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1900-1918: Musical Formation


2 March: Kurt Julian Weill born to Albert Weill (January 2, 1867 – December 30, 1950) and Emma Ackermann Weill (December 15, 1872 – June 22, 1955), Leipziger Straße 59, Dessau, Germany. The third of four children: Nathan (January 8, 1898 – July 17, 1957), Hans Jakob (January 14, 1899 – March 1, 1947), Ruth (October 6, 1901 – December 24, 1972). The family traces its roots to Juda (c. 1360) and his son Jakob Weil (c. 1390), a rabbi in Nürnberg, Augsburg, Bamberg, and Erfurt.


Attends Fröbel-Kindergarten on Fürstenstraße. The Weill family moves from their residence at Franzstraße 45 (where they moved in 1902) to Muldstraße 20.


Early March: Kurt’s grandmother declares, “This boy is something special!”


Autumn: Starts elementary school. Kurt begins studying the piano with his father around this time.


Spring: Weill family moves to new quarters adjoining the new Dessau synagogue, which is still in the process of being built. The new synagogue is consecrated in February 1908.


Autumn: Begins secondary school at Herzogliche Friedrichs-Oberrealschule. His music teacher is August Thiele and his German teacher is Dr. Max Preitz.


Begins lessons with synagogue organist Franz Brückner. There are conflicting accounts of the date, but at some point between 1909 and 1912, Kurt begins lessons with Marguerite Evelyn Schapiro, a conservatory-trained pianist.


First preserved compositions: two songs, “Mi addir” (a Jewish wedding song) and “Es blühen zwei flammende Rosen.”


Composes “Ich weiss wofür” (text by Guido von Güllhausen) and “Reiterlied” (text by Hermann Löns).

July: Visits Uncle Emil Ackermann and Aunt Bertha in Freiburg with his siblings. Weill’s first surviving letter dates from this trip.

Autumn: Joins the Dessauer Feldkorps, a nationalist youth organization, with rank of Kundschafter (scout).


January: Accompanies a fellow Kundschafter in a song titled “Für uns,” in what is probably his first formal public performance. During 1915, Kurt begins studying with the assistant conductor at the Dessau Ducal Theater, Albert Bing, who prepares him for advanced music study over the next three years, and furthers Kurt’s interest in the theater.

September: Composes a four-part a cappella choral setting of Emmanuel Geibel’s poem, “Gebet,” for Ruth’s confirmation.

December: Performs a prelude by Chopin and the third nocturne from Liszt’s Liebesträume in a school recital.


Composes “Sehnsucht” (text by Joseph von Eichendorff) and “Im Volkston” (text by Arno Holz).

Gives piano lessons to Duke Friedrich’s niece and nephews.

Spring: Begins setting modern translations of poems of the medieval poet Jehuda ha-Levi, resulting in a five-song cycle titled Ofrah’s Lieder. Weill later considered this work his true starting point as a composer.

Spring: Weill’s choral works performed at a school concert. According to a fellow student, in 1916 Weill sent some compositions to a music publisher in Leipzig; the publisher suggested that he wait a few years and try again.


Composes “Volkslied” (text by Anna Ritter) and “Das schöne Kind” (author unknown).

March: Accompanies soprano Emilie Feuge in a recital in Cöthen that includes solo piano music, including a transcription of the “Liebestod” from Tristan und Isolde. Weill is writing fugues for music teacher Mr. Köhler, who finds them “too modern, too chromatic,” but free of mistakes and full of musical ideas.

April: Begins taking more frequent lessons with Albert Bing, including studies in orchestration and conducting. Around this time, Kurt becomes a volunteer repetiteur (coach and accompanist) at the Ducal Theater in Dessau. During this month he is particularly taken with performances of Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel and Bruckner’s Symphony no. 4.

May: Gives a lecture on Felix Mendelssohn to the entire high school, providing musical examples at the piano. He is studying Fidelio with Albert Bing.

July: Visits relatives in Bad Kreuznach, Mannheim, Wiesloch, and Heidelberg with sister Ruth.

20 August: Writes to Hans that he longs to “write down uninterruptedly all the things that make my head practically burst, to hear only music and be only music.”

23 August: Begins trumpet lessons in hopes that if he is drafted, he will be assigned to a military band. By this time, Weill has completely lost his nationalistic fervor and enthusiasm for the war. Fortunately, he is not drafted when he turns eighteen the following year.

October: Studies Rigoletto with Bing.

November: Attends Die Schneider von Schönau by Jan Brandts-Buys and Hamlet starring Alexander Moissi.

December: Composes Intermezzo for piano solo. Piano studies include a Brahms sonata and Chopin etudes.


February: Completes exams and graduates from high school.

6 February: First performance of two canons for two sopranos and piano, “Maikaterlied” and “Abendlied,” with Clara Oßent and Gertrud Prinzler; Weill himself plays the piano.

March: Performs in a concert in Cöthen and attends Rappelkopf by Ferdinand Raimund and Tolstoy’s Macht der Finsternis starring Alexander Moissi and Max Pallenberg. Weill has become thoroughly acquainted with the standard operatic repertoire, especially Wagner.

12 March: Attends a guest performance by the Royal Opera of Strauss’s Salome, conducted by the composer; he describes it as “a work of the greatest genius imaginable.” Kurt reports to his brother Hans that at the end of the opera, he could do nothing but yell “Strauss!” over and over until Strauss himself came out for a curtain call.


Up Next: Portrait of the Composer as a Young Man (1918 – 1926)

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