We mourn the loss of Horst Koegler, the renowned German writer on dance and music, who died in Stuttgart on 11 May at the age of 85. As the headline of his obituary in the Stuttgarter Zeitung put it, he was “the man who taught Germany all about dance.” Koegler’s long and fruitful career saw him publish reviews of ballet and opera in a wide variety of prominent publications. He also compiled and edited several standard reference works on dance and ballet; for the last ten years of his life he kept a widely read blog. He occupies a special place in our hearts as a frequent contributor to the Kurt Weill Newsletter. He was a great writer in German or English, but he was an even greater judge of dance, music and theater.
Koegler’s first article in the Newsletter appeared in the Fall 1985 issue, an extended history of post-war performances of dance pieces choreographed to Weill’s music in Europe, which focused on Die sieben Todsünden but also considered works like Judgement of Paris (choreographed by Antony Tudor to music from Die Dreigroschenoper) as well. His last appeared in Fall 2010, a review of the world premiere of Weill’s reconstructed ballet-pantomime Zaubernacht. In between, he published ten more pieces in the Newsletter, including reviews of epoch-making performances of Der Weg der Verheissung (the first performance in German and the first complete performance in any language since the world premiere, Chemnitz, 1999), and important revivals of Die Bürgschaft (Bielefeld, 1998) and Der Kuhhandel (Hagen, 1999). In 2002, he granted an interview to the Newsletter on the impact of Street Scene.
Which, in a sense, is where Koegler’s association with Weill began. Koegler first rose to Weill’s defense in 1955, when he went toe-to-toe with Theodor Adorno in a dispute over Weill’s Street Scene, which had just seen its German premiere in Düsseldorf. The program included Adorno’s essay on Weill, “Nach einem Vierteljahrhundert” (Twenty-five Years Later), which disparaged the American works even though Adorno had never seen one. Responding to such snobbery, Koegler published a daring article in the journal Der Monat (January 1956). He took on Adorno and the German critical establishment, whose reservations about Street Scene came straight from Adorno’s playbook, and he proposed an entirely new openness to American musicals and Broadway opera. Koegler remained a proud champion of Weill’s ever after and never disguised his profound enthusiasm for Weill’s music, insisting on the power of Weill’s American works when few German critics took any interest in them at all. Now American musicals–including Weill’s–are produced all the time in Germany; audiences love them and critics take them seriously. We can thank Horst Koegler’s pioneer spirit for that.
Obituaries and Reminiscences
Billevesées (Bill Madison)