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1933-1941: Exile and Frustration


23 March: Arrives in Paris. Weill stays first at the Hôtel Jacob and the Hôtel Splendide, then moves to the home of Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, 11 place des Etats-Unis.

3 April: Universal Edition cuts Weill’s monthly stipend in half.

4 April: Contracts with art patron Edward James to write a ballet score for the troupe “Les Ballets 1933.” Weill tries to interest Jean Cocteau in writing a libretto for a ballet chanté. When Cocteau declines, James suggests Brecht as author, and Weill agrees. Weill and Cocteau decide to collaborate on a Faust opera in a modern setting, without result.

5 April: Meets Lenya in Nancy and offers her and Pasetti parts in Die sieben Todsünden.

mid-April: Brecht arrives in Paris from Carona, Switzerland; together he and Weill write Die sieben Todsünden on a scenario by Edward James.

13 April: U.S. premiere of The Threepenny Opera. New York, Empire Theater: translated by Jerrold Krimsky and Gifford Cochran; directed by Francesco von Mendelssohn; conducted by Macklin Marrow. The show runs only twelve performances and is a critical failure.

June: Otto Pasetti’s father, Baron Florian von Pasetti, tries to get some of Weill’s money out of Germany. Members of Hitler Youth burn Weill’s music in public demonstrations.

7 June: Premiere of ballet chanté Die sieben Todsünden. Paris, Les Ballets 1933; text by Bertolt Brecht; scenario by Edward James and Boris Kochno; choreographed by George Balanchine; conducted by Maurice Abravanel. Part of a program of six ballets, the last collaboration of Weill, Brecht, Lenya, and Caspar Neher is received coolly by the critics and public. After a three-week run in Paris, Les Ballets 1933 moves to London for a similar span of time. A concert of the “Paris version” of Mahagonny and Kleine Dreigroschenmusik is presented on 20 June at the Salle Gaveau.

13 June: Leaves for a vacation in Italy, returning to Paris at the end of August.

18 June: Asks Universal Edition to send copies of his published vocal scores to his brother Hans in Mannheim.

September: Composes “Es regnet” (text in German by Jean Cocteau) and “Der Abschiedsbrief” (text by Erich Kästner). Written for Marlene Dietrich in response to a request for revue and recording material.

18 September: Divorce from Lenya finalized in Potsdam, Germany.

late September: Weill and Universal Edition begin to negotiate a release from his contract.

31 October: Signs contract with French publisher Heugel as Universal Edition terminates his contract while retaining rights to works already published.

November: Moves to Louveciennes, a suburb of Paris. His new house is part of the former estate of Madame du Barry, a mistress of King Louis XV. Lenya sells the house in Berlin and sends Weill some furniture.

3 November: Broadcast of La grande complainte de Fantômas, a radio play based on a popular comic-book character. Radio Paris: text by Robert Desnos; directed by Antonin Artaud. Most of the score is lost.

19 November: Weill and Universal Edition come to agreement on the termination of his contract. Universal Edition retains the rights in the works they have published to date.

23 November: Writes to Lenya from his new address: 9 bis place Dreux, Louveciennes.

26 November: Composer Florent Schmitt leads an anti-Semitic demonstration in Paris at a concert that includes songs from Der Silbersee. Weill is angered by the reaction of the French press, which he believes sides unjustly with Schmitt.

24 December: Travels to Rome for a production of the “Paris version” of Mahagonny and Der Jasager (29 December).


1-5 January: Visits parents in Carlsbad, Czechoslovakia.

February: Begins work with Robert Vambery on an operetta, Der Kuhhandel (first staged in London as A Kingdom for a Cow). Weill transfers his performing rights from the German society (GEMA) to the Italian society (SIAE).

Early March: Weill’s beloved German shepherd, Harras, arrives from Germany.

4 March: Marlene Dietrich wires Weill to propose a collaboration with her and Josef von Sternberg in Hollywood. The project falls through despite Weill’s interest.

10 May: Spends a few days in London, staying with Edward James at his residence at 35 Wimpole Street. At the end of the month both Caspar and Erika Neher visit Weill for a week in Louveciennes.

Summer 1934: Composes settings of poems by Maurice Magre, “Complainte de la Seine” and “Je ne t’aime pas,” for cabaret singer Lys Gauty. Gauty records the songs and performs them frequently. Yet they are mostly forgotten until Teresa Stratas receives the sheet music from Lenya in 1980 and makes a recording that propels both songs back into the repertory.

16 June: Spends ten days in Venice and sees Lenya before traveling on to Salzburg for negotiations with Max Reinhardt and Franz Werfel over a large-scale stage work based on the Old Testament, Der Weg der Verheißung, later staged as The Eternal Road.

6 July: Returns to London and stays again with Edward James for about 2-1/2 weeks.

August: Vacations with Caspar and Erika Neher, then meets with Max Reinhardt and Franz Werfel to discuss Der Weg der Verheißung. Weill begins setting Werfel’s text. On returning to Louveciennes, Weill finds that he is obliged to write at very short notice the songs and incidental music for Marie Galante, a stage adaptation by Jacques Deval of his best-selling novel.

29 September: Lenya moves into Weill’s house in Louveciennes. With Otto Pasetti out of the picture after two years, Weill and Lenya reconcile.

11 October: Premiere of Fantaisie symphonique. Amsterdam, Concertgebouw Orchestra: conducted by Bruno Walter. Weill has composed the symphony, also known as Symphony no. 2, in response to a commission from la princesse de Polignac. Weill attends rehearsals and the performance. Critical reception is poor, but Walter goes on to conduct the work in New York and Vienna.

22 December: Premiere of play with music Marie galante. Théâtre de Paris: book and lyrics by Jacques Deval; directed by H. Henriot; conducted by Edmond Mahieux. Weill has high hopes for a collaboration with one of France’s most popular authors, but the show has a short, unsuccessful run; Weill blames the failure on Deval. Some songs are recorded by popular French singers.

30 December: Travels to Switzerland for three days, presumably to meet his parents who are still living in Germany.


22 January: Arrives in England to prepare for staging of A Kingdom for a Cow and search for film work. He stays at the Park Lane Hotel in Piccadilly until March, when he rents an apartment at 7 Bramham Gardens, Earls Court.

April: Lotte Lenya comes to London, presumably to study English. A performance of the Fantaisie symphonique (Symphony no. 2) conducted by Désiré-Emile Inghelbrecht in Paris is well reviewed.

28 June: Premiere of operetta A Kingdom for a Cow. London, Savoy Theatre: original German text by Robert Vambery; English lyrics by Desmond Carter; book by Reginald Arkell; directed by Ernst Matray and Felix Weissberger; conducted by Muir Mathieson. The show runs only about two weeks and meets mixed critical reception. The original German version is not staged until 1994.

9 July: Returns to Louveciennes; Lenya stays in London and receives her mail care of Gerty Simon, the photographer.

13 July: Travels via Switzerland (where he meets the Nehers) and vacations with them in Italy and Novi, Yugoslavia.

August: Visits Max Reinhardt and Franz Werfel in Salzburg; completes draft of Der Weg der Verheißung score and learns that he will travel to New York to prepare for the premiere. Invites Lenya to go with him. Returns to Louveciennes at the end of the month.

4 September: Sails aboard the S.S. Majestic from Cherbourg with Lenya and producer Meyer Weisgal. Eleonora and Francesco von Mendelssohn travel with them.

10 September: Arrives in New York with Lenya on the S.S. Majestic. They move into the St. Moritz Hotel.

October: Attends rehearsal for Porgy and Bess with Ira Gershwin.

November: Meets with Brecht and with Marc Blitzstein in New York. Tries to arrange a Broadway performance of Mahagonny.

23 November: Appears on a radio program on WJZ in New York to publicize The Eternal Road, scheduled to open January 1936. The one-hour program features excerpts from the score performed by the NBC Symphony, conducted by Frank Black.

17 December: The League of Composers in New York sponsors an all-Weill concert in which Lenya performs. Audience response and critical reception are poor. Many officials and patrons of the League, an organization formed to promote contemporary music, do not consider Weill sufficiently serious or modern.


January: Weill and Lenya move to a cheaper hotel, the Park Crescent. The opening of The Eternal Road is postponed as the production company declares bankruptcy. Werfel returns to Europe, Reinhardt goes to California, and Weill remains in New York.

February: Weill obtains a new passport from the German consulate and explores various opportunities in the theater, notably the offer of a commission from the American Ballet and a performance of Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny in Hartford. He hopes to set Wedekind’s two-act pantomime The Empress of Newfoundland, but he cannot secure the rights.

March: Heugel notifies Weill that it is terminating their contract. Weill meets Cheryl Crawford of the Group Theatre.

May: Parents emigrate to Palestine from Germany, following Weill’s sister Ruth and her husband.

3 May: Arrives in Chapel Hill, NC to work with playwright Paul Green on a project for the Group Theatre, Johnny Johnson. Cheryl Crawford has arranged the trip.

4 June: Renews an earlier acquaintance with playwright Maxwell Anderson, who later becomes a close friend and collaborator.

June-August: Weill, Lenya, Paul Green, and Crawford join the Group Theatre at Pine Brook in Trumbull, Connecticut to work on Johnny Johnson. He introduces the cast to music from Die Dreigroschenoper; Marc Blitzstein is in attendance.

Summer: Composes The Fräulein and the Little Son of the Rich (text by Robert Graham). A “song drama” written for Lenya, unperformed.

July: Weill is desolate when Erika Neher asks for an end to their protracted affair.

September: Moves with Lenya into Cheryl Crawford’s apartment on E. 51 Street in Manhattan.

November: Signs a contract with music publisher Chappell for publication of new works, beginning with Johnny Johnson. The production team for The Eternal Road is reassembled.

19 November: Premiere of play with music Johnny Johnson. New York, 44th Street Theatre, 68 performances: Group Theater; directed by Lee Strasberg; conducted by Lehman Engel. The cast is rife with young actors who go on to distinguished careers, but problems with sets and direction hobble the production. The WPA Federal Theatre Project produces two new stagings in Boston and Los Angeles in 1937.

19 December 1936: Speaks at I.L.G.W.U. (International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union) Cultural Hour program devoted to Johnny Johnson; Lee Strasberg also speaks, and members of the cast perform songs from the show.


7 January: Premiere of pageant The Eternal Road. Manhattan Opera House: original text by Franz Werfel; English text by Ludwig Lewisohn; directed by Max Reinhardt; conducted by Isaac Van Grove; designed by Norman Bel Geddes. A costly spectacle on a grand scale, the work awes the New York press but cannot consistently meet its running expenses, forcing it to close after 153 performances. Weill never sees a penny in royalties.

9 January: Delivers a lecture, “Music in the Theatre,” sponsored by the I.L.G.W.U.

19 January: Remarries Lenya in Westchester County, NY.

28 January: Arrives in Hollywood to work on a film (The River Is Blue) with writer Clifford Odets and director Lewis Milestone. Many actors from the Group Theatre have also come to seek film work after internal dissension weakens the company. Weill stays at the Roosevelt Hotel, moves to 6630 Whitley Terrace on 18 February, and on May 14 moves to 686 San Lorenzo Drive in Santa Monica. Makes further contacts with George and Ira Gershwin and George Antheil. He also plans a series of radio operas with Howard Dietz and tries to obtain the rights to adapt Ferenc Molnár’s Liliom.

March-April: Composes The River Is Blue, film score commissioned by Walter Wanger. The film’s working title, Castles in Spain, is changed to The River is Blue, then to The Adventuress and Rising Tide before finally being released as Blockade. Weill explores film scoring and recording techniques. Both George Antheil and Charlie Chaplin are impressed with his music, but the score is eventually discarded by Wanger and replaced with one by Werner Janssen.

March-June: Works with Sam and Bella Spewack, and E.Y. (Yip) Harburg on a musical play (“The Opera from Mannheim”) about German refugee actors. Unfinished, lost.

17 April: A performance of the Fantaisie symphonique (Symphony no. 2) under Bruno Walter is relatively well-received in Vienna.

13 May: Accepts offer of $10,000 to write music for a Fritz Lang film (You and Me).

27 May: Supervises a performance of Der Lindberghflug at the Antheil Gallery in Hollywood. The next day he attends the successful Los Angeles premiere of Johnny Johnson at the Mayan Theatre, produced by the Federal Theatre Project.

July: Returns to New York.

August: Returns to North Carolina to work with Paul Green on The Common Glory, a musical pageant sponsored by the Federal Theatre Project. After working for four months they cannot agree on a story line and abandon the project.

27 August: Begins process of applying for U.S. citizenship. Weill and Lenya travel to Canada and obtain new immigration documents when they return to the U.S.

September: Actor Burgess Meredith encourages Weill to collaborate with H.R. Hays on a play about American folk hero Davy Crockett for production by the Federal Theatre Project.

29 September: Ernst Josef Aufricht’s production of L’opéra de quat’sous opens in Paris. Weill has composed two additional songs for Yvette Guilbert, “Pauv’ Madam Peachum” and “Tu me démolis” (texts by Guilbert), but she probably does not sing them in the production.

October: Moves with Lenya into duplex apartment at 231 East 62nd Street, New York. Madeleine Milhaud arranges to send Weill’s belongings from Louveciennes to New York.

November: “Albumblatt für Erika.” Unpublished piano transcription of a section from The Eternal Road for Erika Neher.

13 December: Travels to Hollywood with Lenya to work on the film score for You and Me, directed by Fritz Lang. They rent a cottage at 940 Ocean Front St. in Santa Monica.


January-April: Works on Davy Crockett (text by H.R. Hays). An unfinished show for the Federal Theatre Project.

February: Returns with Lenya to New York.

April: Returns to Hollywood to work on Lang film and learns that his score for The River Is Blue (ultimately released as Blockade) has been replaced. Address: Villa Carlotta, 5959 Franklin Ave., Hollywood. Lenya stays in New York and performs a night club act at Le Ruban Bleu on West 56th Street.

May: Attempts to locate German recordings of Die Dreigroschenoper to give to Maxwell Anderson.

1 June: Premiere of film You and Me. Paramount Pictures: directed by Fritz Lang; lyrics by Sam Coslow; starring George Raft and Sylvia Sidney. Weill’s first Hollywood film. Only nine of twenty-three music cues are credited to Weill alone. “The Right Guy for Me” is published as sheet music by Famous Music Corp, 1938. Weill also begins work on Railroads on Parade for performance in the railroad pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair.

Summer: Rents a country house 3-1/2 miles outside Suffern, New York: “Eastman Estate,” Sky Meadow Road, Route 202, Ramapo, New York. From there he has easy access to Maxwell Anderson’s and Burgess Meredith’s homes in New City. Begins writing Knickerbocker Holiday with Anderson.

July: Weill’s brother Hans emigrates to the U.S. with his wife Rita and daughter Hanne. Weill’s parents and siblings, along with their families, are all out of Germany by the end of 1938.

19 October: Premiere of musical Knickerbocker Holiday. New York, Barrymore Theatre, 168 performances: book and lyrics by Maxwell Anderson; directed by Joshua Logan; conducted by Maurice Abravanel. The source of “September Song,” Weill’s first American hit, performed by Walter Huston as Pieter Stuyvesant.


January: Vacations with Lenya and the Andersons in Naples, Florida.

March: Knickerbocker Holiday goes on tour to seven cities; Weill travels with the company for part of the tour.

30 April: Premiere of historical pageant Railroads on Parade. New York World’s Fair: Text by Edward Hungerford; directed by Charles Alan; conducted by Isaac Van Grove. A vast spectacle featuring real locomotives and Pullman cars, the show plays four times a day through both years of the World’s Fair. Millions of people hear Weill’s score, a mixture of original composition and arrangements of folk songs.

25 May: Elected to the performing rights society ASCAP.

Summer: Works with Louis Simon and Harold Smith on an adaptation of Die Dreigroschenoper for an all-black cast. Although Smith apparently completes a script, the project does not go anywhere.

6 June: Leaves with Lenya by car for California, where he works during July with Maxwell Anderson on Ulysses Africanus, a musical based on Harry Stillwell Edwards’s novella Eneas Africanus, 1919. Anderson had offered the title role to Paul Robeson, who declined it, and now the show is conceived for Bill Robinson. When Robinson had scheduling conflicts, Weill and Anderson abandoned the project. They later adapted and incorporated four songs from the show into Lost in the Stars, among them “Trouble Man” and “Lost in the Stars.”

Autumn: Agrees to work on a new musical theater project with Moss Hart. Ira Gershwin joins the team early in 1940; writing and rehearsing Lady in the Dark takes most of the year.

13 November: Premiere of Madam, Will You Walk? by Sidney Howard, for which Weill has composed music for the Night Court scene in Act III. The play is poorly reviewed in Baltimore and Washington and does not move to New York.

December: Creates settings of Brecht’s poem, “Nanna’s Lied,” and Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (manuscript lost). “Nanna’s Lied” is composed for Lenya, who apparently never sang it in public.


20 January: Premiere of Two on an Island by Elmer Rice, for which Weill composed incidental music. Broadhurst Theatre, New York. No music survives.

February: Begins collaboration with Ira Gershwin and Moss Hart on Lady in the Dark.

3 February: In an interview published in the New York Sun, Weill commits himself unreservedly to the development of Broadway’s musical theater.

4 February: Broadcast of radio cantata Ballad of Magna Carta. CBS Radio: text by Maxwell Anderson; conducted by Mark Warnow; narrated by Burgess Meredith. Commissioned by Norman Corwin for his series The Pursuit of Happiness.

17 June: Writes to Bruno Frank and Erika Mann to propose an organization of anti-Nazi exiles.

15 July: Weill and Lenya greet Darius and Madeleine Milhaud on their arrival in the U.S.

August: Meets Benjamin Britten during vacation in Maine.

24 December: The company of Lady in the Dark leaves for a tryout in Boston.


23 January: Premiere of musical play Lady in the Dark. New York, Alvin Theatre, 777 performances (initial run of 467 followed by a tour and return to Broadway): Book by Moss Hart; music and lyrics by Weill and Ira Gershwin; directed by Moss Hart and Hassard Short; conducted by Maurice Abravanel; starring Gertrude Lawrence. Weill’s first unequivocal Broadway success. The film rights are sold within a few months for $285,000, a record at the time for a Broadway show. Lawrence dominates press coverage in the leading role; young actors Danny Kaye and Macdonald Carey launch their careers.


Up NextI’m an American! (1941 – 1950)

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