The Kurt Weill Foundation fosters and celebrates excellent performances of Weill’s works. With this goal, the principles articulated by Weill himself and perpetuated by Lotte Lenya guide the Foundation’s artistic policies. Foremost among these is Weill’s lifelong desire to find ways for individual songs to reach as wide an audience as possible. At the same time, because he created virtually all of his own arrangements and orchestrated all of his own scores, he insisted that his music be played in the theater only in his own orchestrations. (For example, within weeks of the premiere of The Threepenny Opera in 1928, he instructed his publishers to enforce this requirement, wrote precisely the same to Brecht in 1942, and repeatedly affirmed it for other works in various contexts until his death.)
Nevertheless, recognizing the changing circumstances of theatrical production around the world in the intervening decades, the Foundation attempts to balance Weill’s directive with recognition of practical exigencies that productions today face. Thus, the KWF funds a “Grant and Sponsorship Program” that may help organizations perform Weill’s work in its original form.
When performance of the original orchestration is still not possible, the KWF considers petitions for modifications or exceptions to the standard terms of licenses. These requests, officially addressed, well in advance, to the licensing agent or publisher, should explain why the particular circumstances prevent adherence to Weill’s wishes and the Foundation’s policy. Of course, not all such requests will be persuasive, but all will be given careful consideration by the rights holders. The Foundation’s response to such applications will be based on the following guidelines:
- The KWF makes no attempt to approve or control arrangements, performances, or recordings of individual songs conducive to “popular exploitation.” Publishers treat such arrangements as “derivative works for hire,” meaning that arrangers may not claim copyright and do not receive a portion of the composer’s share of small rights income.
- The KWF follows Weill’s lead in working to ensure that his own arrangements and orchestrations are used when his works are performed as a whole in the theater (but not in revues). The KWF does not attempt to influence “interpretation” of works beyond the prohibition against unauthorized alterations to the musical score. It does not exercise approval over casting of productions, except for so-called “First Class Productions,” for which approvals of principal cast are standard industry practice. KWF staff are, of course, happy to consult and recommend performers from an extensive roster of proven talent.
- Publishers’ licenses for productions of concert works and stage works of Kurt Weill (not popular song performances) contain clauses requiring advance permission for any new arrangements, reduced or altered orchestrations, reassignment of songs to different characters, and other changes. “Advance” is the key word. The KWF can’t be as helpful if producers don’t communicate with us before it’s too late to find acceptable solutions.
- Requests for transposition of keys for songs in Weill’s European plays with music (e.g., Die Dreigroschenoper and Happy End) and his Broadway musicals (e.g., One Touch of Venus and Love Life) are routinely approved, provided that such changes do not involve alterations to either his orchestrations or the vocal range of the role to the extent that it would distort Weill’s musical characterizations. Such transpositions are inappropriate for Weill’s operas and other “sung-through” works, where tonal (key) relationships are essential to musical structure (e.g., Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny). Transpositions of roles down a full octave, while leaving the orchestration unchanged, wreak havoc on Weill’s astute vocal characterization. Requests for this drastic alteration are seldom approved; casting actors who cannot sing a role at pitch is not a persuasive argument for such changes.
- Requests to perform Weill’s stage works with the authorized piano reductions alone are routinely approved because of the organization’s limited pit size, theater size, or budget. However, requests to allow ad hoc arrangements for smaller ensembles for limited run productions are more problematic, as they seldom succeed in preserving Weill’s harmonic subtleties and instrumental colors, which are essential to his musical identity. (The KWF has authorized for licensing reduced instrumentation for certain works, including Lady in the Dark, The Seven Deadly Sins, and One Touch of Venus, as well as two-piano arrangements, including The Seven Deadly Sins and The Czar Has His Photograph Taken.)
- When exceptions to the KWF’s policies are granted, the performing organization is responsible for the preparation, production, and cost of any new materials. After performances have concluded, these production-specific altered versions become the property of the relevant publishers.
- The KWF is not empowered to authorize unilaterally any changes to lyrics or the book of Weill’s dramatic works. It must, however, co-approve versions that involve such alterations, including all new English-language translations. KWF may be able to assist presenters in seeking such permission from the other owners.
- Because of the complex performance history and textual fluidity of the opera Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, the KWF has issued a separate set of guidelines for producers of this work: “Building Mahagonny” (click here for German version).
For nearly a century Kurt Weill’s music has inspired artists and interpreters to explore diverse ways to realize its rich rewards. The KWF embraces the continuing interest in presentations of both his stage and concerts works as well as arrangements, performances, and recordings of individual songs that bring them before a broad public. It shares with producers and performers of Weill’s work a common cause in wishing for the best productions and performances possible. The KWF wants to help. If you have questions or need more information, ask Director of Programs and Business Affairs Brady Sansone: firstname.lastname@example.org or 212 505 5240 x204.
Ratified by the Board of Trustees of the Kurt Weill Foundation, 21 February 2016