Music of Kurt Weill
Monday, July 10, 2017 @ 7:30 p.m.
Ingram Auditorium at Brevard College
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Chamber Music of Kurt Weill
Weill wrote the pieces presented this evening between 1916 and 1923, representing, on one end of the spectrum, the efforts of a Dessau adolescent making his fi rst serious attempt at composition (Ofrahs Lieder, 1916) and, on the other (Frauentanz, 1923), that of an ambitious young composer on the eve of his first major success in the German theater with Der Protagonist. While comprising only a small portion of his complete output, Weill’s chamber music can be seen as a series of stylistic strides anticipating the discovery of his own mature compositional voice.
Whether it is due to their predating the composer’s first contract with a music publisher in 1924, their being overshadowed by his subsequent success as a theater composer, or a combination of additional factors, several of these works remained in relative or complete obscurity during Weill’s lifetime. His Sonata for Cello and Piano (1920) did not receive its fi rst performance until 1975, Ofrahs Lieder not until 1987, and Intermezzo (1917) not until 1999. Frauentanz and the String Quartet op. 8 proved the exceptions, no doubt because of their publication by Universal Edition and positive receptions at international music festivals.From 1924 to 1927 the pair would rank as Weill’s most frequently performed concert works.
Maikaterlied (1917) and Abendlied (1918), both duets for two sopranos and piano, utilize texts by poet Otto Julius Bierbaum. Weill himself accompanied Clara Ohent and Gertrud Prinzler during the first known performance of these pieces, on 6 February 1918 at the Protestant Community Hall in Dessau.
Ofrahs Lieder is a setting for voice and piano of German translations of poems by Hebrew poet, Jehuda Halevi (1080–1145). Weill, himself the son of a cantor, selected morality texts which drew primarily on nature-imagery and depictions of the animal kingdom as the basis for this cycle.
Weill again relied on texts from the medieval era for Frauentanz, a setting of German translations of seven poems dealing with Minne, or courtly love. He scored it for soprano and a woodwind quintet, but with a viola substituting for the oboe. The neo-classical cycle premiered in February 1924 at a concert of the International Society for Contemporary Music in Berlin, conducted by Fritz Stiedry.
Intermezzo has the distinction of being both Weill’s earliest surviving instrumental composition, as well as his only work for solo piano. This would be one of the last works he completed before leaving Dessau to continue his studies in Berlin.
Weill’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, comprising three movements Allegro ma non troppo, Andante espressivo, and Allegro assai, marks a departure from the late-romantic characteristics found in certain previous works, replacing them with an expanded and unconventional harmonic vocabulary. Written in the aftermath of the First World War, when Weill was contemplating a move to Vienna to study with Schoenberg, the Sonata refl ects perhaps both the personal and political upheaval that surrounded Weill at the time.
The second of his two string quartets, Op. 8, received its premiere at the Frankfurter Kammermusikwoche on 24 June 1923 by the Amar Quartet. One may recognize throughout its three movements, which are played without breaks, references to several of his earlier works of Weill’s: material from the Divertimento Op. 5 (1922) appears in the Introduktion movement, from Zaubernacht (1922) in the Scherzo, and from Symphony No. 1 (1921) in the closing Choralphantasie.
- Kim H. Kowalke