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1918 - 1926

Portrait of the Composer as a Young Man

Weill moves to Berlin, a cauldron of artistic experimentation and one of Europe’s leading cultural centers. He throws himself into its musical life as he completes his studies and reaches maturity as a composer.

Read Text-Only Chronology
Read Text-Only Chronology


  • 22 April

    Arrives in Berlin to begin studies at the Hochschule für Musik (Conservatory)

  • Early May

    First composition lesson with Engelbert Humperdinck

    Soon he begins work with Humperdinck on an existing composition, the String Quartet in B Minor. Weill attends non-musical classes as well, including lectures by Ernst Cassirer and Max Dessoir.

  • 24 July

    Returns to Dessau for summer break; also visits his brother Hans in Halberstadt

    • The earlier of two surviving copies in Weill's hand of the String Quartet in B Minor

    • Letter from Kurt to his brother Hans, 9 May 1918: "Gestern kam er [Humperdinck] dann in die Hochschule, gab mir neue Aufgaben u. sagte mir, ich solle ihm in der nächsten Stunde eine Skizze meines Streichquartetts zeigen; ich habe es gleich herausgekramt u. arbeite nun daran." (Yesterday he [Humperdinck] came to the Hochschule, gave me new homework, and told me that in the next lesson I should show him the sketch of my string quartet. I immediately dug it up and now I'm working on it.)

  • November

    Witnesses street battles and political ferment in Berlin as Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicates and Germany moves toward a republic


  • February

    Develops close friendship with fellow pupil Walter Kämpfer, which persists through the 1920s

    Later, Kämpfer becomes a well-known music critic

  • 27 March

    Writes to Hans that he has formulated an initial conception of a symphonic poem based on Rilke’s “Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke” (manuscript lost)

  • July

    Withdraws from the Conservatory and considers studying with Hermann Wetzler, Hans Pfitzner, or Arnold Schoenberg

  • 4 September

    Accompanies soprano Elisabeth Feuge in a vocal recital in Dessau that includes two of his own songs

  • December

    Conductor at the Stadttheater Lüdenscheid

    Accepts assistant conductor position at the Stadttheater Lüdenscheid; he is soon promoted to head conductor. Weill stays in Lüdenscheid only six months, yet years later he would tell an interviewer that he learned everything he knew about theater there.

    • Weill (front row, left) with singers in costume from the Stadttheater Lüdenscheid

    • Program from a performance conducted by Weill in Lüdenscheid


  • 10 January

    Opening night of the first operetta for which Weill has been entirely in charge of rehearsals and preparation, Die tolle Komteß by Walter Kollo

  • 2 April

    Writes to his sister that he plans to return to the Conservatory in Berlin in the fall, because Franz Schreker has been named director there

  • Summer

    Completes Sonata for Cello and Piano

    Private performance in Dessau with the dedicatee, cellist Fritz Rupprecht, in mid-August (Weill at the piano). First known public performance at the Berliner Festwochen in 1975: Siegfried Palm (cello) and Aloys Kontarsky (piano).

  • Late November

    First interview with composer and pianist Ferruccio Busoni, newly appointed to lead a master class in composition at the Prussian Academy of Arts

    Soon afterwards, Busoni accepts Weill for the master class.


  • 6 March

    Delivers lecture in Halberstadt: “Beethoven: His Life and Work”

    The engagement is probably arranged by his brother Hans.

  • Spring

    Composes Symphonie in einem Satz (symphony in one movement), inspired by Johannes R. Becher’s play Workers, Peasants, Soldiers: A People’s Awakening to God

    The previous year, Weill hoped to receive a commission to write incidental music for the play, but apparently the project went no further.

  • July

    First meeting of Busoni’s master class

    • Ferruccio Busoni surrounded by his "disciples" from the master class: Kurt Weill, Walther Geiser, Luc Balmer, and Wladimir Vogel

    • Weill made a four-hand piano arrangement of his Symphonie in einem Satz for a performance in Busoni's class; pictured is the first page of the second part

  • October

    Busoni gives his students the assignment of setting Goethe’s poem “Die Bekehrte”; Weill is miffed when Busoni selects Wladimir Vogel’s setting as the best


  • Spring

    Joins the Novembergruppe, a progressive association of artists and musicians that includes many leading figures

  • Autumn

    Accepts a young music theory pupil named Maurice Abravanel — they go on to become close friends; starting the late 1920s, Weill frequently asks Abravanel to conduct his compositions

  • 18 November

    Premiere of children’s pantomime Zaubernacht

    Berlin, Theater am Kurfürstendamm: scenario by Wladimir Boritsch; directed by Franz-Ludwig Hörth; conducted by George Weller. The first performance of a stage work by Weill is greeted with good reviews. Lenya auditions and is called back but does not take the role.

    • Invitation to the premiere of Zaubernacht

    • First page of Weill's piano score of Zaubernacht

    • Handwritten note from Weill to Ludwig Brav: "Bitte sehen Sie sich diese mit Zangen geborene Aufführung meiner Kinderpantomime an. Ich hoffe, wir sehen uns bald. Ich wohne: W 15. Paderbornerstr. 2. b. Wolff. Herzlich Ihr Weill. (Please come see my children's pantomime, which has had a difficult birth. I hope we will see each other soon. My address: W 15, 2 Paderbornerstr. c/o Wolff. Sincerely yours, Weill.)


  • 12 March

    Premiere of orchestral work Fantasia, Passacaglia und Hymnus

    Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Alexander Selo.

  • 10 April

    Premiere of Divertimento for small orchestra and men's chorus

    Members of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Heinz Unger.

  • 14 June

    Premiere of Quodlibet, an orchestral suite from Zaubernacht

    Dessau, Friedrichs-Theater: conducted by Albert Bing.

  • 24 June

    Premiere of String Quartet No. 1, op. 8 by the Amar Quartet in Frankfurt; Weill’s first exposure to an international audience at a major festival

  • December

    Completes master class but remains close to Busoni


  • January

    Meets well-known playwright Georg Kaiser; the two soon begin work on a ballet-pantomime

  • 25 January

    Premiere of Frauentanz, a song cycle for soprano and ensemble

    Berlin, Singakademie: Fritz Stiedry, conductor; Nora Pisling-Boas, soprano.

  • Mid-February

    Leaves on an extended trip to Switzerland and Italy, returning to Germany by way of Vienna

    He spends time in Davos with his cousin Nelly Frank before traveling alone to Italy.

  • 22 April

    Signs contract with music publishing house Universal Edition in Vienna, which is known especially for representing contemporary composers

    Busoni has recommended Weill to the head of Universal Edition, Emil Hertzka, praising the String Quartet no. 1, op. 8: “I hardly know a piece by a 23-year-old of the present day that is so attractive and worthwhile—it is thoroughly ‘modern’ without any ugly feature."

  • Summer

    Meets Lotte Lenya

    Meets Lotte Lenya at Georg Kaiser’s house, where she is working as an au pair. The Kaiser family and Lenya help Weill deal with Busoni’s death on 27 July.

    • Lotte Lenya as au pair with the Kaiser's three children: Anselm, Sybille, and Laurent

    • Playwright Georg Kaiser

    • Pallbearers carry Busoni's casket out of his apartment building in Berlin

  • August

    Stops working with Kaiser on the ballet-pantomime; they switch to an opera based on Kaiser’s play Der Protagonist

  • 30 November

    Publishes first review in the new journal Der deutsche Rundfunk (German Radio)

    Weill writes for the journal for the next five years or so, usually publishing an article or review once a week.


  • 22 January

    Premiere of Stundenbuch, settings of Rilke’s poems for baritone and orchestra

    Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Heinz Unger; Manfred Lewandowsky, baritone.

  • May

    Moves into Kaiser’s Berlin apartment with Lenya

  • 11 June

    Premiere of Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra

    Paris, Théâtre de l'Exposition des Arts Décoratifs: Orchestre Straram conducted by Walter Straram; Marcel Darrieux, violin. Weill offers to dedicate the concerto to renowned violinist Josef Szigeti, but apparently he never performs it.

  • 29 October

    Attends performance of the Violin Concerto in Dessau, Weill’s hometown

    Weill is angry about the inept performance and sneers at the Philistines in the audience.

  • 27 December

    First performance of Weill’s music in the U.S., Zaubernacht at the Garrick Theatre in New York, choreographed by Michio Ito


  • 28 January

    Marries Lenya in a civil ceremony in Berlin

    Later, Lenya recalls that they decided to get married to quell local gossip.

    • Wedding photo

    • Marriage certificate

    • Interior of Weill and Lenya's first Berlin apartment

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