Following the astonishing success of Die Dreigroschenoper in the fall of 1928, Kurt Weill composed Das Berliner Requiem, a cantata based on existing poems by Bertolt Brecht that expressed the thoughts and feelings of contemporary urbanites with regard to human mortality. Weill’s spare writing matches Brecht’s dark, cryptic poetry. All of the texts in Berliner Requiem recount the stories of the forgotten dead; faceless war casualties, or victims of violent crime whose bodies have never been found, such as “Ballade vom ertrunkenen Mädchen” (Ballad of the Drowned Girl).

The premiere of Berliner Requiem had originally been announced for February 1929, but was postponed more than once due to objections raised by various watchdog committees. The actual premiere was on May 22, 1929 with a performance on Radio Frankfurt. With Weill’s hurried departure from Germany in March 1933, it is hardly surprising that no complete copy of his original score has survived. The piece exists in multiple versions, which can be found on the KWF website.

With glowing reviews from this year’s Los Angeles Philharmonic performances, Esa-Pekka Salonen will continue the Weimar concert series by conducting the San Francisco Symphony in 2021 with a program that includes Das Berliner Requiem and Die sieben Todsünden.

Listen to a performance of “Ballade vom ertrunkenen Mädchen” by Berliner Rundfunkchor and Lucerne Symphony Orchestra (John Axelrod, conductor).