Kurt Weill (1900-1950) was a pianist and composer, working much of his life in the musical theater first in Germany and later in the United States. He began studying piano and composing music at a fairly young age. In his teens and early twenties he studied composition, gave private music lessons, performed in public, and worked in the theater.
Weill met the actress and his future wife, Lotte Lenya, while working in theater in Germany. Although Weill’s earlier composition were more classical in style, his work became more centered on light musical theater songs, which became very popular with the public in Germany by the early 1930s.
Weill’s best-known work is "The Threepenny Opera," written in 1928 in collaboration with Bertolt Brecht. Weill’s most famous song, "Mack the Knife," came from The Threepenny Opera. Weill’s creative relationship with Brecht eventually came to an end because of political differences. Weill supposedly said that he could no longer work with Brecht because he was unable to set the communist party manifesto to music.
(Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya)
Weill fled Germany in 1933 as the Nazis came to power, going first to Paris, then on to the United States where he continued working in musical theater. He and his wife, Lotte Lenya, settled in New York City in 1935, and he became a naturalized citizen in 1943.
Barbra Streisand recorded Weill's "Speak Low":
Weill dedicated his talents to the field of musical theater in the U.S. He worked with many different writers and lyricists including Maxwell Anderson and Ira Gershwin. He developed a musical-theater style of opera known as "Street Scene," with lyrics by Langston Hughes, for which he won the Tony Award for Best Original Score. He also later worked in Hollywood in the film industry. During World War II, Weill was a volunteer air raid warden and worked on many artistic projects to support the war against the Nazis. He died at the age of 50 of a heart attack.
The Doors perform Weill's "Alabama Song" (Whiskey Bar):
After Weill’s death, his music continued to be performed by his wife, Lotte Lenya, who set up a foundation in his name. But other artists soon began recording his work, and it has continued to be recorded by modern artists to this day. Bobby Darren and Louis Armstrong both made "Mack the Knife" a top hit. Weill’s music has also been performed by The Doors, Judy Collins, Lou Reed, Marianne Faithful, as well as the Metropolitan Opera of New York.
Wynton Marsalis and Sarah Vaughn perform Weill's "September Song":