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Saxophones and Tunes in this Operetta

by Stephen Williams

Source: The Evening Standard, June 27, 1935

Mr. Kurt Weill is an urbane little man with a domelike head, round shining spectacles, and a demure, deprecating manner.

I found him sitting in the stalls of the Savoy Theatre, watching a rehearsal of his operetta, “A Kingdom for a Cow,” which opens to-morrow night.

“You wrote something about my exploting jazz idioms the other week,” he said, with a note of the gentlest possible reproach in his voice. “Well, you will hear very little jazz in this score. The jazz is implicit, so to speak, but not external.

“True, I use saxophones–alternating now and then with clarinets–but so did Bizet in ‘Carmen.’ The score is mainly in the Offenbach tradition, however. By the way, I use a harp instead of a piano. I can get far subtler effects from it.

“But don’t have the idea, please, that I condemn jazz. It represents a definite aspect of modern life, and modern composers cannot afford to ignore it, just as modern poets cannot afford to ignore subjects such as the motorcar or the airplane.

“Divine Model”

“In this operetta I try, as far as possible, to build up the music out of the stage action. In my mind always is the divine and eternal model of such writing–the finale of the second act of ‘Figaro.’

“There the music is a perfect symphonic whole, yet every bar is dictated by the events on the stage.

Mr. Weill is at present finishing the score of “The Road of Promise,” a musical pageant play, founded on the most dramatic incidents of the Old Testament, which Reinhardt will produce in America in the autumn. It is a big enterprise, the music alone occupying two and a half hours. He is hoping to stage it in London later, perhaps at the Albert Hall.

“Compared with the operetta this is, of course, what you would call ‘serious’ music,” he said. “But don’t let us draw too rigid a distinction between ‘serious’ music and ‘light’ music. Music is not necessarily good because it is solemn. Take ‘Figaro’ again; it is nearly all ‘light’ music, yet who would say that it will not last for ever?–or, at least, as long as ‘Tristan,’ which is ‘serious.’

Melody Always

“My music is always melodious. I believe melody is essential to music. Composers of to-day have abandoned melody, yet what have they given us in its place? They have evolved a new and wonderful musical language, but they have found very few important things to say in it.”

The new operetta, which has been described as “up-to-date Gilbert and Sullivan,” is a satire on modern governments with, however, plenty of that romantic interest which makes for long runs.

There is a limit to the number of times we can laugh at the same joke, but there is apparently no limit to the number of times we can hear a man tell a girl he will love her for ever–without laughing even once.

It will be a production of youth. Mr. Weill is 35, Mr. Robert Vambery, the author, 27, Mr. Hein Heckroth, the “decorator,” 32, Mr. Felix Weisberger [sic], the producer, 27, and Mr. Muir Mathieson, the musical director, 24.

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