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German Refugee Discovers Romantic America

Lives Up to Operetta He Wrote, Sight Unseen in 1927

by Douglas Gilbert

Source: New York World-Telegram, October 17, 1935

The bromides of our visiting foreign firemen (I adore your city) are refreshingly absent from the observations of Kurt Weill. He likes New York and America, but he knows why.

Herr Weill is a stocky, genial German refugee composer whose music set Berlin by the ears until Hitler’s Reich became tone deaf to Semitic strains. Currently he as [sic] tarrying at the St. Moritz, busily engaged on the score for “The Road of Promise,” the Werfel Old Testament pageant Max Reinhardt is directing for presentation at the Manhattan Opera House.

Today he pushed aside his music, filled a pipe, settled back into an easy chair and, peering through his thick-lens glasses, took stock of his four-week stay here. His English is good, and the quotes aren’t phony.

Finds New York Romantic.

“It is a curious thing,” he began. “With a comrade, Herr Brecht, I wrote, in 1927, an operetta we called ‘The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahoganny [sic] (pronounced May-a-gonny). It was our romantic conception of romantic America. I had never been to America before, but my dreams and illusions about your country were indicated in the operetta.

“I find I was astonishingly correct. New York, America, is a romantic place, and by that I do not mean sentimental. I have lived in London and my home now is in Paris. Nowhere do I see people that live with such zest, such fullness, as you Americans.

“It is admirably shown in your music, in your cultural expression. I do not see that you borrow ideas any more, but are definitely expressing yourselves. America finally has reached the influential stage in artistic effort and Europe can now learn from her.

Europe Too Busy Hating.

“Europe is too busy fighting and hating to develop cultural forms. I really think that the renaissance has struck here first. I certainly hear it in your music, for music always reflects its period and environment. Your music is simple and melodic, so characteristic of the expression here.”

These were but abstract words, and Herr Weill was asked for examples.

“‘Porgy and Bess,'” he replied. “It is a remarkable work, and very close to me, too, for in my own music I try always to create a new idiom to bring opera out of its splendid isolation. Great as some of the old opera scores are, still they are what I hear some one delightfully call ‘museum pieces.'”

He says he is trying to do something similar with Mr. Reinhardt. “In the ‘Road to [sic] Promise’ we are definitely trying for a musico-dramatic form that will weld the lines, the action, the setting and the music into a whole.

His Music Theatrical.

“I am essentially a theatrical composer. I have been called ‘modernistic.’ I do not know what they mean by ‘modernistic.’ If they mean that I compose atonal (discords to the lay ear) music they are wrong. My music is melodic–and theatrical–in the sense that it tries not to distract the audience, but to accent the play.”

Lotte Lenja (Frau Weill) is with him and has a role in the Reinhardt production. The singing of his music began their beautiful friendship. A realistic modern, indeed! Herr Weill uses a lute for his muse.

That strain again. . . .

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