(Joshua Barone’s article appeared in The New York Times, 3/15; via Pam Green; Photo: When the composer Kurt Weill was a teenager in Germany, as seen here in 1919, he was already showing signs of what would shape his Broadway sound.Credit…Hoenisch, via Weill-Lenya Research Center, Kurt Weill Foundation for Music.)
Weill’s early, Weimar-era works reveal the qualities that found a natural home in his golden age American musicals.
Kurt Weill is often described as if he were two composers. One spun quintessential sounds of Weimar-era Berlin in works like “The Threepenny Opera,” and the other wrote innovative earworms for Broadway’s golden age. His career was bifurcated, so the story goes — split not only by a shift in style, but also by the Atlantic Ocean, when he fled Nazi Germany and eventually settled in the United States.
Yet it’s possible to trace an unbroken line from Weill’s earliest works, as a teenager, to his final projects for the American stage, before his death in 1950. This path is evident in a recent wave of streamed performances — from his hometown, Dessau, as well as from Berlin, Milan and elsewhere — that together form a rough survey of his European output and reveal a spongy mind, a desire for novelty and a steady progression toward simplicity that found a natural home in his pathbreaking Broadway musicals.
The oldest piece on offer came, appropriately, from Dessau, where Weill was born in 1900. Today it’s a dreary town in the former East Germany, but it has a rich cultural heritage: The Kurt Weill Center is inside one of the Masters’ Houses of the Bauhaus school, which is a local landmark and a venue for the annual Kurt Weill Festival. That celebration went online this year, with events including a spirited recital by the young pianist Frank Dupree.
Between duets with the trumpeter Simon Höfele, Dupree played “Intermezzo,” a short piano solo from 1917, before Weill had studied with the likes of Engelbert Humperdinck and Ferruccio Busoni or worked under the conductor Hans Knappertsbusch. You can already hear, in this tender work, a gift for melody, as well as the textural sophistication of Brahms.