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1933 - 1941

Exile and Frustration

Forced out of Germany by the Nazis, Weill is beset by setbacks--contracts canceled, projects falling through, uncomprehending critics and audiences--as he struggles to survive. He journeys to the U.S. in 1935 and soon decides to make it his home. Broadway rewards him several years later when Lady in the Dark becomes a smash hit.

Read Text-Only Chronology
Read Text-Only Chronology


  • 23 March

    Arrives in Paris

  • 13 April

    U.S. premiere of The Threepenny Opera

    New York, Empire Theater: translated by Jerrold Krimsky and Gifford Cochran; directed by Francesco von Mendelssohn; conducted by Macklin Marrow. The show runs only twelve performances and is a critical failure.

  • 7 June

    Premiere of ballet chanté Die sieben Todsünden

    Paris, Les Ballets 1933; text by Bertolt Brecht; scenario by Edward James and Boris Kochno; choreographed by George Balanchine; conducted by Maurice Abravanel. Part of a program of six ballets, the last collaboration of Weill, Brecht, Lenya, and Caspar Neher is received coolly by the critics and public. After a three-week run in Paris, Les Ballets 1933 moves to London for a similar span of time.

    • Left to right: Anna II (Tilly Losch) and Anna I (Lotte Lenya) are two sides of the same personality

    • Program from the original production

    • From the "Anger" scene in the original production

    • From the "Envy" scene in the original production

  • 18 September

    Divorce from Lenya finalized

  • 31 October

    Signs contract with French publisher Heugel as Universal Edition terminates his contract while retaining rights to works already published

  • November

    Moves to Louveciennes, a suburb of Paris

    His new house is part of the former estate of Madame du Barry, a mistress of King Louis XV.

  • 3 November

    Broadcast of La grande complainte de Fantômas, a radio play based on a popular comic-book character

    Radio Paris: text by Robert Desnos; directed by Antonin Artaud. Most of the score is lost.

  • 26 November

    Composer Florent Schmitt leads an anti-Semitic demonstration in Paris at a concert that includes songs from Der Silbersee

    Weill is angered by the reaction of the French press, which he believes sides unjustly with Schmitt.


  • February

    Begins work with Robert Vambery on an operetta, Der Kuhhandel (first staged in London as A Kingdom for a Cow)

  • Early March

    Marlene Dietrich wires Weill to propose a collaboration with her and Josef von Sternberg in Hollywood

    The project falls through despite Weill’s interest.

  • Summer 1934

    Composes settings of poems by Maurice Magre, “Complainte de la Seine” and “Je ne t’aime pas,” for cabaret singer Lys Gauty

    Gauty records the songs and performs them frequently. Yet they are mostly forgotten until Teresa Stratas receives the sheet music from Lenya in 1980 and makes a recording that propels both songs back into the repertory.

  • August

    Vacations with Caspar and Erika Neher, then meets with Max Reinhardt and Franz Werfel to discuss a large-scale stage work based on the Old Testament, Der Weg der Verheißung, later staged as The Eternal Road

  • 29 September

    Lenya moves into Weill’s house in Louveciennes

    With Otto Pasetti out of the picture after two years, Weill and Lenya reconcile.

  • 11 October

    Premiere of Fantaisie Symphonique

    Amsterdam, Concertgebouw Orchestra: conducted by Bruno Walter. Weill has composed the symphony, also known as Symphony no. 2, in response to a commission from la princesse de Polignac. Critical reception is poor, but Walter goes on to conduct the work in New York and Vienna.

    • The first page of Weill's manuscript score of Symphony no. "1" bears a dedication to the princesse de Polignac. This work is now known as Fantaisie symphonique, or Symphony no. 2.

    • Program from the New York premiere

    • Photo from the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf shows Bruno Walter, Sergei Prokofiev, and Weill

  • 22 December

    Premiere of play with music Marie Galante

    Théâtre de Paris: book and lyrics by Jacques Deval; directed by H. Henriot; conducted by Edmond Mahieux. Weill has high hopes for a collaboration with one of France’s most popular authors, but the show has a short, unsuccessful run; Weill blames the failure on Deval. Some songs are recorded by popular French singers.


  • 22 January

    Arrives in England to prepare for staging of A Kingdom for a Cow

  • 28 June

    Premiere of operetta A Kingdom for a Cow

    London, Savoy Theatre: original German text by Robert Vambery; English lyrics by Desmond Carter; book by Reginald Arkell; directed by Ernst Matray and Felix Weissberger; conducted by Muir Mathieson. The show runs only about two weeks and meets mixed critical reception. The original German version is not staged until 1994.

    • Photo from The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News shows the leads, Webster Booth and Jacqueline Francell (center)

    • Program cover featuring a drawing by Hein Heckroth

    • "Two Hearts"

      Excerpt sung by Webster Booth and Jacqueline Francell; broadcast by the BBC, 1935

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  • August

    Visits Max Reinhardt and Franz Werfel in Salzburg; completes draft of Der Weg der Verheißung score and learns that he will travel to New York to prepare for a performance there

  • 10 September

    Arrives in New York with Lenya on the S.S. Majestic

    They move into the St. Moritz Hotel.

    • S.S. Majestic

    • Excerpt from interview with Kurt Weill: "I'm An American!"

      Broadcast 9 March 1941 on NBC Blue Network (radio); Weill recounts his feelings on arriving in New York Harbor

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  • October

    Attends rehearsal for Porgy and Bess with Ira Gershwin

  • 23 November

    Appears on a radio program on WJZ in New York to publicize The Eternal Road, scheduled to open January 1936

  • 17 December

    The League of Composers in New York sponsors an all-Weill concert in which Lenya performs; audience response and critical reception are poor

    Many officials and patrons of the League, an organization formed to promote contemporary music, do not consider Weill sufficiently serious or modern.


  • January

    Weill and Lenya move to a cheaper hotel, the Park Crescent; the opening of The Eternal Road is postponed as the production company declares bankruptcy

  • March

    Heugel notifies Weill that it is terminating their contract; Weill meets Cheryl Crawford of the Group Theatre

  • May

    Parents emigrate to Palestine from Germany, following Weill’s sister Ruth and her husband

  • 3 May

    Arrives in Chapel Hill, NC to work with playwright Paul Green on a project for the Group Theatre, Johnny Johnson

  • 4 June

    Renews an earlier acquaintance with playwright Maxwell Anderson, who later becomes a close friend and collaborator

  • September

    Moves with Lenya into Cheryl Crawford’s apartment on E. 51 Street in Manhattan

  • 19 November

    Premiere of play with music Johnny Johnson

    New York, 44th Street Theatre, 68 performances: Group Theater; directed by Lee Strasberg; conducted by Lehman Engel. The cast is rife with young actors who go on to distinguished careers, but problems with sets and direction hobble the production. The WPA Federal Theatre Project produces two new stagings in Boston and Los Angeles in 1937.

    • Cannons (voiced by the men's chorus) sing to the sleeping soldiers in "Song of the Guns"

    • The French Nurse (Paula Miller, behind the bed) sings "Mon Ami, My Friend"

    • Advertising flyer


  • 7 January

    Premiere of pageant The Eternal Road

    Manhattan Opera House: original text by Franz Werfel; English text by Ludwig Lewisohn; directed by Max Reinhardt; conducted by Isaac Van Grove. A costly spectacle on a grand scale, the work awes the New York press but cannot consistently meet its running expenses , forcing it to close after 153 performances. Weill never sees a penny in royalties.

    • The death of Moses from Part II of the original production

    • Final March

      Broadcast 3 January 1937, shortly before the premiere

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    • Scenes from rehearsal recorded for newsreel

      Manhattan Opera House, 1937

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    • Act II: Moses (Samuel Goldenberg) kills the Egyptian taskmaster (Raymond Miller)

  • 19 January

    Remarries Lenya in Westchester County, NY

  • 28 January

    Arrives in Hollywood to work on a film (The River Is Blue) with writer Clifford Odets and director Lewis Milestone

    Many actors from the Group Theatre have also come to seek film work after internal dissension weakens the company.

  • 13 May

    Accepts offer of $10,000 to write music for a Fritz Lang film (You and Me)

  • 27 August

    Begins process of applying for U.S. citizenship

    Weill and Lenya travel to Canada and obtain new immigration documents when they return to the U.S.

  • October

    Moves with Lenya into duplex apartment at 231 East 62nd Street, New York


  • April

    Returns to Hollywood to work on Lang film and learns that his score for The River Is Blue (ultimately released as Blockade) has been replaced

  • 1 June

    Premiere of film You and Me

    Paramount Pictures: directed by Fritz Lang; lyrics by Sam Coslow; starring George Raft and Sylvia Sidney. Weill’s first Hollywood film.

    • Excerpt from You and Me

      "The Right Guy for Me" sung by Carol Paige

    • Weill and Boris Morros, the head of the music department for Paramount, supervise the recording of the score of You and Me

  • July 1938

    Weill’s brother Hans emigrates to the U.S. with his wife Rita and daughter Hanne

    Weill’s parents and siblings, along with their families, are all out of Germany by the end of 1938.

  • 19 October

    Premiere of musical Knickerbocker Holiday

    New York, Barrymore Theatre, 168 performances: book and lyrics by Maxwell Anderson; directed by Joshua Logan; conducted by Maurice Abravanel. The source of “September Song,” Weill’s first American hit, performed by Walter Huston as Pieter Stuyvesant.

    • Walter Huston as Stuyvesant and Jeanne Madden as Tina Tienhoven

    • "September Song"

      Final chorus sung by Walter Huston, 1938

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    • Poster for the Broadway production

    • Weill at the piano with Walter Huston, Jeanne Madden, and Maxwell Anderson


  • 30 April

    Premiere of historical pageant Railroads on Parade

    New York World’s Fair: Text by Edward Hungerford; directed by Charles Alan; conducted by Isaac Van Grove. A vast spectacle featuring real locomotives and Pullman cars, the show plays four times a day through both years of the World’s Fair. Millions of people hear Weill’s score, a mixture of original composition and arrangements of folk songs.

    • The "golden spike" scene from the original production, depicting the completion of the first transcontinental railway

    • "The Iron Horse"

      Narration of the beginnings of railroading in the U.S.

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    • A scene from the original production

  • 25 May

    Elected to the performing rights society ASCAP

  • July

    Works on a show, Ulysses Africanus, with Maxwell Anderson, for which the songs “Trouble Man” and “Lost in the Stars” are originally composed

  • Autumn

    Agrees to work on a new musical theater project with Moss Hart

    Ira Gershwin joins the team early in 1940; writing and rehearsing Lady in the Dark takes most of the year.

  • December

    Creates settings of Brecht’s poem, “Nanna’s Lied,” and Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (manuscript lost)


  • 4 February

    Broadcast of radio cantata Ballad of Magna Carta

    CBS Radio: text by Maxwell Anderson; conducted by Mark Warnow; narrated by Burgess Meredith.

    • Narrator and Chorus

      Closing moments of the original broadcast, 1940

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    • First page of Weill's manuscript score

  • 17 June

    Writes to Bruno Frank and Erika Mann to propose an organization of anti-Nazi exiles

  • 15 July

    Weill and Lenya greet Darius and Madeleine Milhaud on their arrival in the U.S.

  • August

    Meets Benjamin Britten during vacation in Maine

  • 24 December

    The company of Lady in the Dark leaves for a tryout in Boston


  • 23 January

    Premiere of musical play Lady in the Dark

    New York, Alvin Theatre, 777 performances (initial run of 467 followed by a tour and return to Broadway): Book by Moss Hart; music and lyrics by Weill and Ira Gershwin; directed by Moss Hart and Hassard Short; conducted by Maurice Abravanel; starring Gertrude Lawrence. Weill’s first unequivocal Broadway success. The film rights are sold within a few months for $285,000, a record at the time for a Broadway show. Lawrence dominates press coverage in the leading role; young actors Danny Kaye and Macdonald Carey launch their careers.

    • By decree of the President of the United States, a Marine (Macdonald Carey) paints Liza's portrait for a new 2-cent postage stamp while the chorus sings "Girl of the Moment"

    • "One Life to Live"

      Excerpt sung by Gertrude Lawrence, 1941

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    • "Tschaikowsky"

      Sung by Danny Kaye, 1941

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    • Poster from the return to Broadway in 1943

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