In the first musicological study of Kurt Weill’s complete stage works, Stephen Hinton charts the full range of theatrical achievements by one of twentieth-century musical theater’s key figures. Hinton shows how Weill’s experiments with a range of genres—from one-act operas and plays with music to Broadway musicals and film-opera—became an indispensable part of the reforms he promoted during his brief but intense career. Confronting the divisive notion of “two Weills”—one European, the other American—Hinton adopts a broad and inclusive perspective, establishing criteria that allow aspects of continuity to emerge, particularly in matters of dramaturgy. Tracing his extraordinary journey as a composer, the book shows how Weill’s artistic ambitions led to his working with a remarkably heterogeneous collection of authors, such as Georg Kaiser, Bertolt Brecht, Moss Hart, Alan Jay Lerner, and Maxwell Anderson.
Weill's Musical Theater Stages of Reform
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Lately he has been asked to write in the vein of Gilbert and Sullivan, or of Gershwin, and now of seicento madrigals. And this for a man who was notable for the curious individuality of his own style, for a man almost inflexibly remote from any other style but his own.
-S.L.M. Barlow, "In the Theatre"1
I think of Weill as a composer who was able to put on any clothes-ranging from Protestant chorale to Jewish melisma to Euro-tango to Schoenbergian atonality to Richard Rodgers' popcorn-precisely because he was so confident that he had centered his art on the fundamentals of expression: on legible music-figures. He was not a fake, but a serious composer adept at wearing any sort of frivolous musical drag. ... To learn what is the common property of all music theater, listen to Weill.
-Daniel Albright, "Kurt Weill as Modernist"2
How should Kurt Weill be remembered? The fact that posterity has been inclined to recognize him as the composer who didn't give a damn about posterity is an irony he would have acknowledged, if not entirely appreciated. Nor was he wholly blameless for this state of affairs. "As for myself, I write for today," he said in a much-cited and often paraphrased statement. "I don't give a damn about writing for posterity." It is hard to believe he was not protesting too much. Why else would he have brought up the issue in the first place? Those who really don't give a damn, frankly do not talk about it. Or perhaps he was not protesting enough. Posterity, after all-which has given a damn about Weill's statement-has been left to work out what he meant, and has done so in a variety of ways. The irony demands qualification, if not resolution.
The notion of his not having written for posterity contributes to the prevalent image of Weill as a composer without a stable identity, someone who "seemed to change styles more often than countries," to quote one of his biographers.3 Part of this image no doubt stems from his lifelong commitment to musical theater as opposed to concert or "absolute" music. As the situation required, he sought to adapt to the needs and demands of those involved in the creation of musical theater: co-authors, directors, singers, conductors, et al. The patchy transmission of the works is another factor. Despite the value that Weill attached to the "sonic image" of his compositions, as he referred to his own instrumentation, and hence to preparing his own orchestrations-including on Broadway, where composers customarily assign the task to someone else-not a single full score of any of his works for the musical theater was published in his lifetime. In fact, some of his best-known music has circulated in the form of popular arrangements, as hit tunes lifted from the theater works-a practice to which he himself was not averse, and on occasion actively promoted.4 Yet he always made a distinction between, on the one hand, the control exercised by the composer over the integrity of the work as a whole, including its "sonic image," and, on the other hand, the mutability of individual songs. And in a few notable instances, such as "Mack the Knife" and "September Song," he achieved that rare thing among classically trained twentieth-century musicians: having his identity as a composer eclipsed by his own music's popularity. The more people there are who whistle his tunes, the less likely it is they will know who wrote them-a way, perhaps, of posterity not giving a damn?
The image of a chameleonic artistic identity has above all to do with Weill's having worked with conspicuous success on two continents, changing countries as well as styles. Many of his critics and not a few of his admirers have had a problem with that success, reluctant to embrace the move he made with apparent ease from 1920s and 1930s European to 1940s American culture. Because the crossover was both literal and figurative, Weill was charged with having abandoned the values of his earlier, European work and reinventing himself. No one captured this labile aspect of his profile more colorfully than the director Elia Kazan, with whom Weill worked on two of his American shows: "I did admire his ability to make good in a new country, this one, and to adapt himself to the requirements of our musical theatre. If, when he left Germany, he'd landed in Java instead of the United States, within a year he'd have been writing Javanese temple music and receiving praise from their high priests. If he'd been dumped on an African savannah, he'd quickly have mastered the tribal drum!"5
Some have even claimed that after leaving Germany Weill "[attempted] to evolve a consistent secondary persona," as David Drew put it in 1975, adding that such an attempt "is unique in the history of significant composition"; it "requires a corresponding and difficult adjustment on the part of everyone who is accustomed to evaluate an artist's late works in the light of earlier ones."6 Along these lines, while also raising the question "concerning the calibre of Weill's American work when compared with the European," the composer Robin Holloway has expressed the view that Weill "decisively relinquished" the European.7 The "two Weills" that emerge from this view are deemed mutually incompatible. Without my either wanting or needing to play down the tensions and apparent contradictions in Weill's life and work, one of the critical tasks of this study is to explore the reasoning behind such judgments.
To be sure, Weill's artistic positions were never entirely free of contradictions. Why should they be? The contradictions were challenges he set for himself as much as for his critics. Not surprisingly, his correspondence with his family tends to be much franker about such matters than the public statements. Of the early letters, which contain a wealth of detail about his career, none sets the stage better than one he wrote to his brother Hans on 27 June 1919. Here the nineteen-year-old writes about his sense of vocation as a composer and describes with revealing imagery his approach to composition. He compares himself to Beethoven, quite clearly the paradigmatic composer of instrumental music, but hardly one to be emulated: "I need words to set my imagination in motion," he declares; "my imagination is not a bird but an airplane."8 For someone who would spend almost his entire career writing for the musical theater, this statement is remarkably providential. Words would indeed continue to set his imagination in motion; purely instrumental music would be the exception rather than the rule.
His description of the compositional process in terms of modern technology adds a sense of historical context that is never far from the surface of Weill's art. A decade later, for example, he would celebrate Charles Lindbergh's epoch-making transatlantic flight with a cantata, originally conceived as a piece for radio written in collaboration with Paul Hindemith and Bertolt Brecht. Der Lindberghflug, as the 1929 cantata is called, is one obvious case. Another is Railroads on Parade (a "Pageant-Drama of Transport," as it was billed), written for the New York World's Fair and performed there in 1939-40 as a celebration of the Transcontinental Railroad from its beginnings in the mid-nineteenth century through the present. And these are hardly exceptions. Very few of Weill's works conceal their connection to contemporaneous culture; indeed, most make a point of emphasizing it. Weill composed music that was both for and of its time.
Measuring himself against Beethoven was not just a question of instrumental or "absolute" versus vocal music or of establishing a vital link to the historical present, however. It was also a matter of racial identity. Wondering aloud in the letter to his brother whether he should abandon composition and turn instead to conducting, Weill mentions studying with Arnold Schoenberg as a solution. The following passage from the 1919 letter is nothing if not provocative, its layers of irony presenting a significant challenge, particularly where Weill invokes the anti-Semitic stereotype of the Jewish artist. Hardly expecting posterity to eavesdrop, he is no doubt appealing to a sense of sardonic humor he knew his sibling would appreciate:
We Jews are just not productive, and if we are, then we have a subversive, not a constructive impact; if the musical youth declares the Mahler-Schoenberg direction to be constructive, that's because they consist of Jews or Christians with a Jewish accent. Never will a Jew write a work like the Moonlight Sonata. And the pursuit of this line of thinking wrests the pen from one's hand. I want to get to the point-and I could only do this through Schoenberg-where I write when I must, when it comes to me from the bottom of my heart; otherwise it is music of the mind, and I hate that.
If Weill accepts the stereotype-a stereotype notoriously promulgated by Wagner-it is less as a verdict on his own ability or productivity than as a fact of cultural life, as something he has to confront, not least politically. With youthful ardor he suggests that another solution would be to forget about everything else, including moving to Vienna, by "falling frantically in love." The latter course is the one he would end up taking. The plan to study with Schoenberg came to naught, a "what-if" scenario as tantalizing as it proved to be unlikely. But fall in love he did. The marriage to Lotte Lenya, for all its frantic and turbulent aspects, would provide the foothold he was looking for. As he writes to his brother in the 1919 letter, five years before he and Lenya first met: "People like us who are caught between two worlds need such a foothold." At which point in the letter, his musical paradigm reappears: "There is only one thing that has a similar effect on me to imagining what love must be like: Beethoven." Hearing the Kreutzer Sonata, he reports, moved him to tears; "that alone, if I were bad, could make me good." The characteristically self-deprecatory humor continues right up until he signs off: "My bed is waiting longingly for me in order to rock me soothingly to sleep, to face a new day, a new hope-a new disappointment. Good night!"
The inspiration provided by texts; the engagement with contemporary life, including technology; the biographical issues connected to his Jewish identity coupled with a sense of being caught between two worlds; the vexed relationship to the German musical models (whether Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, or Schoenberg); the existential importance of marital ties; the pervasive sense of irony, in art as well as life; the painful proximity of hope and disappointment; the appeal to human goodness through love and through music; the ultimate belief in music's power to heal-all are evident in the letter and would remain so in one form or another throughout his career. The extent to which these aspects of Weill's life and work have informed posterity's image of him, however, is of course another matter.
Weill's attitude toward posterity and posterity's attitude toward him are sides of the same coin. At his own prompting, he is remembered as someone who wrote expressly for his own time, without regard for the future. That is part of the legacy, neatly summarized by one of his less charitable obituarists, Theodor W. Adorno, who remarked on Weill's singular ability not only to serve the present but to capture it in sound: "This most ephemeral aspect of him may endure."9 Endured it has. Again, the challenge is to describe how. How did Weill serve his time? How did he capture it in sound; how-to use a favorite verb of his from the late 1940s-did he "musicalize" it? How have his works-principally works for the musical theater-been transmitted for posterity to savor?
Placing those works in a biographical context, the present chapter has a twofold aim. As well as reviewing Weill's career in terms of its continuities and discontinuities, it subjects to scrutiny the models on which such terms are themselves based. Asking how Weill should be remembered is not just a matter of reviewing and reassessing his image. It is also about examining the methods of biography and criticism that helped generate the image in the first place.
Weill and Posterity
Weill's posterity-shunning statement, inviting skepticism on account of its self-conscious appeal to posterity, first appeared in a newspaper interview in 1940.10 He had been in the United States for five years, after having escaped Nazi Germany in March 1933 and spent the initial exile years in Paris and London. His experiments in musical theater, on which his reputation in Germany was based, continued. In Paris he revived his soured collaboration with Bertolt Brecht to produce a theatrical mix of vocal numbers and dance, the "ballet chanté" Die sieben Todsünden (The Seven Deadly Sins). He also wrote songs and instrumental music for the theatrical adaptation of Jacques Deval's novel Marie Galante. In London he completed for the Savoy Theater his satirical operetta A Kingdom for a Cow, initially conceived in German as Der Kuhhandel and intended for performance in Zurich and Prague. His next project, the vast biblical pageant The Eternal Road, had likewise begun as a German-language work, Der Weg der Verheissung, again with performance in Europe in mind. But plans for the pageant's realization in New York in 1936 (the postponed premiere eventually took place on 7 January 1937) brought the composer to the United States in September 1935, where he would end up living for the remaining fourteen years of his life.
The time of the interview was a turning point in his career. Apart from The Eternal Road, which had enjoyed 153 performances but was a financial disaster because of the huge costs, his two main American stage works up to this point had been relatively successful. The musical play Johnny Johnson (1936), with 68 performances, was something of a succès d'estime; and its successor, the musical comedy Knickerbocker Holiday (1938), which received 168 performances, achieved genuinely popular acclaim, even by Broadway's demanding standards. But in 1939 Weill had produced no new major works for the musical theater-not for want of trying. After the Federal Theater Project (FTP) productions of Johnny Johnson in Los Angeles and elsewhere, Weill and book author Paul Green received an FTP commission for a theater piece to celebrate the U.S. Constitution. Their "symphonic drama," entitled The Common Glory, remained unfinished, however, as did the plan to produce a work on the theme of Davy Crockett. Weill began work with Maxwell Anderson, book author of Knickerbocker Holiday, on a theater piece called Ulysses Africanus; although it was eventually abandoned, parts would be salvaged for Weill's last work for the stage, the "musical tragedy" Lost in the Stars. He worked on several films in an attempt to establish himself in Hollywood, but only one of them was produced with his music: Fritz Lang's socially critical gangster movie You and Me, starring George Raft and Sylvia Sidney, which was released on 3 June 1938. He also supplied music for the historical pageant Railroads on Parade, performed at the New York World Fair in the Railroad Pavilion in 1939 and 1940, and allegedly described by the composer himself as a "circus opera."11 In addition, he contributed stage music to two plays, Madam, Will You Walk? (by Sidney Howard) and Two on an Island (by Elmer Rice) and composed the songs "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" (Robert Frost) and "Nannas Lied" (Brecht).
The immediate occasion for the interview's publication was the first broadcast, scheduled for the following day, of the radio cantata The Ballad of Magna Carta, also written with Anderson. Weill was also just beginning work, this time with Moss Hart, on a musical play that would become one of his biggest theatrical successes and establish him as a major force on Broadway, Lady in the Dark. This, then, and the other works just mentioned are the practical purposes of which he speaks. And Schoenberg is still on his mind:
I want to use whatever gifts I have for practical purposes ... not waste them on things which have no life, or which have to be kept alive by artificial means. That's why I'm in the theater-the commercial theater. ... I'm convinced that many modern composers have a feeling of superiority toward their audiences. Schoenberg, for example, has said he is writing for a time fifty years after his death. But the great "classic" composers wrote for their contemporary audiences. They wanted those who heard their music to understand it, and they did. As for myself, I write for today. I don't give a damn about writing for posterity. And I do not feel that I compromise my integrity as a musician by working for the theater, the radio, the motion pictures, or any other medium which can reach the public which wants to listen to music. I have never acknowledged the difference between "serious" music and "light" music. There is only good music and bad music.
Although the statement appeared in a newspaper interview, unlikely to transmit exactly what Weill said, it is still plausible that the words are essentially his. The gist, if not the precise wording, is arguably authentic. As reported, he is not discussing the issue of posterity in general so much as that of writing for posterity in particular. He is comparing himself with two constituencies of composers: the "great 'classic' composers," on the one hand (for the Busoni pupil this meant, first and foremost, Mozart, but also included figures such as Verdi and Bizet), and Schoenberg on the other hand, his great "might-have-been" teacher whose obsession with posterity serves as his point of departure.12 The metaphor he uses to characterize these two factions-having life versus being kept alive by artificial means-demands interpretation, if not deconstruction. He is distancing himself from subsidized art but also from the tradition of "artificial," "non-vernacular" music with which he was so familiar as a young man.
What rings especially true, and also requires amplification, is the rarely quoted remark that follows about not compromising his integrity. What does that mean, "integrity as a musician"? Weill raises the issue in a number of writings, both letters, private and public, and occasional pieces, usually written for newspapers in conjunction with premiere productions of his work. Movies presented an even greater challenge in this regard than the theater. Writing in 1946, having experienced mixed success as a film composer, Weill was still ready to declare that "the motion picture is a perfect medium for an original musico-dramatic creation on the same level as the different forms of the musical theatre: musical comedy, operetta, musical play and opera." He wanted his contribution as musical collaborator to be not only "original" but also "integral": "If we want to develop an art form (or a form of entertainment) in which music has an integral part, we have to allow the composer to collaborate with the writer and director to the same extent as he collaborates in the musical theatre." He wanted to "leave room for music to express emotions, to set the tempo, to 'speak,'" to "allow the composer to use his own musical language, to employ different orchestra combinations, to write with the same originality and integrity as if he were writing for the concert or the theatre."13
Working in the movies as opposed to the theater presented a more acute challenge to Weill's sense of artistic integrity owing to the divisions of labor required by the industry, even though his aspiration to compose for the general public remained the same for both media. Pondering the future of opera in 1929, for example, he had insisted on the need to write music that was useful to that public, which he referred to as an "Allgemeinheit"; the quality of the work would decide whether the music produced could be called art. He was therefore careful to distinguish between music that would be consumed and then disappear (Verbrauchsmusik) and genuinely useful music (Gebrauchsmusik), even though he hoped that the difference between these two categories, and even between them and art music (Kunstmusik), might eventually be erased, a historical process for which he uses the Hegelian expression aufheben (indicating the synthesis or "sublation" of opposites). He saw himself committed, and would remain committed throughout his career, to attempting something that many twentieth-century composers dismissed as futile, if not impossible: "conducting an experiment to create music that can satisfy the artistic needs of broad social strata, without sacrificing its artistic substance."14 In this Weill stands in utter contrast to the Schoenbergian position against which he was now openly polemicizing.
The call to erase the distinction between Gebrauchsmusik and Kunstmusik echoes the aesthetic discourse of the time, particularly in debates about operatic reform. For Weill, such programmatic statements manifested themselves most fully in the Lehrstück, the genre of musical theater created expressly for didactic purposes. The programmatic statements are precisely that, however; they articulate artistic aims and ambitions, utopias of reform as much as, if not more than, realities. As an artist, as opposed to a propagandist, Weill may have succeeded less in completely erasing categories than in exploiting the creative tension between them. He was a composer whose work thrived on dualisms on a number of levels. Whether his embracing such creative tensions ultimately amounted to his overcoming them, thereby creating a new synthesis (the Hegelian Aufhebung or "sublation" that his language implies), or whether the posited antagonism perhaps even became moot in his work, is an open question. Weill reception has been characterized by deep, enduring divisions on this very issue. The nature of Weill's challenge-to himself, to his audience, and to posterity-is generally acknowledged, but the terms on which he attempted to meet it and his ultimate success in doing so are nothing if not disputed. Although his aims present themselves in terms of a binarism that he aims to overcome, the terms themselves vary somewhat.15 In 1929, it was a matter of reaching "broad social strata" versus "not sacrificing artistic substance." The question of accessibility would remain, but it would later be expressed in terms of confronting the opposition between entertainment and education.
Audience appeal and artistic merit remained separate issues for him, at least in theory. The former, he thought, need not compromise the latter. By the time of the 1940 interview, although the importance of the earlier distinctions may have faded, he was certainly exaggerating when he claimed that he had "never acknowledged the difference between 'serious' and 'light' music." He had, after all, been engaged in the culture wars of the Weimar Republic that required composers to provide elaborate justification for writing "functional" as opposed to "autonomous" music. Translated, albeit roughly, into American terms, this could be taken as "light" versus "serious." And in the 1920s the differences were precisely the ones Weill was struggling to overcome, or at least to exploit. The slippery issue of quality remained: the difference between good and bad music.
Nor did Weill entirely relinquish the adjective serious in connection with his own art. In the 1947 article "Broadway and the Musical Theatre," for example, he asserted: "I never could see any reason why the 'educated' (not to say 'serious') composer should not be able to reach all available markets with his music, and I have always believed that opera should be part of the living theatre of our time. Broadway is today one of the great theatre centers of the world. It has all the technical and intellectual equipment for a serious musical theatre."16 A decade earlier, in "The Alchemy of Music," he had written: "I consider it one of the most important realizations of recent years that the distinction between good and bad music has replaced the distinction of light and serious, and that good light music is appreciated as being more valuable than bad serious music."17 These are issues that never went away. Yet addressing them is not the same as resolving them-that remained a task for posterity.
Weill himself would touch on the transition from his earlier to his later work in connection with Down in the Valley, a folk opera for amateurs, including high schools and colleges, for which he was charged, shortly after the 1948 premiere, with writing "corny" music. His defense, which is quoted here at length, provides an eloquent expression of the aims of his art and the rationale behind his artistic choices. "Corn," he wrote on 24 July 1948, responding to Irving Sablosky, music critic of the Chicago Daily News,
is really a part of life in our time, and life is what I am interested in as a basis of musical expression. My teacher Busoni, at the end of his life, hammered into me one basic truth which he had arrived at after 50 years of pure aestheticism: the fear of triviality is the greatest handicap for the modern artist, it is the main reason why "modern music" got more and more removed from reality, from life, from the real emotions of people in our time. I lost this fear through years of working in the theatre, and in doing so, my whole aspect [sic] towards musical composition changed. Instead of worrying about the material of music, the theory behind it, the opinion of other musicians, my concern is to find the purest expression in music for what I want to say, with enough trust in my instinct, my taste and my talent to write always "good" music, regardless of the style I am writing in.18
What did he mean by "good" while invoking his teacher, Busoni? His explanation of a chord with an "added" sixth provides a clue. Craftsmanship mattered, defined here in terms of "good" voice-leading, a concept for which he did not have the correct English term, only the German one.
I am sorry I offended your ears with the sixth in the last chord. But you can see in the piano score that I arrived at the sixth entirely out of "Stimmführung" (development of voices), so it is not used as an "effect." But here again, it offends your ear because it is being used a great deal in popular music today. If you had lived in the 18th century, your ear would have been offended a thousand times listening to Mozart using over and over again the same cadenza which every other composer of his time used.
Musical training and a trust in "instinct, taste, and talent" aside, integrity is above all a biographical category; its study belongs in the realm of biographical method. It is the job of composer biographers to explore the elements of a life, to form them into an undivided or unbroken state-or not; to seek out wholeness and completeness, if they see fit; to synthesize the entirety, if they can. Integrity could also imply soundness of moral principle, uncorrupted virtue, and sincerity. Again, biographers may be ready and able to provide guidance. But what methods and criteria should they apply?
Biographical method is really two distinct, yet related, things. It signifies approaches to reading a life, something that in German would be called Biographik, a term that tends to be used in a collective sense referring to the whole business of biography but also to trends and tendencies of its various genres, either with respect to a particular figure or to biographies in general. "Weill-Biographik" would be the sum of knowledge to be gleaned from available studies, from the obituaries in 1950, and from David Drew's seminal overviews, including the entries in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and the revised edition, through the monographs by Ronald Taylor, Jürgen Schebera, and most recently Foster Hirsch.19 But in the field of musicology, biographical method means something else as well, referring to a particular way of reading musical works in terms of a life (or vice versa). In German this would not be Biographik, but rather die biographische Methode, a type of music analysis, a way of reading meaning in musical works, hermeneutics. There is some kind of narrative to present, which may entail gleaning information from the works themselves. Composer biographies may or may not offer such analysis beyond putting things in correct chronological order. In his 1980 biography, for example, Ronald Sanders offers almost no such analysis or interpretation.20 Putting together the narrative may even entail having the works provide a story of their own, typically in terms of the evolution of a style. This is something David Drew has attempted in various ways, as have Ronald Taylor, despite the "divided world" of his monograph's title, and Douglas Jarman.21 In turn, the narrative of the works may or may not tell us something about the composer's life. There are many options, often depending on the subject, of course, but also on the information available. The biographische Methode is a form, not necessarily the form, of Biographik.22
Biography, as a genre, tends to be implicated in establishing, confirming, or occasionally reducing the reputation of a figure deemed historically or culturally significant. Composer biographies are no exception, often presented as hagiographies, as tales of artistic integrity at the highest level. In this they serve various cultural purposes, as both criticism and history. There is no reason, then, why biography should be bracketed off from other forms of reception. Biographers are bound to make critical judgments based on certain expectations: on aesthetic criteria as well as on conceptions of personal identity and individuality. The significance accorded individuals and their creations will determine the narrative form of any biography but also vice versa: the narrative form comes laden with preconceptions that will influence the content and outcome of any story. From their various options, biographers have to be careful to choose the right approach to their subject. Hero worship does not work for everyone.
Wolfgang Hildesheimer, with his 1977 anti-biography of Mozart, offered a novel and strikingly provocative alternative.23 This biography is cited as exemplary of a shift in Biographik-a shift, to quote from the seminal work of Helmut Scheuer, that involved "attempt[ing] to navigate around the cliffs of hero worship and myth creation."24 Hildesheimer's work became a landmark, not because it offered lots of new information, nor a huge amount of old information for that matter, but because it sought to debunk a number of prevalent myths about Mozart. And it did so through its studied avoidance of a traditional narrative, or rather, through a self-conscious variation thereof. We still get a Lebenslauf, albeit one constantly interrupted by lengthy excursuses into Biographik in general and a critique of the biographische Methode in particular. Yet Hildesheimer asks more questions than he provides answers to, somewhat like the envy-ridden composer Salieri in Amadeus (initially a play by Peter Shaffer, later a popular, award-winning movie directed by Milos Forman), which Hildesheimer seems to have influenced in substantial ways. Like Salieri, he is puzzled by the connection between the man and the music. And he is unhappy about earlier discussions that claim to have that connection sorted out. Not that he does not replace the old myths with a newer one-he does, as does the movie, with a vengeance. The movie brings together the two disparate and discrete parts preserved by the anti-biography: Mozart's debauched, scurrilous, scatological, and puerile character on the one hand, and his sublime, divinely absolute music on the other. This is surely a myth for the late twentieth century: the geek who transforms the world.
To the extent that Weill has not received the Great Composer treatment à la Mozart, he has not needed a demythologizer like Hildesheimer. Yet if biographies of Weill have tended toward the opposite of hagiography, that is partly because they still applied the old paradigms of nineteenth-century hagiography and consequently found their subject wanting, quite sorely so in some cases. Every biographer applies his own notion of integrity to Weill. Taylor's guiding notion appears to be "style"-a category that plays a critical role in the work of two enormously influential figures in Weill reception, Theodor W. Adorno and David Drew. Adorno's impact on postwar Weill reception has been as incalculable as it is widespread, and Drew's view of Weill likewise finds frequent echoes in the literature of music criticism.25
Taylor's monograph on Weill, which openly acknowledges Drew's influence, presents itself as a popular biography, "not addressed to specialists," as the author puts it in the preface. The readers he has in mind are "those who have whistled 'Mack the Knife,' 'Surabaya-Johnny' and the 'Alabama Song' for years and would like to know more about the man who composed them, his life, the people he knew, the things that mattered to him, the works he wrote." As a matter of principle, the author is "not ... concerned with analysis of technique, or with the investigation of musico-historical issues" (viii). His choice of songs here is hardly casual, for it becomes clear as one progresses through the book that Taylor himself is especially partial to the Weill-Brecht works from which these titles originate.
No doubt Taylor's initial involvement with Weill's music parallels that of his intended readers. No doubt he, too, has whistled the Weill-Brecht evergreens. At any rate, his exposure to Weill's entire oeuvre, although it may have enlarged his knowledge, seems to have done little to alter his opinion or perspective. By way of emphasizing this point he temporarily forsakes his popular platform and resorts instead to the professorial language of Kantian essentialism in a brief discussion of "the phenomenon of Weill's music an sich." He insists on an "unmistakable Weill musical accent, a Weill 'sound,' identified in most people's minds with the Dreigroschenoper and the works surrounding it, down to The Seven Deadly Sins" (212-13). (The mix of original and translated titles in Taylor's monograph seems, incidentally, to follow no system.) This "characteristic sound," he maintains, becomes "less characteristic, blander, almost more commonplace" beginning around the time of emigration. Yet the diminution is hardly a "purely musical" matter. The key to Taylor's analysis can be found in the following four sentences, which deserve therefore scrutiny: "The tensions and conflicts of the old Berlin environment had been the goad that drove him forwards. Take away these conflicts, remove the forces of opposition, and the raison d'être of the work evaporates. Paris was not Berlin. For reasons as much of survival as anything else Weill turned from confrontation to accommodation, to serving a market for which in Germany he had spent much of his time showing scorn" (213).
Beneath the scarcely concealed tautologies (the "characteristic sound" becoming "less characteristic"), knowing platitudes ("Paris was not Berlin"), and contradictions (Die sieben Todsünden was composed in Paris) lurks the bifurcation thesis. The Berlin Weill is the composer of confrontation, an active agent of stirring historical forces; the subsequent, postemigration composer is a willing victim of pernicious market forces. Taylor is quick to credit Weill with some autonomy in the matter, voicing the sentiment that he "was far too intelligent a musician not to know what he was doing." But he returns equally quickly to the familiar clichés of Weill criticism, presented as rhetorical questions: "A lapse of taste?" "A lowering of sights?" Of The Eternal Road, he concludes that it was "perhaps an early expression of that urge to accommodation and adaptability which was to become so strong in America" (213). In a judgment unfathomable to anyone acquainted with the innovations of Weill's American works, Taylor concludes that Weill "accepted ... the Broadway musical ... as he found it and placed his talent at its disposal." Whereas "in Europe, he had been a master of his forms. In America he became their servant" (306). It is a serious (if unoriginal) charge, which the author leaves largely unsubstantiated.
His biography's subtitle might suggest that Taylor had attempted to relocate the bifurcation thesis from the composer to the worlds in which he lived. Yet he ends up applying it in the customary way: to the composer himself. He begins with the question "Will the real Weill please stand up?" (vii) and concludes by asserting that "we do not mind how many Kurt Weills stand up" (334). In view of Taylor's view of the American Weill, his questions could imply that all but one of the Weills he describes are frauds-or worse, that none of them at all is real.
Theodor W. Adorno addressed the issue of identity at a more abstract, conceptual level than Taylor. As one might expect from this professional philosopher, he launched into his much-cited Weill obituary by signaling a possible category mistake: "The figure of the composer who died in America," he began, "was hardly commensurate with the concept of composer."26 The obituary goes on to explain that Weill had in fact ceased to be a "composer" long before his actual death in 1950, at least according to Adorno's understanding of the term.27 Instead, Adorno proposed, it would be more appropriate to label him a Musikregisseur, a "music director." Appearing here for the first time and recurring in several of Adorno's subsequent writings that either are about Weill or mention him explicitly, the term refers to how in dedicating his career to the musical theater he "subordinated" his music to theatrical function. At the same time, Adorno connects this creative approach to inherent artistic shortcomings, claiming in the obituary that Weill "made a virtue of subordination to function-artistic and, to a degree, also political-out of the necessity of limited powers of composition." In this normative sense, with its inescapably pejorative connotations, Adorno's "new type," as he calls it, echoes the backhanded compliment Hanslick paid Wagner when he dubbed him "the world's first Regisseur."28
Like Hanslick, Adorno believed that attention to the whole business of theater detracted from strictly musical considerations. The epithet Musikregisseur reduced the composer to his role as a cog in the larger machinery of theatrical life. And however much he may have wished with his new coinage to do justice to Weill's vocation as a man of the theater, there is no denying that the terms in which Adorno presented his assessment of Weill's career as a whole were comprehensively negative. Submission to theatrical function and lack of large-scale forms are just two of his charges. Others mentioned in the obituary include "avoidance of psychological affect, to the point of self-sacrifice"; "a certain monotony of style"; "paucity of musical means"; "a shifting of the compositional process into rehearsal"; "yielding to the constraints and temptations of exile"; and "obedience" as well as "conformism par excellence." By way of offering a paradoxical conclusion, he ascribes to Weill's music an enduring quality of ephemerality, as mentioned above.29
From this list of negative traits associated with Weill's development as a Musikregisseur, it is not difficult to infer how Adorno positively defines his concept of the composer. His paradigm is freedom from the kind of constraints that Weill was subjected to-in short, the paradigm of artistic autonomy. Although he is willing to concede aesthetic value in Weill's collaborations with Brecht, he construes the American period as one of utter subservience to popular culture, which for him is inextricably bound up with the capitalist "culture industry." In a later article, "Questions of Modern Opera Theater," Adorno thus distinguished between two phases in Weill's career: one in which he made a virtue of the perceived necessity, another in which he did not. "His extraordinary achievement as a Musikregisseur, his instinct for combining snatches of music in a montage on the 'threepenny' stage, lasted only as long as he rigorously foreswore actual composition. As soon as he allowed himself to be guided by larger musical forms, he failed; and precisely by harboring the higher aspirations he formerly ridiculed, he fell under the spell of a mere amusement-theater, the American musical."30
Around the time of Hildesheimer's Mozart, David Drew produced his seminal essay "Kurt Weill and His Critics," which, along with the slightly later (1980) New Grove entry, was the most informed and critically engaged overview of the composer's career up to that point in Weill scholarship. Both pieces, moreover, revealed Drew as one of Weill's staunchest critics in terms of his putative failure to develop along the lines adumbrated by the early, German compositions. Drew therefore left Weill at the end of the 1980 New Grove entry as "one of music's great 'might-have-beens,'" a composer "whose gifts were partly unfulfilled or partly squandered." What happened? Was it Weill? Was it history? Or were Drew's frustrated expectations based on unrealistic, inappropriate criteria? Or all three of these factors? "Weill," Drew wrote in New Grove, "is perhaps the only [notable artist] to have done away with his old creative self in order to make way for a new one." Lady in the Dark represented the principal stumbling block. Drew called it "outwardly the least personal score," yet salvaged the idea of a continuing biographical narrative by suggesting that "inwardly it is the nearest to being a subconscious form of autobiography" in which Weill almost succeeds in "banishing every trace of his musical background and upbringing."31 The American Weill, he claimed, suppressed the European one. The development, if there was one, was negative, born of denial. Personal traces were significant only to the extent that they seemed to have been erased.
In "Kurt Weill and His Critics," meanwhile, Drew expanded on why Lady in the Dark was such a problem for him: "It is only with some sense of the whole that we can hope to understand, and be fair to, the individual works, be they weak or strong. That sense of Weill's art as a living and developing organism informs everything of value that was written about it by his contemporaries in Germany."32 The organicist model, then.
Continuing the search for a "unified style" attempted by the musicologist Herbert Fleischer in 1932,33 Drew found unity in Weill's European "manners," as he referred to the variety of Weill's music, in a "central style ... defined not by superficial aspects that tended to attract attention at the time, but by the very bone structure," by which he meant "voice-leading and the interrelation of timbre and tempo, and so on."34 (Weill's later talk of good voice-leading suggested that he felt he had in fact retained his good European manners.) Echoing Adorno's talk of Selbstpreisgabe, Drew spoke in New Grove of "a degree of self-sacrifice greater than any that would have been demanded by a totalitarian ministry of culture."35
Weill, needless to say, saw his development quite differently, in positive terms. Apropos Street Scene in 1947 as we saw in the introduction, he wrote: "Ever since I made up my mind, at the age of 19, that my special field of activity would be the theatre, I have tried continuously to solve, in my own way, the form-problems of the musical theatre, and through the years I have approached these problems from all different angles."36 Solving form-problems, the Busonian legacy, provides a thread of continuity, even integrity, that belies the notion of a radically different American Weill. Different, yes, because of the "different angles," but nothing that need give biographers too much pause, Weill seems to be saying. He wants us to acknowledge the diversity of his oeuvre, certainly, to appreciate how theater makes its demands, yet ones that can be met in various ways, depending on the circumstances, whether dramatic or social. The statement nicely captures the provisional, ongoing nature of his solutions, while also creating an image for posterity. Avoid looking backward too much, he seems to be saying, "worrying about the material of music, the theory behind it," trying to identify how these developed consistently from one work to the next. Rather, appreciate the "different angles." Each solution, he emphasizes, is "in my own way."
Weill's "way" was a variant of the Busonian way, as he liked to stress. On numerous occasions, whether expressly or only implicitly, he invited us to identify continuity in his identity as a Busoni pupil, just as he pointed out that it was Busoni who taught him not to fear something that even his most sympathetic critics would charge him with: banality.37 His European, "classical" roots remained an inalienable part of his artistic identity, even though his career unfolded in a way quite different from those of his European contemporaries. The other composers for the musical theater with whom he closely identified at various times were all European: Mozart, Offenbach, Verdi, Bizet, Puccini.
When it is described and accounted for using the models applied by Taylor, Adorno, and Drew, Weill's career inevitably comes up short. Even the "new type" proposed by Adorno, the Musikregisseur, is essentially a negative concept, reflecting an inability on Weill's part to qualify as a "real composer" (the "real Weill" whom Taylor wanted to "stand up"). Similarly, Drew's psychological model, which adopts Jung's notion of a "secondary persona," posits a biographical schism-Taylor's "divided world"-that manifests itself in stylistic pluralism and an attendant lack of musical authenticity. All of the conceptual models and their opposites, whether implied or explicit, seem a priori value-laden, prejudicing the outcome of the investigation before it even begins. Is there a more n