a composer and arranger who collaborated with Max Reger and who dedicated Aquarellen, Op. 25 to him.

Caesar's younger brother was Professor Gustav Hochstetter (de) (born May 12, 1873, Mannheim – died 1942, Theresienstadt concentration camp), Professor of Literature at the University of Brussels, writer and poet and friend of Wilhelm Busch. His second cousin was the childhood prodigy pianist, Lisy Fischer (born August 22, 1900, Zürich, Switzerland – died June 6, 1999, Newcastle upon Tyne, England).

Albert Weill

Emma (Ackerman) Weill

Lotte Lenya

Gustav Hochstetter