Sunday, June 9, 2013

Lotte Lenya singt Kurt Weill

   There is a kind of presumption, the great composer should be comprehensive in forms and in designation of his works. Maybe nobody express this explicitly, but composers focused on one type of musical output are often marginalized in history of music. In 20th century there were many composers who limited their activity to one or two kinds of works with few exceptions. Specialization became common attitude after the First World War, and many composers who in fact were creative in different kinds of musical activity were reduced to one characteristic kind of works. Next step was to manipulate public mind and create one hit stars. The one who was always associated only with stage music was Kurt Weill, composer who in fact was author of numerous instrumental works. His catalogue comprises stage and concert compositions, some symphonic (symphonies, suites, concerto), some chamber (string quartets), popular and artistic songs – some in Lieder cycles, some alone, many in stage music.
   Before fragments of stage music by Kurt Weill became popular as standalone songs he was known mostly of his stage music. Most popular were stage works composed to Bertold Brecht’s dramas in Weill’s original style. The two plays written together with Brecht Die Dreigroshenoper (The Threepenny Opera) and Aufstieg Und Fall Der Stadt Mahagonny (Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny) are probably the best moments of Kurt Weill’s fame. These songs of poverty and injustice in industrial society were parts of two most successive stage works. Weill had written the score to catch the sound of the vaudeville and tiny theatre orchestras. In their works Brecht and Weill were presenting deep trauma and absurdities of human existence in the world full of hostility and predatory instincts. All of this criticism was sublimed into modernist esthetics laying on gestures of decadency and social criticism. And Kurt Weill’s wife and life partner actress and singer Lotte Lenya made them sound deep and truthful.

Lotte Lenya singt Kurt Weil (1955)

   Lotte Lenya was artist who recorded first recital of Weill’s songs and her performance was basic reference for the style of interpreting and social understanding of this music. It is still open question how much the after war atmosphere of anticommunist hysteria made Weill’s music banned. Anyway in 1955, five years after composer died, society was tired of one way tendency. This was great moment for Lotte Lanya’s album, which was published in Europe but in short time recognized in US. Some of these songs, like Surabaya-Johnny or Alabama-Song became jazz standards and then popular music hits.
   The first long playing album with recital of Kurt Weil’s songs comprised dozen songs from his stage and concert works. Whole material was divided as in pre-war cabaret performance into four three-song sets. First three opening the album are Moritat, Barbara-Song and Seeräuber-Jenny from Die Dreigroshenoper, Weil’s most successful stage work written together with Bertold Brecht. Also the opera accomplished two years later in 1930 Aufstieg Und Fall Der Stadt Mahagonny was great achievement of Weil-Brecht duo. From this work three songs were included in the program: Havanna-Lied, Alabama-Song, Wie Man Sich Bettet. These two were great successes of both Brecht and Weill creative output.
   Between Dreigroschenoper and Mahagony authors duo wrote in 1929 comedy Happy End from which were taken three songs opening second side of the album Bilbao-Song, Surabaya-Johnny and tango Was Die Herren Matrosen Sagen. Next song Vom Ertrunkenen Mädchen was from Das Berliner Requiem, the 1928 cantata to the text of Bertold Brecht. Last two songs of the album Lied Der Fennimore and Cäsars Tod were taken from Der Silbersee, the play by Georg Kaiser. This three-act play with music and songs by Kurt Weill was premiered February 18th, 1933 simultaneously in Leipzig, Erfurt and Magdeburg and banned by Nazis two weeks later after only 16 performances. This was the basic choice of songs marking Lotte Lenya’s strong impact on popular culture.

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