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1918-1926: Portrait of the Composer as a Young Man

1918

22 April: Arrives in Berlin to begin studies at the Hochschule der Musik (Conservatory). Moves to a pension on the Winterfeldplatz in western Berlin. Attends classes at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, where his teachers include Ernst Cassirer and Max Dessoir.

Early May: First composition lesson with Engelbert Humperdinck. Soon he begins work with Humperdinck on an existing composition, the String Quartet in B Minor. He describes himself as ahead of his fellow students in the areas of piano, score-reading, organ, conducting, and theory, but behind in improvisation and counterpoint. Accepts the position of choir director of the Religionsgemeinde Friedenau, begins accompanying at Stern’s Conservatory, and immerses himself in Berlin’s cultural life.

June: Piano studies include Bach suites and score reading of Beethoven symphonies.

24 July: Returns to Dessau for summer break; also visits his brother Hans in Halberstadt.

August: Prepares the synagogue chorus in Berlin Friedenau for Yom Kippur services.

September: Completes String Quartet in B Minor. Begins full-time studies at the Hochschule für Musik, Berlin. His teachers include Paul Juon and Humperdinck (composition), Koch (counterpoint), and Rudolf Krasselt (conducting). He also begins informal violin lessons.

October: Visits family in Dessau. In Berlin, hears Richard Strauss conduct his Ein Heldenleben and attends a performance of Der Rosenkavalier.

November: Witnesses street battles and political ferment in Berlin as Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicates and Germany moves toward a republic.

December: Spends Christmas vacation with his family in Dessau. The Novembergruppe is established in Berlin.

1919

February: Develops close friendship with fellow pupil Walter Kämpfer, which persists through the 1920s. Later, Kämpfer becomes a well-known music critic.

March: Completes Suite in E major for Orchestra.

27 March: Writes to Hans that he has formulated an initial conception of a symphonic poem based on Rilke’s “Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke.” Manuscript lost.

July: Despite winning a Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy scholarship for composition, Weill agrees with his parents that he should leave the Hochschule and gain more practical experience as a vocal coach and conductor. Withdraws from the Conservatory and considers studying with Hermann Wetzler, Hans Pfitzner, or Arnold Schoenberg.

August: Returns to Dessau to accept with reluctance a post as Répetiteur at the Dessau Hofoper under Hans Knappertsbusch. Composes “Die stille Stadt” (text by Richard Dehmel).

4 September: Accompanies soprano Elisabeth Feuge in a vocal recital in Dessau that includes two of his own songs. They repeat the program in Cöthen and Zerbst.

December: Accepts assistant conductor position at the Stadttheater Lüdenscheid upon a recommendation from Humperdinck; he is soon promoted to head conductor. Weill stays in Lüdenscheid only six months, yet years later he would tell an interviewer that he learned everything he knew about theater there.

1920

10 January: Opening night of the first operetta for which Weill has been entirely in charge of rehearsals and preparation, Die tolle Komteß by Walter Kollo.

April: Conducts Die Fledermaus, Cavalleria Rusticana, Zigeunerbaron, and the premiere of an operetta in Lüdenscheid, all within two days.

2 April: Writes to his sister that he plans to return to the Conservatory in Berlin in the fall, because Franz Schreker has been named director there.

15 May: Travels to Leipzig where his father has accepted the directorship of the B’nai B’rith children’s home. His parents live in the suburb of Kleinsteinberg.

22 June: Accompanies Elisabeth Feuge in a recital sponsored by the Berend-Lehmann-Verein, Halberstadt, where his brother Hans is responsible for musical activities.

Summer: Negotiates for, but does not accept, a position at the summer theater in Norderney working under Arthur Kistenmacher, director of the Lüdenscheid theater.

Summer: Completes Sonata for Cello and Piano. Private performance in Dessau with the dedicatee, cellist Fritz Rupprecht, in mid-August (Weill at the piano). First known public performance at the Berliner Festwochen in 1975: Siegfried Palm (cello) and Aloys Kontarsky (piano).

August-September: Sulamith, “Chorfantasie” for soprano, chorus, and orchestra. Incomplete draft survives.

September: Moves back to Berlin, first to Beerenstraße 48 in Zehlendorf, then to Flensburger Straße 11 in Lichterfelde. Composes “Weberlied I” and “Weberlied II” (text by Gerhart Hauptmann).

Late November: First interview with composer and pianist Ferruccio Busoni, newly appointed to lead a master class in composition at the Prussian Academy of Arts.
Pop-up: Soon afterward, Busoni accepts Weill for the master class.

1921

6 March: Delivers lecture in Halberstadt: “Beethoven: His Life and Work.” The engagement is probably arranged by his brother Hans.

Spring: Composes Symphonie in einem Satz (symphony in one movement), inspired by Johannes Becher’s play Workers, Peasants, Soldiers: A People’s Awakening to God. The previous year, Weill hoped to receive a commission to write incidental music for the play, but apparently the project went no further.

Spring: Composes Langsamer Fox und Algi-Song, the first for piano solo, the second a parodic cabaret number. Possibly performed by Weill himself in the Bierkeller where he played piano. Works as the choral conductor at a synagogue on Münchener Straße.

June: Considers writing a dissertation (Doktorarbeit) on synagogue music, supervised by Max Friedlaender, and taking his exams in the fall.

July: First meeting of Busoni’s master class. Other students in the class are Luc Balmer, Erwin Bodky, Svetislav Stancic, and Vladimir Vogel. He later supplements composition studies with counterpoint lessons from Philipp Jarnach, who teaches him for several years without fee. Jarnach also arranges many of Weill’s early performances.

October: Busoni gives his students the assignment of setting Goethe’s poem “Die Bekehrte.” Weill is miffed when Busoni selects Wladimir Vogel’s setting as the best.

November: Composes Rilkelieder, for piano and voice (Rainer Maria Rilke). Partly missing. Begins composing Divertimento, op. 5.

1922

Spring: Joins the Novembergruppe, an association of artists and musicians that includes many leading figures. Prepares piano reduction for Busoni’s Divertimento for Flute and Orchestra, op. 52.

Autumn: Accepts a young music theory pupil named Maurice Abravanel. They go on to become close friends; starting the late 1920s, Weill frequently asks Abravanel to conduct his compositions.

Winter: Begins composing String Quartet no. 1, op. 8.

18 November: Premiere of children’s pantomime Zaubernacht. Berlin, Theater am Kurfürstendamm: scenario by Wladimir Boritsch; directed by Franz-Ludwig Hörth; conducted by George Weller. The first performance of a stage work by Weill is greeted with good reviews. Lenya auditions and is called back but does not take the role.

7 December: Premiere of Divertimento für kleines Orchester mit Männerchor (last movement only). Sing-Akademie; Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; Heinz Unger, conductor.

1923

Weill begins giving private composition and theory lessons and continues for the next three or four years. Students include Claudio Arrau, Nikos Skalkottas, and Maurice Abravanel.

12 March: Premiere of orchestral work Fantasia, Passacaglia und Hymnus. Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Alexander Selo.

10 April: Premiere of Divertimento for orchestra and chorus. Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Heinz Unger. The full score is lost.

14 June: Premiere of Quodlibet, an orchestral suite from Zaubernacht. Dessau, Friedrichs-Theater: conducted by Albert Bing.

24 June: Premiere of String Quartet No. 1, op. 8 by the Amar Quartet in Frankfurt. Weill’s first exposure to an international audience at a major festival.

September: Composes Recordare, op. 11 for SATB chorus and children’s chorus (Text: Lamentations V), Berlin. In 1925, Weill asked Universal Edition to suggest a performance of Recordare at the Donaueschingen music festival, but it is not performed there. First known performance: Holland Festival, 2 July 1971.

December: Completes master class but remains close to Busoni.

1924

January: Meets well-known expressionist playwright Georg Kaiser; the two soon begin work on a ballet-pantomime.

24 January: Premiere of Frauentanz, a song cycle for soprano and ensemble. Berlin, Singakademie: Fritz Stiedry, conductor; Nora Pisling-Boas, soprano.

Mid-February: Leaves on an extended trip to Switzerland and Italy, returning to Germany by way of Vienna. He spends time in Davos with his cousin Nelly Frank before traveling alone to Italy.

22 April: Signs contract with music publishing house Universal Edition in Vienna, which is known especially for representing contemporary composers. Busoni has recommended Weill to the director of Universal Edition, Emil Hertzka, praising the String Quartet no. 1, op. 8: “I hardly know a piece by a 23-year-old of the present day that is so attractive and worthwhile—it is thoroughly ‘modern’ without any ugly features.”

May: Moves to a new apartment in Berlin at Winterfeldstraße 21.

Summer: Meets Lotte Lenya at Georg Kaiser’s house, where she is working as an au pair. The Kaiser family and Lenya help Weill deal with Busoni’s death on 27 July.

August: Stops working with Kaiser on the ballet-pantomime; they switch to an opera based on Kaiser’s play Der Protagonist.

30 November: Publishes first review in the new journal Der deutsche Rundfunk (German Radio). Weill writes for the journal for the next five years or so, usually publishing an article or review once a week.

1925

22 January: Premiere of Stundenbuch, settings of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poems for baritone and orchestra. Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Heinz Unger; Manfred Lewandowsky, baritone.

March: Completes Der Protagonist, op. 15, his first mature opera.

May: Moves with Lenya into Kaiser’s Berlin-Charlottenburg apartment: Luisenplatz 3, bei Hassfort. The poet-playwright Rudolph Leonhardt shares this address, as do Iwan and Claire Goll.

11 May: The Funkstunde Berlin broadcasts an “Evening of the November Group,” which includes Brecht’s recitation of his “Ballade vom Mazeppa” and “Die höflichen Chinesen.” Weill reviews the broadcast in Der deutsche Rundfunk, May 24, 1925.

11 June: Premiere of Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra. Paris, Théâtre de l’Exposition des Arts Décoratifs: Orchestre Straram conducted by Walter Straram; Marcel Darrieux, violin. Weill offers to dedicate the concerto to renowned violinist Josef Szigeti, but apparently he never performs it.

July-September: Composes the cantata Der neue Orpheus, op. 16, a setting of Iwan Goll’s text.

October: Begins composing the one-act opera Royal Palace, op. 17, libretto by Goll, which he completes in January 1926.

29 October: Attends performance of the Violin Concerto in Dessau, Weill’s hometown. Weill is angry about the inept performance and sneers at the Philistines in the audience.

27 December: First performance of Weill’s music in the U.S., Zaubernacht at the Garrick Theatre in New York, choreographed by Michio Ito.

1926

28 January: Marries Lenya in a civil ceremony in Berlin. Later, Lenya recalls that they decided to get married to quell local gossip.

 

Up Next: Rise to Fame (1926 – 1933)

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