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1941-1950: I’m an American!


January: Moss Hart gives Weill and Lenya a sheepdog, whom they name Wooly.

9 March: Broadcast of interview with Weill, “I’m an American!,” over NBC radio. The interview was sponsored by the U.S. State Department; Weill was one of several immigrants invited to participate in the series.

28 May: Purchases Brook House in New City, New York. The house is very close to Maxwell Anderson’s residence; other neighbors are Burgess Meredith, artist Henry Varnum Poor, cartoonist Milton Caniff, actress Helen Hayes, Charles MacArthur, author Bessie Breuer, and publisher William Sloane. Weill and Lenya live there for the rest of their lives.

Summer: Tries to set up a collaboration with Ruth Page and John LaTouche (after Paul Green declared himself unavailable) for a show based on the Bible stories and the evangelist Billy Sunday. The project does not pan out.

September: Meets with Ben Hecht to discuss a possible collaboration, but Weill advises that his play, Lily of the Valley, does not need music.

5 October: Premiere of Fun to be Free, a star-studded extravaganza intended to encourage Americans to resist fascism and Nazism, with incidental music by Weill. New York, Madison Square Garden. Simon Rady, conductor; Brett Warren, director. Sponsored by Fight for Freedom, Inc.


January: Completes settings of three Walt Whitman poems: “O Captain! My Captain!,” “Beat! Beat! Drums!,” and “Dirge for Two Veterans.” Weill’s interest in Whitman as a quintessential American poet goes back to the 1920s.

26 January: The producers celebrate the first anniversary of Lady in the Dark by giving away war bonds at the performances.

February: Tries to find a play for Lenya and suggests George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra with Walter Huston as the co-star.

February-April: Composes songs for the war effort: “Song of the Free” (Archibald MacLeish), “Schickelgruber” (Howard Dietz), “One Morning in Spring” (St. Clair McKelway, lost), “The Good Earth” (Oscar Hammerstein), “Buddy on the Nightshift” (Oscar Hammerstein), “Song of the Inventory” (Lewis Allan), “We Don’t Feel Like Surrendering Today” (Maxwell Anderson), “Oh Uncle Samuel!” (Maxwell Anderson, melody by Henry C. Work), “Toughen Up, Buckle Down, Carry On” (Dorothy Fields). “Song of the Inventory” and other songs are used in “Lunchtime Follies” (see below).

14 February: Registers for military draft. Weill is not called to serve, but he finds other ways to support the war on Nazism.

28 February: Broadcast of Your Navy, radio play by Maxwell Anderson for which Weill has composed incidental music. Norman Corwin, director; Don Voorhees, conductor; Frederic March and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., narrators. Produced by NBC Radio, New York, the show aired on all four national radio networks. Score is lost.

31 March: Recording of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory. Performed by Helen Hayes; Roy Shields, conductor; Victor M 909. Hayes recites the texts over Weill’s orchestral arrangements of the following songs: “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “The Star Spangled Banner,” “America,” and “Beat! Beat! Drums!” (an adaptation of Weill’s setting).

Spring: Begins work for the production committee for “Lunchtime Follies,” presented by the American Theatre Wing.

April: Works on The Pirate, a musical based on Ludwig Fulda’s play Der Seeräuber adapted by S.N. Behrman for production by the Playwrights’ Company and Alfred Lunt. The collaboration never solidifies, and Weill withdraws from the project.

20 April: Rejects a proposal from Brecht and actor Clarence Muse to produce The Threepenny Opera in California with an all-Black cast because his rights as composer are not acknowledged. Weill did not object to an all-Black cast (he had considered arranging such a performance as early as in 1939), but to the artists’ insistence on disregarding his score in favor of jazz improvisation based on his melodies.

June: Cheryl Crawford, now an independent producer, agrees to back Weill’s proposed collaboration with Sam and Bella Spewack on a musical adaptation of F. Anstey’s novel The Tinted Venus, for which Ogden Nash will write the lyrics.

4 June: Premiere of “Song of the Free” (Archibald MacLeish). Roxy Theatre, New York, Bob Hannon, vocalist.

22 June: Premiere of “Lunchtime Follies.” Brooklyn, Todd Shipyards. A touring half-hour program of comedy, song, and dance that visited defense plants to entertain the workers. Variety reports that the half-hour show “looks set to become a national institution.” The “Follies” were produced at defense plants for at least two years thereafter. Some of Weill’s songs are used, but he works intensively on the production side as well, traveling with the show to ensure it was set up correctly. An alien, he is frequently denied admittance to the factories.

August: Russian War Relief (J. P. McEvoy). Nyack, New York. The piece is performed in a revue, Rockland Riot, to benefit Rockland for Russia.

26 September: Reviews the draft book and songs from what will become One Touch of Venus with Marlene Dietrich in Hollywood in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to recruit her for the lead role. Casting Venus proves quite difficult, but the creative team finally settles on Mary Martin.

30 September: In California, Weill and Brecht meet for the first time since 1935.

November: Darius Milhaud requests Weill’s musical and financial advice when he is offered a job arranging Offenbach’s music for La belle Hélène for a Broadway production. Weill tries to help, but ultimately the score is adapted by Erich Korngold.


February: Ben Hecht calls a meeting of thirty Jewish authors and one composer (Weill) to discuss a concerted reaction to the killing of Jews in Germany. Only Weill and Moss Hart (and, soon afterwards, Billy Rose) pledge support.

9 March: Premiere of pageant We Will Never Die. New York, Madison Square Garden: Text by Ben Hecht; directed by Moss Hart; conducted by Isaac Van Grove. An attempt to document and publicize mass murder of European Jews by the Nazis. The show plays to sold-out crowds in New York and on tour in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, and Hollywood; it was also widely broadcast.

April: Finally despairing of the Spewacks’ Venus script, Cheryl Crawford engages the celebrated humorist S.J. Perelman to write an entirely new book.

3 April: Premiere of song, “Und was bekam des Soldaten Weib?” (text by Bertolt Brecht), at “We Fight Back!,” a concert in New York devoted to selling war bonds to German expatriates. Lenya performs it along with three songs from Die Dreigroschenoper.

May: Brecht visits Brook House with Ruth Berlau; the three begin work on an operatic version of The Good Soldier Schweik and The Good Woman of Sezuan, which is to be “half-opera.” Neither collaboration bears fruit, and no music survives.

June: Works on film versions of Lady in the Dark and Knickerbocker Holiday in Hollywood. Weill is approached by MGM to write a film score. He tries again to persuade Marlene Dietrich to star in One Touch of Venus. He returns to New York in July via St. Louis.

27 August: Becomes U.S. citizen.

7 October: Premiere of musical One Touch of Venus. New York, Imperial Theater, 567 performances. Book by S.J. Perelman and Ogden Nash; lyrics by Nash; directed by Elia Kazan; choreographed by Agnes De Mille; conducted by Maurice Abravanel; starring Mary Martin. Weill’s longest-running Broadway show.

November: Visits Ira Gershwin in Beverly Hills to begin work on songs for a film, Where Do We Go from Here?. He and Lenya take an apartment at 881 Moraga Drive in Bel Air. It becomes Weill’s most ambitious film score, even including a “mini-opera” for the Columbus sequence.

November-December: Arranges eight songs for Lenya to record on Bost Records (BA 8): “Surabaya Johnny,” “Denn wie man sich bettet,” “J’attends un navire,” “Complainte de la Seine,” “Lost in the stars,” and “Lover man,” “Barbara-Song,” and “Kanonensong” (the last two are not recorded). Weill supervises the recording and perhaps plays the piano accompaniment.


January: The cast album for One Touch of Venus is released by Decca.

January-March: Further negotiations with Brecht regarding Der gute Mensch von Sezuan, resulting in a collaboration agreement.

10 February: Premiere of film version of Lady in the Dark: Paramount Pictures; directed by Mitchell Leisen; starring Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland.

March-April: Works on a secret film project for the Office of War Information with Maxwell Anderson (script), Burgess Meredith (star), and Jean Renoir (director). “Salute to France” is shown to U.S. soldiers to educate them about French and British allies.

17 March: Premiere of film version of Knickerbocker Holiday: United Artists; directed by Harry Joe Brown; starring Nelson Eddy, Constance Dowling, Charles Coburn.

Spring: Sets “Wie lange noch?” (Walter Mehring) to the melody of “Je ne t’aime pas” (1934). Recorded by Lenya for the Office of War Information, intended for broadcast in Germany behind enemy lines. Lenya also records “Und was bekam des Soldaten Weib?” for the OWI.

Spring: Producer Billy Rose invites Weill to write a ballet score for Anton Dolin to be included in the revue The Seven Lively Arts. Weill declines but suggests Stravinsky, who composes Scènes du ballet for the production.

26 June: Arrives in Beverly Hills to work with Ira Gershwin and dramatist Edwin Justus Mayer on a musical version of Mayer’s play based on the life of Benvenuto Cellini. Weill relaxes by taking tennis lessons and swimming. Lenya joins him in September.

October: Completes the rehearsal score of The Firebrand of Florence and reluctantly renounces the Brecht project, having failed to find a Broadway producer for it. He and Lenya return to New York.


22 March: Premiere of Broadway operetta The Firebrand of Florence. New York, Alvin Theatre, 43 performances: book by Edwin Justus Mayer; lyrics by Ira Gershwin; directed by John Murray Anderson; conducted by Maurice Abravanel. Lenya has a prominent role as the Duchess of Florence, but the show is a flop anyway.

April: Travels to Hollywood, staying at the Bel Air Hotel to work on the film score of One Touch of Venus. He considers other projects including Molière’s Le médecin malgré lui with Maxwell Anderson and an adaptation of Le chapeau de paille with René Clair, all the while hoping that his next project will be an opera. He meets Brecht on 18 April and corresponds with Paul Robeson concerning a “black Oedipus” opera. Other operatic project ideas include Gone with the Wind, The Grapes of Wrath, Winterset, and Moby Dick. He attends a screening of the final version of Where Do We Go From Here? (20th Century-Fox) on 29 April.

8 May: Celebrates the defeat of the Nazis and the end of the war in Europe with a heartfelt letter to Lenya.

23 May: Premiere of film Where Do We Go from Here?, 20th Century Fox: directed by Gregory Ratoff; lyrics by Ira Gershwin; starring Fred MacMurray, June Haver, Joan Leslie. A wartime comedy, the film’s release is delayed until after the end of the war in Europe, which damages its box-office prospects.

June: Returns to New York from Hollywood and begins developing new projects, among them a musical based on the life of Joseph Jefferson with Maxwell Anderson and George Cukor.

15 August: First post-war performance in Berlin of Die Dreigroschenoper, at the Hebbel-Theater.

late August: Weill and playwright Elmer Rice invite Langston Hughes to write lyrics for a musical version of Rice’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Street Scene.

Autumn: Writes radio version of Down in the Valley, a short opera based on folk songs, with librettist Arnold Sundgaard. Intended to inaugurate a series of radio dramas. Maurice Abravanel conducts an audition recording, but the work does not attract a sponsor.

November: Begins collaborating with Elmer Rice and Langston Hughes on Street Scene and starts composing music for it in January. Weill had already made outlines for a musical version of Rice’s play with Maxwell Anderson. Hires Irving “Swifty” Lazar to be his Hollywood agent, replacing Arthur Lyons.

30 December: The Theatre Guild on the Air broadcasts a radio adaptation of Knickerbocker Holiday on ABC.


January-March: Two songs from the unfinished musical Ulysses Africanus are used in tryouts of Maxwell Anderson’s play Truckline Cafe in Schenectady and Baltimore, although they are not performed during the Broadway run, which lasts only thirteen performances. The songs are “Savannah” and “Don’t Cry” (listed in Drew’s Handbook as “In an old time far away and long ago” and “Here’s how it is when you’re going away,” respectively). Weill helps to audition singers in January and travels to the tryouts in February.

10 May: Premiere of Kiddush, Weill’s setting of a Hebrew blessing on the Sabbath wine, at the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York, sung by Cantor David Putterman. Cantor Putterman has commissioned a number of liturgical compositions from Jewish and non-Jewish composers.

31 July: Elected a member of the Playwrights’ Company, a producing organization formed in 1938 by Maxwell Anderson, Elmer Rice, and others. Weill is the first non-playwright member.

5 September: Premiere of pageant A Flag Is Born. New York, Madison Square Garden: Text by Ben Hecht; directed by Luther Adler; conducted by Isaac Van Grove; starring Marlon Brando. An attempt to encourage the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. The show plays to sold-out crowds in New York and on tour.

8 September: Photographed by Yousuf Karsh at Brook House.

November: Die Dreigroschenoper receives its first U.S. performance since 1933 in an English translation by Desmond Vesey at the University of Illinois. Weill does not attend.


9 January: Premiere of dramatic musical, later called Broadway opera, Street Scene. New York, Adelphi Theatre, 148 performances: book by Elmer Rice; lyrics by Langston Hughes and Elmer Rice; directed by Charles Friedman; conducted by Maurice Abravanel. Early and influential contribution to a movement to introduce opera to Broadway theaters that flourished for the next ten years or so.

1 March: Hans Weill, Kurt’s brother, dies of kidney disease in New York.

6 April: Receives Special Tony Award for Street Scene.

6 May: Departs by ship for Europe and Palestine, where he sees his parents and brother Nathan for the first time since the mid-1930s. This is his first trip to Europe since his departure from France in 1935 and the first meeting with his parents since January 1934. While in Paris and London he tries to arrange performances for several of his American works.

June: Discusses with Herman Wouk an adaptation of his novel Aurora Dawn.

12 June: Returns to New York and holds an angry post-mortem at the Playwrights’ Company on the closing of Street Scene (17 May), which in his view was unwarranted.

August: Begins work on a new show with Alan Jay Lerner that will become Love Life.

late August: Brecht writes from Hollywood inviting Weill to write the music for the first production of Schweyk im 2. Weltkrieg. Brecht also reports on the recent Losey-Laughton production of Galileo and mentions plans for a Swedish film version of Die Dreigroschenoper, which, he hopes, will pay for his forthcoming trip to Zurich.

September: The production of Love Life is postponed until spring, and Weill declines Brecht’s invitation to compose music for Schweyk im 2. Weltkrieg.

19 October: The Theatre Guild on the Air broadcasts a 45-minute radio version of Lady in the Dark on ABC Radio.

27 October: Weill and Maxwell Anderson sign a protest against the House Committee on Un-American Activities hearings. Brecht testifies before the Committee on 30 October and leaves for Switzerland the next day. Caspar Neher discusses a production of Die Bürgschaft with the Vienna Staatsoper.

25 November: Premiere of Weill’s orchestration of Hatikvah, which becomes the Israeli national anthem. New York, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel: Boston Symphony conducted by Serge Koussevitzky. Chaim Weizmann, who has asked Weill to orchestrate the song, is in attendance.


2 March: Agrees to collaborate with Maxwell Anderson on a stage adaptation of Alan Paton’s novel, Cry, the Beloved Country.

early spring: Hans Heinsheimer, now director of publications at Schirmer, approaches Weill with a request for a school opera like Der Jasager for production by the opera department of the Indiana University School of Music; Weill offers to adapt his unpublished radio opera Down in the Valley with librettist Arnold Sundgaard.

15 July: Premiere of folk opera Down in the Valley. Indiana University: libretto by Arnold Sundgaard; directed by Hans Busch; conducted by Ernst Hoffmann. Weill and Lenya attend the premiere with Alan Jay Lerner; Lerner’s wife, Marion Bell, plays Jennie. Expanded version of the radio opera composed in 1945. Within two years, both RCA and Decca issue complete recordings. Down in the Valley is produced thousands of times in American high schools and colleges over the next decade.

7 August: Broadcast of Down in the Valley on NBC Radio.

7 October: Premiere of “vaudeville” Love Life. New York, Forty-Sixth Street Theatre, 252 performances: Book by Alan Jay Lerner; music and lyrics by Weill and Lerner; directed by Elia Kazan; conducted by Joseph Littau; starring Nanette Fabray and Ray Middleton. The daring show explores a number of formal innovations, particularly in contrasting conventional book scenes with vaudeville acts that comment on the plot. Now considered the primary ancestor of the concept musical popularized by Stephen Sondheim, Kander and Ebb, Harold Prince, and others.

24 October: Universal Edition expresses an interest in representing Street Scene in Germany. Weill and Lerner write a treatment for a film musical called “Miss Memory.” The film version of One Touch of Venus starring Ava Gardner, directed by William A. Seiter, and produced by Lester Cowan for Universal-International, opens in New York on October 28.

November: Travels to Hollywood with Alan Jay Lerner hoping to sell the film rights to Love Life and to interest studios in original treatments, including “Miss Memory” and a film treatment by Weill himself called “I Married a King.” Weill writes to Lenya that the movie business is almost dead, with only MGM and 20th Century Fox still making musicals. He returns to New York on 29 November.

December: The Festival Musicale di Venezia contacts Weill about a possible production of the “Paris” version of Mahagonny Songspiel. Weill tries unsuccessfully to persuade them to do Street Scene instead.


January: Begins work on Lost in the Stars with Maxwell Anderson.

17 January: Writes to Bertolt Brecht, objecting to changes in song lyrics for a forthcoming production of Die Dreigroschenoper in Munich on the grounds that the work would suffer from attempts to update it. Weill also demands clarification of the publishing rights.

6 February: Attends a concert performance of Street Scene at the 92nd St. Y in New York, conducted by Maurice Levine.

31 March: Appears on The Swift Show, a variety program. Weill gives a short interview and plays piano as Lanny Ross and Martha Wright sing “Here I’ll Stay” from Love Life.

May-June: Discusses with Maxwell Anderson an adaptation of his play The Wingless Victory for baritone Laurence Tibbett.

July: Collapses on Alan Jay Lerner’s tennis court. He recovers quickly and swears Lerner to secrecy about the attack.

30 July: Concert performance of Street Scene, and the premiere of the Symphonic Nocturne from Lady in the Dark arranged by Robert Russell Bennett, at Lewisohn Stadium in New York, conducted by Maurice Abravanel.

21 August: Concert performance of Street Scene at the Hollywood Bowl, conducted by Izler Solomon.

27 October: Attends an English-language performance of Der Zar lässt sich photographieren conducted by Kurt Adler and staged by Dino Yannopoulos for the Metropolitan Opera Studio, Juilliard School of Music, New York.

30 October: Premiere of musical tragedy Lost in the Stars. New York, Music Box Theatre, 281 performances: book and lyrics by Maxwell Anderson; directed by Rouben Mamoulian; conducted by Maurice Levine; adapted from Alan Paton’s novel, Cry, the Beloved Country. One of the first Broadway shows with a cast roughly evenly divided between Black and white actors.


January: Writes to Brecht of his plans to visit Europe with Lenya in the spring.

14 January: Broadcast of television adaptation of Down in the Valley on NBC. Weill supervises the production, one of the first attempts to produce an opera for television. He notes that the technique is “quite primitive,” but the broadcast is “impressive.”

13 February: Sketches first song for a proposed stage adaptation of Huckleberry Finn with Maxwell Anderson. The song was “Come in, Mornin’.” Altogether Weill drafts five songs for the show but does not complete any.

17 March: Suffers heart attack at home and is hospitalized two days later.

3 April: Dies at Flower Hospital in New York City.

5 April: Buried at Mount Repose Cemetery, Haverstraw, NY.


Back to the Beginning: Musical Formation (1900 – 1918)

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