The Kurt Weill Edition is a collected critical edition that makes available the surviving legacy of Kurt Weill’s completed compositions. Of the works for the musical theater, which make up the bulk of his oeuvre, none has ever appeared as a coordinated unit of dialogue, lyrics, and music, as they do in the Edition. Few, if any, of the full scores published in his lifetime benefited from the composer’s editorial supervision. Such an uneven publishing history reflects not only neglect but also the nature of the oeuvre itself, multifaceted in character and having origins in various musical cultures. With its presentation of otherwise inaccessible materials, and with its reassessment of editorial methods, the Edition serves both performers and scholars. Divided into four series (Stage, Concert, Screen, and Miscellanea), the Edition follows a broadly defined set of editorial principles flexible enough to accommodate Weill’s celebrated diversity. Each volume contains an introductory essay by the volume editor(s) covering the work’s genesis, performance, transmission, and reception; editorial methodology; and where relevant, issues of performance practice. All music is newly engraved. Within the score, documentation of editorial action is restricted to ossia, footnotes and, sparingly, square brackets. The critical reports, fully documenting editorial decisions and describing and evaluating sources, appear as separate volumes. The text of each musico-dramatic work, always in its original language, is integrated sequentially with the music. Appendices reflect the dynamic process of creation and performance; they are reserved for viable alternatives and supplements to the main text.
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To apply a uniform editorial approach to Weill’s compositions would be to impose an inappropriate unity on a corpus of work that, to varying degrees, both invites and resists the methods traditionally employed by historical-critical editions of music. Weill prided himself on his ability, as he once put it, to “work my way into a style.” Yet despite the variety of genres and idioms on which he drew during a career traversing two continents and lasting some three decades, he consistently projected a firm sense of his own identity and purpose. Writing in 1932, with reference to Die Dreigroschenoper but with relevance to his entire output, he emphasized the importance of precisely conveying the “sonic image” of his music–the Klangbild, as he called it–“which is always especially important with me.” Whether drafting a song or orchestrating its final version, he always created and communicated his music in written form. Full scores were essential to his craft. And his works were nearly always transmitted as text, however imperfectly.
The text is not synonymous with the work. Nor is the difference between them the same in every case. Taking into account this unstable relationship between work and text requires a degree of editorial flexibility that runs counter to the basic assumptions underpinning many complete editions–foremost among them the notion of the autonomy of the text, uncorrupted by performance and reception history. Such a concept is inappropriate for much of Weill’s oeuvre. His early instrumental compositions submit more readily to the traditional approach than his later work. Yet they, too, as the sources reveal, bear traces of a process of socialization that proves formative for the operas and musical theater pieces.
Most of Weill’s career was devoted to the musical theater–a vocation to which he committed himself from the very beginning of his professional life. In this respect, the editorial challenges posed by his works are the same as those facing all editions of composers who have worked in the theater. Works for the musical theater are, to varying degrees, collaborative ventures; more often than not, their genesis does not precede but is rather inextricably bound up with the process of creative realization for specific events. Insofar as written materials are involved–principally, librettos and scores–these materials are subject to revision and adaptation as a function of the production process. Changes of cast or venue, revivals and new stagings–all of these aspects of the work’s realization may call for further revisions and adaptations. It follows, therefore, that the work’s identity is dynamic, its status as written text not permanently fixed, but mutable. Rather than being excluded from consideration, production and reception history are indispensable factors in establishing an authoritative text.
The circumstances of Weill’s life and work only compound these general editorial challenges. As a creative artist driven by a desire to bring about reform wherever he worked, whether as a German native, an émigré, or a naturalized American citizen, he also sought to shape the various cultures he inhabited, through the cross-fertilization of different forms and styles, old and new, high and low. He was a master of the mixed genre, generic ambiguity being a principal means of representation and expression; irony another. His role in collaborations was not limited to composing the music. Rarely, if ever, was he uninvolved in the creation of the librettos; often his contribution approached that of coauthorship. No less decisive was the part he played in the production process.
Weill nearly always conceived his works for the musical theater as events–for particular performers, locations, and audiences. Initially, the creation of the text or texts of the works was a means to the realization of the event, not an end in itself. The events emerged from the texts. At the same time, new versions of the texts emerged from the events. Yet there is a distinction to be drawn: between an alteration that modifies the work in the long term and any change that is merely local and temporary. An event generates its own specific script, which can be quite different from the actual text of the work. A script is a “marked-up” text, with deletions, additions, and performance directions pertinent to the production at hand, with a given set of performers and for a specific venue. There is a tension, then, between the generality of text and the individuality of scripts assembled and edited for particular occasions, a tension that creates an abiding challenge to editors, as does the tension between the singularity of a text and the plurality of its realizations in performance. In practice, the boundaries between text and script are fluid. Even so, awareness of the distinction serves an important heuristic purpose: that of helping the editor to discern different levels or types of textual sources, between documents of the single event and others that transmit as text the work that supersedes the event.
For one of Weill’s works to be transmitted in its entirety by a single source is the exception rather than the rule. For the theater works there is no exception whatsoever: any one source represents only part of the work. Taken together to form the entire musical and verbal text of the piece, the sources complement one another; but they often contradict one another, too. One of the major tasks of the Edition is to bring together these textual elements of the stage works and, as far as possible, reconcile any differences between them. This general absence of complete sources renders the traditional distinction between primary and secondary sources irrelevant. Editors draw on all available sources relating to the period between the start of the production process and the end of the composer’s involvement. As a synthesis of the sources from which it is derived, the version of the work in the Edition may never have existed (either as text or in performance) exactly in the form in which it is presented. This is where the critical apparatus plays a crucial role by describing the rationale behind any editorial decisions. Just as the Edition as a whole embraces the diversity of Weill’s oeuvre, so each volume is obliged to reflect the dynamic nature of an individual work’s identity. Users are presented with historically informed options along with criteria for making a critical judgment.
The Editorial Board
David Drew, Stephen Hinton, Kim H. Kowalke and Giselher Schubert
New York, May 1999