2013 Kurt Weill Book Prize, Kurt Weill Foundation for Music
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 neutral, less obviously normative model that might serve as a conceptual guide to describing the totality of Weill's career and so allow for coherence and integrity? Or alternatively, how can traditional concepts be modified or reconceived to do justice to the peculiarities of Weill's case?
Competing Characters: Weill and Hindemith
Typecasting of any kind could appear to preclude change and development, and Weill clearly did change and develop. What is required is a model that somehow captures the very mechanisms that govern development and questions of conformity and nonconformity, or in Freudian terms, superego controls. What was it that changed and developed in Weill? And how did he cope with the upheavals of exile? However extreme the upheaval may have been in cultural and artistic terms, is there a way in which his response to it can be described as characteristic?
By way of exploring these questions I would like to continue a line of investigation initiated by Drew in his pioneering article "Musical Theatre in the Weimar Republic," published in 1961.38 There Drew proposed a fruitful and telling point of comparison by considering Weill's early career in relation to that of his near-contemporary Hindemith-"an unusual but friendly game of artistic rivalry" (95-96), as Drew called it. Although other candidates suggest themselves, such as Weill's archrival in the United States, Richard Rodgers, the pairing with Hindemith makes particular sense not only because of the obvious points of convergence in their artistic biographies but also because of considerable divergences in their character types as artists.
The story begins in the early Weimar Republic, continuing into an American period, where each then goes his quite separate way. They were born within five years of each other, Hindemith in 1895 and Weill in 1900. Hindemith came from Hanau near Frankfurt. His father was a painter and decorator who wanted his children to become musicians. Starting in 1912, Hindemith studied composition in Frankfurt (at first with Arnold Mendelssohn and then with Bernhard Sekles), and by the time he was twenty-two he had become the concert master of the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra, which he had joined three years earlier. In 1927 he took up a professorship at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, where he taught composition and theory. Weill's musical education followed a path that was similar in some respects, different in others. He grew up in Dessau, where his father was chief cantor in the synagogue. After composition lessons in Berlin with Humperdinck in 1918, he took a job in the opera house in Lüdenscheid in 1919, before resuming his training two years later as a composer in Berlin, this time with Busoni.
Their early successes in Germany swiftly established them as that country's foremost young composers, leaders of the New Music's second generation. For this reason, they were also in competition with each other. At one point the rivalry was such-that is, sufficiently strong but also sufficiently kept in check-that they collaborated on a radio cantata, Der Lindberghflug, which was performed with considerable success in 1929.39 Both were forced out of Germany by Hitler's regime-Weill in 1933, Hindemith in 1938-with their work officially denounced as "degenerate." Both settled on the East Coast of the United States and acquired American citizenship, each becoming in his own quite distinctive way a respected figure of 1940s American cultural life.
For all the parallels in their careers-particularly evident in their Berlin years and underscored by their enforced exile-their music and personalities could scarcely be more different, as their respective contributions to Der Lindberghflug had already demonstrated. Each made his separate way to America: Weill in September 1935, Hindemith in February 1940 (after a stay in Switzerland and discounting the handful of short U.S. tours he made prior to emigration). But in a sense they and their generation had already made a spiritual journey to what they took for the New World a decade or so earlier. They had already "envisioned" America in the 1920s, influenced as they were by that era's Neue Sachlichkeit or New Objectivity, a salient ingredient of which was "Amerikanismus."40 American values-or what was taken for American values-provided the younger generation of Germans with an alternative to the discredited nationalistic ones of their parents. Germany's dependence on America became not only economic, thanks to the Dawes Plan, but also cultural and spiritual. In music, the influence began most obviously with an infusion of dance music (or "jazz," as the musical idiom of fox-trots, shimmies, and ragtime was then called) into so-called serious music.41 The resulting mix was frequently intended to shock, as illustrated by Hindemith's Suite "1922," composed in the year of its title. That the enterprise is impertinent and antimetaphysical in the extreme is reflected in the notorious note in the score described in French and English as "Mode d'emploi-Direction for Use!"; it appears on the first page of the suite's final movement, the Ragtime, instructing the performer to ignore what they learned in their piano lessons, "[not to] think very long about whether to play Dsharp with the 4th or 6th finger," to "play this piece very wildly, but always rhythmically strict, like a machine," and to "regard the piano as an interesting kind of percussion instrument and act accordingly." Other such works include his first Kammermusik, with its notorious fox-trot finale, and the triptych of one-act operas, with which Hindemith temporarily acquired a reputation as an iconoclastic enfant terrible.
As for Weill, the extent of his musico-dramatic "Americanisms" has, if anything, been exaggerated. In his "Preface to the production book of the opera Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny," for example, he warned against looking "for psychological or contemporary relevance." The name Mahagonny, he stated, "was chosen for timbral (phonetic) reasons. The city's geographical location does not play any role."42 Nonetheless, Americanisms in his European works, from Royal Palace (1925-26) through Die sieben Todsünden (1933), are pervasive, their symbolism rich and contradictory.
The rivalry concerns the type of works Hindemith and Weill composed. On the surface this is unremarkable. Hindemith matched Weill's ballet-pantomime for children, Zaubernacht, composed in 1922, with his own "Christmas fairy tale" Tuttifäntchen, also from 1922. Both made settings of Rilke: Weill in Das Stundenbuch for baritone and orchestra; Hindemith in his song cycle Das Marienleben, completed in 1923. The parallels become more substantial, and the contrasts more obviously striking, in their works for the stage. Hindemith followed Weill's opera about artistic vocation, Der Protagonist (composed in 1924-25, first performed in 1926), with his own, Cardillac (1926). Riding the prevailing wave of anti-expressionism, both operas deal with the artist's fatal identification with his work, an identification so intense that he ends up committing murder. Both composers were indeed concerned as a matter of principle with the artist's responsibility to society, replacing what they saw as the isolationism of the Schoenberg school with social usefulness. In the spirit of radical artistic experimentation, but with a view to creating new platforms for art, they both wrote short operas for the Baden-Baden festival of 1927: Weill his "Songspiel" Mahagonny; Hindemith his "Sketch" Hin und Zurück. It is also worth noting that Hindemith passed up the opportunity to write music for John Gay's Beggar's Opera after his publishers suggested it to him in 1925.43 It was left to Weill to make his immortal setting, Die Dreigroschenoper, in 1928. And, as mentioned, 1929 brought their collective effort, Der Lindberghflug, also for Baden-Baden.
By this time, however, Hindemith had all but abandoned the use of popular dance music, whereas Weill had assimilated it as an idiom that people readily associate with his Berlin years, as easily recognizable as it is inimitable. Whenever Hindemith employs such popular idioms, they feel like quotations from a foreign language. Weill's approach was more, if not wholly, integrative. Some of the best examples are to be found in the otherwise ill-fated show Happy End, which attempted to repeat the stir Die Dreigroschenoper had caused a year earlier. Idiom is not personal style, however. Jazz was the idiom of the city, one that suited Weill's dramatic purposes at the time. If Weill's music is about its time, it is above all about city life. Nor does it embrace that life unequivocally, any more than the jazz-influenced song style should be mistaken for Weill's personal style. Writing about his Berliner Requiem, also to texts by Brecht, in the radio journal Der deutsche Rundfunk, for which he worked between 1925 and 1929 as a regular correspondent, Weill stated that the Requiem's content "undoubtedly corresponds with the feelings and views of the broadest strata of the population. An attempt has been made to express what the contemporary city dweller has to say about the phenomenon of death."44
By this time in their careers, around 1930, one basic difference had become evident. Weill was a man of the theater; Hindemith was not. Hindemith was a versatile and prolific all-rounder: an established soloist (on viola and violin), someone who had turned his hand to all kinds of music-making, including amateur music. This latter pursuit had revealed his affinity for the aims of the "youth movement" (Jugendbewegung), as the cultural movement was called.45 Whereas Weill sought to capture the sentiments of the city dweller, Hindemith's Musikantentum, his instinctive musicality, which was lauded as much as it was criticized, made him a community (as opposed to a society) person. True, his early operas had earned him renown as a rowdy upstart. Yet his opera Cardillac had established him as a composer seriously to be reckoned with.46 However, his approach to composition was not innately theatrical, as Weill's patently was. An analogous distinction can be drawn between Bach and Handel. The difference is not absolute but one of tendency, of general type. Much of Bach's music tends toward the cerebral, much of Handel's toward public effect, particularly in his operas and oratorios, of course. Similarly, Hindemith's guiding interests as they developed in his career lie with music as a craft, both compositional and performative, Weill's with music's expressive and theatrical potential.
Hindemith's appointment as a professor of composition and theory in 1927 thus brought to light a quite substantial discrepancy between the two composers. The former prankster of the épatant one-act operas and Suite "1922" now became a member of the academic establishment. Weill, on the other hand, was no pedagogue. He had previously taught music theory and composition only for money. Nor, moreover, would he try his hand at writing music-theoretical texts, as Hindemith was about to do.
One of Weill's few written statements on the subject is preserved in a letter from 1949 in which he was responding to the question "What are the most essential factors in composition?" His response begins with a general observation: "It is one of the hardest things for a composer to talk about his own work and even harder to develop a theory about the process of composition, since, in my opinion, it is one of the main factors of creative art to keep a certain innocence about this process of creation, to follow that stream of imagination (or, to use a much abused word, of inspiration) without looking around for the source of the stream." He then offers an analogy: "It is a bit like the process of falling asleep. If you try to watch how you fall asleep you'll have a hard time to pass into Morpheus' arms. By the same token, you cannot write music if you are watching yourself how you do it. That is, of course, the only comparison between falling asleep and writing music." The remarks that follow provide a potted summary of Weill's approach to musical composition, stressing in particular his vocation as a composer for the theater: "I have learned to make my music speak directly to the audience, to find the most immediate, the most direct way to say what I want to say, and to say it as simply as possible. That's why I think that, in the theater at least, melody is such an important element because it speaks directly to the heart-and what good is music if it cannot move people."47 That was in 1949, a year before Weill's death, but the sentiments surely hold good for many of his European works as well.
The relationship between Hindemith's theory and practice is a considerably more complex one. Unlike Weill, he produced a number of theoretical tracts that earned him a reputation as a composer-theorist. While the theory, which he began writing in the 1930s, largely served to rationalize his own creative practice, the practice was also affected by the theory.48 The development of the theory, in particular the invocation of Nature and universal harmony as a legitimizing authority, guided the composer through the turbulence of Nazi Germany. In general, then, Hindemith's Unterweisung im Tonsatz (Craft of Musical Composition), first published in 1937, both reflected the composer's pedagogical methods and defined the parameters of his own musical language.49 In its specific appeals to universal values, however, it also documented a craving for continuity and identity at a time of increasing alienation from active musical life. That alienation was a direct result of National Socialism. Yet Hindemith's sense of it also continued after his return to Europe in the 1950s, despite widespread recognition and celebrity.50
Weill's departure from Germany was short and swift. He made his way first to England, but two critical flops-a BBC broadcast of The Threepenny Opera and the première of A Kingdom for a Cow-were enough to suggest that that country was not the place for him.51 And so he moved to the United States, under contract to oversee rehearsals and the production of The Eternal Road, which ended up being postponed for a substantial period. There he stayed, never permanently to return to Europe.
Hindemith's extrication from his native country was more protracted and full of more obvious pain, involving what has come to be known as the Hindemith Case (Der Fall Hindemith), the political tug-of-war between various parties over Hindemith's acceptability as a composer living in Nazi Germany. It was not just a matter of interpreting his oeuvre but of deciding what the criteria for that assessment should be in the first place.52 Just how wide of the mark some of the assessments were is illustrated by the "Degenerate Music" exhibition staged in Düsseldorf in May 1938, where Hindemith and Schoenberg were lumped together as "theorists of atonality." The charge is absurd in both cases and indicative of the ideological opprobrium practiced by the Nazis. In Schoenberg's case the tribute referred to his harmony textbook of 1911, which deals only briefly, in an appendix, with the dissolution of tonality. And Hindemith's Unterweisung im Tonsatz is anything but a treatise on atonality. In the war of racist and ideological slander, musical details evidently mattered little.
Despite his professional successes in America, Hindemith eventually returned to pursue his academic vocation at the University of Zurich and also his career as a conductor. His ties to Germany and to Europe were patently stronger than Weill's. If he reveled in Americanisms in Germany, in America he seemed to crave attachments to Europe and its traditions.
Hindemith's invocation of universal laws of nature can be read as a response to his growing sense of isolation, an attempt to absolve himself from the pressures of history. His theoretical thought impinged on his practice as a composer such that he began to question the validity of earlier compositions in the light of his new ideas. The theory was not value-free, in other words, but had far-reaching aesthetic implications. In the first edition of the Unterweisung he even appended a list of his own works that he considered consistent with his theory, compositions in which "the realization of the views put forward in this book concerning compositional technique can best be followed."53 Those he omitted were, by implication, aesthetically inferior.
In a handful of instances he undertook revisions in order to justify their inclusion in the newly defined canon of his oeuvre. One such, and the best known, is the song cycle Das Marienleben, originally composed in 1922-23.54 Though not published until 1948 (with an elucidating foreword, completed in New Haven in June of that year), the revised version was apparently contemplated shortly after completion of the first. His diaries and work catalogues show that Hindemith did the bulk of the work on it a decade later and in two stages: in 1936-37, before his departure from Berlin while drafting the Unterweisung; and in the first half of 1941, shortly after joining the Yale School of Music full time.55
The foreword, in which Hindemith describes the motives, aims, and achievements of his revision, is a remarkable document of his artistic credo in matters general and particular. He sees Das Marienleben as having met an "interest in Western music."56 The historical context in which he places himself is wide, stretching back to the Middle Ages. The contemporaries from which he distances himself are all those modernists who in their "new art" overstress "new" and forget "art."57 For his part, he stresses the "ethical necessities of music and the moral duties of the musician"-qualities, he says, of which he had been aware since the performance of the first version of Das Marienleben. His revisions are undertaken in the spirit of approaching an ideal. He calls them "attempts at a solution which run parallel to the great issues of the general compositional development of our age."58 He goes on to criticize the vocal lines of his first version as unamenable to the voice, as having been conceived in abstract musical terms, and says that the principles laid down in his own theory guided the revision. He concerned himself in the new version, he explains, with the coherence of the cycle as a whole. Its unity should be guaranteed not only by the text but also by musical means, by the repetition of motives, by piano postludes, and by tonal relations. The purpose behind the revision can be summed up in his concept of "the total vision of the work," to which all its elements are subordinate.59 Of the original fifteen songs, Hindemith retained only one unaltered. Two were completely recomposed, and the remainder revised, most of them thoroughly.
The idea of returning to an earlier work with a view to revising it, particularly one from 1923, was generally anathema to Weill, except in the event of an actual production. Such productions were few and far between, however. Thus he revised Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny for the 1931 production in Berlin. And although he continued to entertain a revival of Die Dreigroschenoper during his American years, he insisted it would have to be "a completely new adaptation."60 But there are numerous examples of his reusing earlier material, in a way comparable to Handel's self-borrowings.61 He was more pragmatic than Hindemith, less concerned about matters of stylistic continuity and consistency within his oeuvre as a whole. In that sense, he really did not give a damn about composing for posterity. Hindemith's revising his own work may initially suggest discontinuity. But the consistency of his style, the similarity between his earlier and later works, was sufficient for him to consider the revision in the first place.62 And the effort expended, including the self-justifying apology of the revision's foreword, speaks for itself.
When Weill died in 1950, a book came onto the market that was soon to capture the imagination of the thinking American public. It eventually sold over half a million copies in paperback, and a picture of its author, David Riesman, appeared on the cover of Time magazine as a result of its popularity. Called The Lonely Crowd, the book became famous for its character typologies, which were intended as ideal types to describe shifts in socioeconomic attitudes in the modern age.63 The two principal types of modern character structure that Riesman constructs-again, with the broader aim of illuminating overall social and historical tendencies rather than individuals-are "inner-direction" and "other-direction." These are some of the ways in which he defines them in The Lonely Crowd:
The source of direction for the individual is "inner" in the sense that it is implanted early in life by the elders and directed toward generalized but nonetheless inescapably destined goals. ... The problem of personal choice ... is solved by channeling choice through a rigid, highly individualized character. (15)
Aims are ideologically interrelated, and the selection made by any one individual remains relatively unalterable throughout his life. ... The inner-directed character ... is very considerably bound by traditions: they limit his ends and inhibit his choice of means. ... He cannot help becoming aware of competing traditions-hence of tradition as such. ... The inner-directed person becomes capable of maintaining a delicate balance between the demands upon him of his life goal and the buffetings of his external environment. (16)
The diary keeping that is so significant a symptom ... may be viewed as a kind of inner time-and-motion study by which the individual records and judges his output day by day. It is evidence of the separation between the behaving and the scrutinizing self. (16)
The inner-directed man becomes vulnerable to himself when he fails to achieve his internalized goals. Able to forget the invisible hand as long as he is successful, he seeks in his baffled failure to make it visible so that he can smite it. (196)
He becomes a "moralizer-in-retreat." (195)
As for the other-directed type:
What is common to all other-directeds is that their contemporaries are the source of direction for the individual-either those known to him or those with whom he is directly acquainted. The source is of course "internalized" in the sense that dependence on it for guidance in life is implanted early. The goals toward which the other-directed person strives shift with that guidance: it is only the process of striving itself and the process of paying close attention to the signals from others that remain unaltered throughout life. (22)
I am inclined to think that the other-directed type does find itself most at home in America.
The other-directed person wants to be loved rather than esteemed; he wants not to gull or impress, let alone oppress, others but, in the current phrase, to relate to them; he seeks less a snobbish status in the eyes of others than assurance of being emotionally in tune with them.64
It should be evident by now which type best describes which composer, in particular their quite different reactions to emigration. Weill's success in adapting to other musical cultures and generally feeling "at home in America" aligns with the "other-directed" type, whereas Hindemith, in accordance with Riesman's concept of "inner-direction," became something of a "moralizer-in-retreat" and increasingly "bound by tradition." In some ways, however, such typologies may seem no more and no less relevant than astrology charts or I-Ching readings. Not only can they be applied in a statically essentialist way, despite their having been intended to capture a historical process, but the positing of just two types can also be too limited, like any binary opposition.65 These and other objections have already been voiced in the substantial secondary literature on The Lonely Crowd.66
To some extent, Riesman's categories function as historical variables rather than as fixed types that apply in all epochs and cultures. For example, Quentin Bell has appropriated them to describe artistic types as they change throughout history.67 Thus Bell's analysis refers to "the social situation of the artist in the state of inner-direction," that is, to the nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century, principally European conception of the artist as autonomous, nonconformist creator.68 Such an application seems appropriate here insofar as one is dealing less with Weill's individual character traits than with how he plotted his career. The model of "other-direction" may suggest unity and continuity where in previous accounts of his artistic evolution disruption and discontinuity obtained.
In inner-directed terms, the purported differences between early and late Hindemith may seem less marked than is often suggested. Adorno perhaps sensed that inner continuity when he remarked apropos the Suite "1922" and the fox-trot finale of the first Kammermusik, "'It can't go on like this' is, as it were, part of the composition."69 Hindemith's gyroscopic sense of European tradition is pronounced, whether he is apparently opposing or affirming it.70
As for Weill, diagnosing his American works in terms of "doing away with his old creative self," to paraphrase Drew's remark quoted above, or describing his development as abnormal seems informed by expectations that closely resemble Riesman's inner-directed type. In other-directed terms, the transition from Weill's European to his American career seems utterly "normal."
However limiting typologies as such may initially seem, their possibility alone can be used to challenge preconceptions about composers, whether Taylor's, Adorno's or Drew's. An alternative model may invite us to consider differently how creative energies can be channeled, in spite or because of adversities. In that sense, the type holds a possible key to the individual, a framework for interpretation, or, as Elisabeth Young-Bruehl describes it, "a map for further inquiry."71 Descriptions of émigré artists and intellectuals based on the inner-directed model seem to be the norm: Adorno's own writings, informed as they are by German musical expressionism, supply an especially drastic example.72 This is understandable. In many ways, as the stereotype of the European artist, it is a model that has defined the very image of the exile experience.73 The other-directed type, however, suggests another, quite different experience, one that ultimately subverts the very notion of "exile."74
In his book Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said offered a definition of exile that is as true for Hindemith as for Weill, but relevant for each in differing degrees. "Exile," he says, "is predicated on the existence of, love for, and a real bond with one's native place."75 Said precedes this truism with what he calls a "hauntingly beautiful passage" by the twelfth-century monk Hugo of Saint Victor.
It is a ... source of great virtue for the practiced mind to learn, bit by bit, first to change about in visible and transitory things, so that afterwards it may be possible to leave them behind altogether. The person who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign place. The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong person has extended his love to all places; the perfect man has extinguished his.76
Seymour Martin Lipset has argued that "other-directedness may permit, or even demand, inner autonomy."77 That would appear to accord with Hugo's "strong person." Studies of musical émigrés thrive on the fact that nobody is perfect.
It is arguably a variant of the "inner-directed" type that brings together life and work while tracing an organic development of an entire oeuvre and its underlying personal style. Weill, by way of comparison with Hindemith, could be seen to be resisting the type by claiming not to give a damn about writing for posterity and by making a point of not "worrying about the material of music, the theory behind it, the opinion of other musicians." There is also a strong sense, evident quite early on, of his moving from one theatrical collaboration-one "practical purpose"-to the next without stopping to look back. Although earlier works might matter again as the possibility of revival presented itself, "[keeping them] alive by artificial means" held little interest for him. Otherwise, he would return to works not destined for revival as sources of useful material. He did not preserve them "intact," as it were, but neither did he let them go to waste. Self-borrowings from earlier works in fact abound, especially from works written during his years of European exile.
Those reconsidering biographical method with a view to capturing Weill's "way" (his "other-directed" way, specifically) could do worse, then, than begin by reassessing one of the central concepts that underpins traditional notions of "inner-directed" identity and that has proved something of a stumbling block in discussions of Weill's oeuvre: namely, style. In what way and to what degree is it still useful for Weill? In what way does it need to be qualified, and with what, if anything, does it need to be supplemented or even replaced?
Style: Problems of Definition
Consider the following statements on style. The first, already quoted above, comes from Ronald Taylor's biography of Weill, published in 1991. Weill was a composer, Taylor writes, who "seemed to change styles more often than countries." The implication, something made explicit elsewhere in the book, is that Weill not only adapted to changed circumstances to a degree that undermined his identity and development as a composer, but that he changed even when the circumstances didn't. As quoted earlier, Taylor had begun by asking "the real Weill" to "stand up," and concluded: "We do not mind how many Kurt Weills stand up." He seems to be implying that there is one Weill for each of the styles in evidence, even though he really recognizes the legitimacy of only one of them. "In Berlin," he asserts, "[Weill] had created his own idiom, taken out a patent personal musical language," adding that "here one approaches the heart of the matter."78 Compare this with the contrasting view, recently voiced in connection with a recording of excerpts from the 1937 biblical pageant The Eternal Road. "It amazes me," the reviewer remarks, "how quickly and how often Weill's style changes throughout his career, to remain throughout recognizably himself."79 The question begged here is, if not through his style, how does the composer remain "recognizably himself"? If a diversity of styles can both undermine identity and not undermine it, how can Taylor and the reviewer be talking about the same thing? What, in other words, is style in Weill, and how does it relate to other notions, such as the identity of the composer?
One of the first people to discuss this issue, some sixty years before Taylor, was Herbert Fleischer, who in 1932 published an essay entitled "Kurt Weill: Versuch einer einheitlichen Stilbetrachtung"-an attempt at a unified view of style. Fleischer had studied in Berlin with philosopher Max Dessoir, professor of psychology and of the theory of art, and written under his supervision a dissertation in which, in a mere one hundred pages, he provides a remarkable summary of recent trends in music aesthetics, with attention paid not just to schools of composition but to key individuals, such as Schoenberg and Stravinsky.80 In his study Fleischer is concerned above all with the tendency displayed by both of these composers toward "certain sonic abstractions." Yet he identifies a key difference, namely Stravinsky's exclusion of human sentiment.
That was in 1928. Stravinsky continued to abide his question, and his next major publication was a monograph on the composer, which appeared in 1931.81 Somewhat amending the earlier view and thereby humanizing his subject, he attempts in this new study to balance Stravinsky's architectural and constructivist tendencies with his role as a "tone poet."
After the Stravinsky monograph, Fleischer turned his attention to Weill. The composer evidently approved. When Fleischer submitted the article to Anbruch, the house journal of Weill's publisher, Universal Edition, it was forwarded to the composer, who returned it with the comment that he thought it "adequate to the purpose" (zweckentsprechend); he "welcomed" the publication, he said, because it "viewed his work from a somewhat larger perspective."82 He also lent Fleischer materials for his research, though the materials were eventually lost and Fleischer never finished the book. Even so, after moving to Italy Fleischer did publish a more general book on contemporary music in which, in a short section on Weill, sandwiched between Křenek and Hindemith, he essentially recycled the 1932 style essay.83
Fleischer's style article, appearing just a year before Weill made the first of several changes of country, served as a double prolegomenon: to the unfinished book on Weill and to the part of the book that he did eventually finish. Equating style with "physiognomy," he identifies "traits" of the Busoni School, but argues that "Weill's physiognomy shines through" in those early German works nonetheless. As characteristically Weillian, he identifies a "gesticulating" quality: "gesture, mime ... direct expression." Weill's art becomes "language, representation." According to Fleischer, "In its penetrating quality, its imposing thrust, it becomes the distinct opposite of the reserved spirituality of Busoni's music." Thus he begins by stating that Weill is one of the "few contemporary musicians who have developed a well-defined, vital style, recognized by us all."84
In the course of his essay Fleischer introduces no fewer than eight separate style concepts to characterize different facets of Weill's music. These are "revue style," "song style," "aggression style," "stage style," "didactic style," "oratorio-dramatic style," "lapidary style," and "representational and descriptive style." Their function is both diachronic and synchronic. On the one hand, he uses these concepts to trace a development from Weill's earliest stage works through 1932; on the other, he suggests the simultaneous presence of several of these styles in the then-latest work, the opera Die Bürgschaft. The terms are at once discrete and, as facets of Weill's development, complementary. Some are mutually exclusive, while others overlap. A closer look, however, reveals that the style concepts do not possess the same logical status: those that overlap describe different aspects of the same thing. The "revue style," used pejoratively to describe superficial Americanisms, refers in particular to works such as Der neue Orpheus and Royal Palace, both collaborations with the surrealist poet Iwan Goll. It is hard to tell whether Fleischer is referring more to the subject matter than to the musical style, but he is relieved that Weill does not continue to compete with Křenek and works such as Jonny spielt auf and glad that he moves instead to the opera buffa Der Zar lässt sich photographieren, whose gramophone tango, like the very end of Royal Palace, anticipates what Fleischer calls the "song style."
He sees the transition to the song style fully achieved in several of the collaborations with Bertolt Brecht, some of Weill's best-known works. These include Mahagonny-Songspiel, Die Dreigroschenoper, Das Berliner Requiem, and Happy End. In this style, Fleischer asserts, "Weill found himself, that which is very much his own: the ability to let music become language." This is not a matter of personal expression. The "essential characteristic of the song style," Fleischer observes, is that "it is the expression of a world." He identifies "the melody line's slight dynamic motoric nuances" as responsible for the "lapidary simplicity of the musical language," a language that reveals the "essential face," the Urgesicht, of Weill's music.85 The rhetoric of physiognomy could scarcely get more essentialist than that!
The song style relies on a combination of two basic elements: the motor rhythms of the accompaniment, derived from contemporaneous dance idioms; and the lyrical melodic line. It's not just a hit tune, Fleischer asserts; it's a ballad: "People of the lower class, creatures of the street, sing their bit of life, bit of romanticism, lust for adventure, their love."86 That is the world of which the song style is an expression: the modern world. Hence Weill's definition of the dance music on which he based his style as "the expression of the masses." It is at once free and strict-agogically supple lyricism held in check by the discipline of the dance.
It is hard to say whether, for Fleischer, the "aggression style" is synonymous with the "song style" or whether it is a contrasting, discrete style. In fact, he talks of two "aggression styles," one from the period of the song style that may or may not be synonymous with it, and one that postdates the next style in Weill's development, the "didactic style." Some of the songs are certainly more aggressive than others, and it is tempting to see Weill cultivating a distinct idiom akin to the marching songs of Hanns Eisler, beginning with his quotation of "Die Internationale" in the Mahagonny-Songspiel and acquiring particular prominence in Happy End.
There is another overlap here with the so-called didactic style of works such as Der Jasager, in which Weill cultivates a sparse, bare-bones contrapuntal style for the Lehrstück, the genre of didactic theater that flourished around 1930 and of which Weill was one of the chief practitioners along with composers such as Eisler and Hindemith. The referent in the term didactic style is as much the genre of the work and its content as it is the musical language employed. Perhaps the language itself is better described as "lapidary," as in Fleischer's concept of "lapidary style." Derived from the Latin word for stone, the adjective generally applies to something either literally engraved or figuratively done in the manner of an inscription, especially monumental stones. A lapidary style is therefore one characteristic of, or suitable for, inscriptions. That figurative meaning would certainly apply quite readily to the opening of Der Jasager, with its terse pronouncement of the theme of collective consent, and to substantial stretches of Der Lindberghflug and Die Bürgschaft.
If "lapidary style" and "didactic style" overlap in capturing both the form and content of Der Jasager, then the terms stage style and oratorio-dramatic style do not describe any one stylistic idiom so much as accommodate a diversity of idioms within a range of theatrical works. In fact, "stage style," when applied to works such as Happy End and Mahagonny, circumscribes an approach to composition predicated precisely on stylistic diversity. Such diversity, motivated by dramaturgical concerns, could also be said to be the essence of the "representational and descriptive style" that Fleischer applies to Die Bürgschaft, with its basic division into dramatic action and epic commentary. "Representation" refers to the action itself and "description" to the commentary and interpretation by a chorus, done in the manner of an oratorio. Such is the synthesis that Fleischer sees in that latest work: the gathering together of previous theatrical experiments in a multifaceted musical language, a plurality of stylistic idioms cultivated at the service of a dramatic concept-in short, a style of the stage.
So what does Fleischer mean by "style"? His approach reflects a fundamental tension between competing concepts-between, on the one hand, the systematic delineation of contrasting and complementary styles within an overriding commitment to musical theater and, on the other, the identification of a singular "physiognomy" in the context of the composer's evolution. One concept leads to the plurality reflected in Fleischer's seven style compounds, the other to the singular concept of a "stage style."
A similar tension exists in Weill's own accounts of his development. An often-cited instance of self-commentary relating to matters of style is a letter to his publisher from 14 October 1929 in which he spoke of the abandonment of the "song style" in the Mahagonny opera: "Almost everything added to the Baden-Baden version," he wrote, referring to the difference between the "Songspiel" and the opera, "is written in a perfectly strict, thoroughly responsible style," adding that "I presume that it will endure longer than most of what is being produced nowadays."87 He was referring above all to the neo-baroque turn taken by a number of his compositions, but also to certain numbers in Happy End. He shared his publisher's perception of a "style change" (Stilwandlung), a "great development" (grosse Entwicklung), which "hasn't stood still for one moment" (Weill's emphasis) and was making "a new advance [Vorstoss]."88
Exactly where the neo-baroque fits into Fleischer's taxonomy is hard to say, except as a facet of the broad category of "representation and descriptive style." This raises a question about Weill's remark concerning the style's longevity: the music written in this style is not something that necessarily endures; rather, it is something that represents an enduring, timeless quality. Its counterpoint partakes of the putatively timeless, stylistically unassailable substance of music. When Weill referred to the "Songspiel" version of Mahagonny as a "style study," which he did on a number of occasions, he seemed to be counteracting the notion of an unceasing development, still less an enduring physiognomy. The "song style" was something that had to be worked on, experimented with, as one element among many. Its abandonment was above all dramaturgically motivated.
Going beyond the period of Fleischer's purview, there are many further such instances of Weill discussing the style or "styles" of his work after he left Germany, and they do so in contradictory ways. It was not until he had, as he said, "worked his way" into the style of the biblical pageant The Eternal Road, begun in 1934 in German as Der Weg der Verheissung, that he could make good progress on the piece.89 Just a year earlier, he had described his satirical operetta Der Kuhhandel as being written "in a very beautiful, new style," presumably not the same "responsible style" of Mahagonny.90 The epithet beautiful attaching to the new style should not necessarily be taken as an automatic guarantee of aesthetic value or quality, as can be seen from a Busoni-inspired statement Weill made some years later, in 1940, with several changes of style behind him and more to come. Style and quality are invoked here as discrete matters: "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" (my emphasis).91 Even if the style changes, the quality need not.
Weill reiterates the idea of his changing style for each new work-or even the idea of the style of each work creating itself-in the mid-1940s. He develops his argument in two steps, first by defining "standard formulas" and then by describing his approach to them.
Our theatre has developed a number of standard formulas for musical entertainment-revue, musical comedy, musical play, operetta, light opera and grand opera, each of which follows a time-tried recipe. At the same time there has always been a special fascination for the composer in trying out different mixtures of the same ingredients. The special brand of musical entertainment in which I have been interested from the start is a sort of "dramatic musical," a simple, strong story told in musical terms, interweaving the spoken word and the sung word so that the singing takes over naturally whenever the emotion of the spoken word reaches a point where music can "speak" with greater effect.
The singularity derives from blurring generic boundaries and mixing conventions. "This form of theatre has its special attraction for the composer," he continues, "because it allows him to use a great variety of musical idioms, to write music that is both serious and light, operatic and popular, emotional and sophisticated, orchestral and vocal. Each show of this type has to create its own style, its own texture, its own relationship between words and music, because music becomes a truly integral part of the play-it helps to deepen the emotions and clarify the structure." The result is a unique "work style" that arises from studied diversity.92
Two preliminary conclusions follow from these quoted remarks about style. The first is that shifts in the meaning and significance of the term are considerable, in both Weill's and Fleischer's uses. The second is that when people talk about style they may well be talking at cross purposes, even with themselves-more about different than the same things. Style in music functions in the manner of an "essentially contested concept," to use the notion put in circulation by W.B. Gallie. There is, to cite Gallie, who was writing about the concept of "freedom" in political science, "no one clearly definable general use" that could be "set up as the correct or standard usage." Style serves a variety of purposes, whether complementary or mutually exclusive. Even though disputes about its meaning ought to be considered genuine, they are unlikely to be resolved by argument, even though (as Gallie said about freedom) it is "perfectly respectable arguments and evidence" that sustain them.93 The task is rather to recognize the plurality of meanings. Style, however defined, is coherence-or at least, in view of its labile nature, it is the rhetoric of coherence. As such, it is one of the indispensable keys but also one of the potential hindrances to our appreciation of music, including Weill's.
For this reason, there is an additional matter to pursue. For all its lability, the terminology is not entirely arbitrary; it is historically and culturally informed. Looked at in a broader context, the various connotations of "style" invoked so far reflect the broader historical evolution of the term. In his outstanding entry on style in the encyclopedia Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, Wilhelm Seidel plots several shifts.94 The key shift with respect to the current discussion is that in the nineteenth century toward the notion of a "personal style." As Seidel demonstrates, in addition to this connection to individuals, style as a concept of classification has been called upon over the centuries to describe (1) functions (as in "church," "chamber," and "theater style"); (2) epochs (as in "baroque," "classical," "romantic"); and (3) nations (as in "German," "French," "Italian"). Historically, Seidel writes, beginning in the mid-sixteenth century, "the first systems compare styles of musical motion, movements, function and genre; the eighteenth century includes styles of nationality, expression and sentiment; the nineteenth century above all personal style." He also notes an increasing connection between "style theory and the idea of unity," which explains the fact "that the nineteenth century, including Adler, saw the organic constitution of works of art as the innermost condition of stylistically perfected creations."95 Although style was originally a function of genre, its career followed a path from outer to inner, from social function to personal expression, and eventually to individual identity. All of these connotations play a role in the discussion of Weill's music.
Studies such as Richard Crocker's History of Musical Style (1966), Charles Rosen's The Classical Style (1971), and Leonard Meyer's Style and Music (1989)testify to the centrality of the concept of style in musical discourse. But where do they fit into Seidel's broader framework? And what is their relevance to critics and biographers such as Ronald Taylor who apply the category of style to Weill's oeuvre, albeit with negative conclusions? Crocker, Rosen, and Meyer are all concerned with epoch style, or "style periods," as they used to be known. In this they build on the legacy of Guido Adler and the ideas contained in his book Der Stil in der Musik (1911) and his Handbuch der Musikgeschichte (1924), both of whichhad a profound influence on the historiography of succeeding generations. Adler's theory was shot through with biological metaphors: a style was something that developed in "an organic process."96 More specifically, "Each main style, appearing in numerous offshoots and other branchings-off, each has its growth, its full bloom, and its decline, and each of these phases has its symptoms, its criteria."97
Thus Crocker's history of music presents itself as a study that "stresses the continuity of basic musical principles ... seeking the reasons for stylistic change within the history of style itself." It is an account that, as the preface states, "tries to show how music, growing out of its past, has shaped its own development"-in other words, it is a narrative of style's autonomous evolution.98
Rosen's "classical style" takes a different course, between a generally valid notion of style and the individuality of the exceptional work. The latter, he says, "seems to deny even the possibility of the history of art," at least history seen as a history of style, even of personal style. "Even with the work of one artist, it is not his usual procedure that characterizes his personal 'style,' but his greatest and most individual success." Rosen's compromise solution is the idea of the style of a group, a style that "avoids this impossible fragmentation without falling into the difficulties of the 'anonymous' period style."99 Rosen's narrative is also organicist, a matter of life and death, with Mahler's ironic appropriation of the classical style occurring within "a shadowy life-in-death."100
Meyer's style concept is different again. Although he divides his book into period styles, along traditional historiographic lines (classical to romantic etc.), his approach is more systematic than historical, drawing as it does on linguistic theory, and it is certainly less organicist. His notion of stylistic analysis pursues the goal of establishing a unifying principle conceived in terms of a "hierarchy of constraints."101 It tends to be based, therefore, more in a particular repertory than in a personal style.
Rosen and Meyer reflect an increasing shift away from epochs and individuals to contextually situated works, a shift that typifies the structuralist paradigms of the postwar period. They have little room for Fleischer's subject-oriented physiognomies. But as Ernst Gombrich stated in a somewhat resigned way in his brilliant, and brilliantly entertaining, entry on style in the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (1968), in which he dismisses "stylistic physiognomics" as fallacious: "The intuitive grasp of underlying Gestalten that makes the connoisseuris still far ahead of the morphological analysis of styles in terms of enumerable features."102 In other words, any underlying principle of stylistic unity is a critical rather than a scientific matter. The unity resides in the eye or ear of the beholder and in his or her critical competence and authority rather than in any features that can be readily generalizable. Meyer would most certainly agree, referring to his conclusions as "hypotheses," which "do not pretend to be definitive."103 Seen another way, they are like Kant's "aesthetic idea," an idea that cannot become a scientific insight or cognition "because it is an intuition (of the imagination) for which an adequate concept can never be found."104 More is at stake, in short, than musical style. Style is coherence, however defined. And coherence is hard enough to define, still more to prove. If the concept itself is contested, then so should the criteria be whereby coherence-or lack thereof-is attested, whether it is the organic evolution of a genre, a historical epoch, an artist's life, or even a single work.
Weill, Taylor said, was a composer who "seemed to change styles more often than countries." This is no doubt true if by "style" he meant idiom in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century sense, with the kind of topical changes we associate with the operatic music of Handel and Mozart, whether that idiom is a "song style" or something more "lapidary" or even "neo-baroque." Style, in that sense, refers to forms of musical rhetoric analogous to the eighteenth-century kind, the means deemed suitable to the artistic end. If "the real Weill" is to "stand up" as a composer of stylistic coherence and, unlike Taylor, we do mind how many Kurt Weills stand up, then we need to adjust our notions of identity with regard both to the artist and to his individual works. One place to do this would be in the aesthetics of "stage style." Another would be in the area of orchestration or "sound image," as Weill called it. Yet another is in the habitually reappearing figures and patterns that occur across his oeuvre. These things are not so much to do with what we usually call style, however, but rather with what one might call "signature"; they are also what makes Weill Weill. After all, a defining feature of the "stage style" that Weill cultivated is irony, a category predicated less on stylistic unity than on incongruity. Cultivating a musical style in the idiomatic sense did not amount to the adoption of Drew's "secondary persona," a mask or façade presented to satisfy the demands of the situation or the environment and not representing the inner personality of the individual-in short, a public personality as opposed to the "anima." Style in Weill, if it is to be used as a positive term of coherence, is rather the cultivation of opportunities, within a theatrical context, among other things for a richness of topical allusion-a well-nigh inexhaustible richness, as study of his scores continues to reveal.105
Style and Gestus
The notion of "stage style" overlaps but is not entirely synonymous with Gestus, a concept initially employed by Weill in 1929 and later adopted and developed by Brecht beyond that initial usage. The concept itself was not new, however, having been used in the eighteenth century, as Marc Silberman has shown, "to describe the rhetoric of passions as a language of gestures."106 Moreover, in his Hamburgische Dramaturgie, Lessing discussed how Gestūs (used here in the Latin plural) serve as a means for the actor "to return the symbolic aspect of morals to immediate [i.e., intuitive] apprehension," connecting the general with the specific.107 Such gestures contained in a work for the stage turn a story into a parable-a dimension of Lessing's concept preserved in Brecht's later theories, which seek to prevent the equation of gesture merely with personal expression.
In the voluminous Brecht-Weill literature, Gestus is nothing if not a contested concept.108 The first documented source is Weill's essay "Über den gestischen Charakter der Musik" (1928-29).Following the lead of his teacher Busoni, Weill posed in that essay two fundamental questions: "What occasions are there for music on stage?" And "How is music in the theater constituted ... are there certain characteristics that brand music as theater music?" These characteristics, he claims, can be summarized as "the gestic character of music." That doesn't take us very far, of course, so Weill provides examples. Generally speaking, he says, he is referring to music's ability to "establish the basic tone, the basic gesture of an event or process" and to do so in such a way "that a false interpretation can at least be avoided." Mozart, he claims, "never relinquishes the gestic character." He specifically cites Tamino's aria "Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön" from Die Zauberflöte. Thus he writes: "The music determines by itself the attitude of a man who is looking at a picture. He can hold the picture in his right or left hand, pointing up or down, he can be illuminated by a spotlight or standing in the dark-his basic gesture is correct because it is correctly dictated by the music" (85).109 What, Weill inquires further, are the gestic means? One is the "rhythmic fixation of the text" in terms of accents, syllable length, etc. (86). But he also includes, using "Alabama Song" as his example, a "basic gesture" that is "rhythmically established in the most primitive form" as an accompaniment, composed here of anapests. But the potential for this approach depends, he stresses, on the dramatic content of the text, which may or may not allow such a relationship between melody and accompaniment. "The problem touched on here," he concludes, "is no less a problem of modern drama" (88). In other words, Gestus has to do with the congruence-or rather, with the possibility of congruence-of form and content. And that is a problem he would seek to resolve, throughout his career, both with and without Brecht, and with all manner of musical styles.
Style in Weill is the theatrical means. Gestus is the dramatic end or result, itself a function of reception and hence susceptible to interpretation. In his theory of epic theater, in which Gestus forms a central tenet, Brecht would define that end as sociological rather than psychological. Thus, for example, the opera Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny is the story of a city, not of a particular hero or antihero.
Style in Weill's music should be considered a poietic rather than a biographical category-the clothes, not the man, to refer back to Daniel Albright's observation quoted at the beginning of this chapter: something inseparable from dramaturgical function. So too is instrumentation. Yet instrumentation not only functions to cast intentional stylistic banality, even corniness, in an unusual light; it also serves as a complementary category to personal style: as signature. As Weill put it in 1932, formulating one of his basic maxims: "the sonic image ... is always especially important with me."110 Like "good" voice-leading, it was another essential facet of his craftsmanship. Weill's "own way" had much to do with his personal sonic images. His emphasis on this parameter of music, as the transfiguration of the commonplace and as personal signature, is critically bound up with the importance of scores in the transmission of his works. He may, as Adorno observed, have "shifted the composition process into rehearsal."111 That came with the territory of the collaborative venture that is musical theater. Yet the sonic image remained fully under his personal control for posterity to savor. Each work has a more or less recognizable identity as a text, even if the performance materials sometimes seem like nothing more than multiple sets of scripts for diverse, even unique occasions.112
Where does all this leave the biographer? The tools of the trade have to be reconceived for Weill. And it is surely no coincidence that the rise in his critical stock began when writers such as Hildesheimer and critics such as Scheuer were questioning traditional narratives of the life and works of artists. Describing the life of a man of the musical theater such as Weill will entail, in terms of biographical method, steering a judicious course between a biography of the man, who remained elusive even to Lenya,113 and a biography of the works, which tend to take on a life of their own. Traditional notions of autonomy will in either case be of little help.
Weill's work as a composer invites us to understand his life forward, not just backward, as Kierkegaard's much-quoted and -paraphrased principles seem to demand: "It is quite true what philosophy says: that life must be understood backwards," Kierkegaard wrote in 1843. "But then," he added, "one forgets the other principle: that it must be lived forwards."114 Put in their anti-Hegelian context, Kierkegaard's words can be taken as a critique of teleological historical thinking and hence as a corrective to the first principle, that of understanding life backward. In their theological context, however, the same words refer to the Christian ideal that embraces the totality of an individual's existence as the artifact on the basis of which he or she is judged (in this case, by God) for his or her eternal validity. Referring in the first instance to philosophers and theologians, Kierkegaard insisted we should focus on the whole life, not just on one part of it, such as the art.115 Biography may be implicated in both of these endeavors: reading lives backward and passing judgment on their totality, as if for eternal validity. Artistic biography, however, needs to acknowledge where such a holistic view is appropriate and where it is not. It needs to decide, on the one hand, where backward-reading (because ultimately teleological) narrative is called for and, on the other, where the connections between the life, however construed, and the work can convincingly be established. Just as Weill, the man and the artist, needs to be understood in all his "other-directedness," and not least because of the fact of emigration, so the realization of the musical-theater works and their meaning in performance (Weill's sonic control notwithstanding) invite an approach in which questions of material progress and personal style (the questions, that is, of conventional teleology) yield to those of music's dramaturgical and sociological significance. These, then, are the matters with which the remainder of this study is principally concerned. After focusing in the next chapter on Weill's self-proclaimed identity as a Busoni pupil, I explore the various stages of Weill's career as a composer for the musical theater, a career defined in terms of the conventions that he both adopted and, through committed experimentation with hybrid genres, reformed.