Chapter 70Musical Theater in Germany in the 1920s: Berg and Weill
Musical Theatre in Germany in the 1920-30’s• Theater in Germany (in the 1920’s and early 30’s) enjoyed a popularity surpassing that of any other country in the world.• Attending plays, operas, and revues was a passion for the Germans – especially in the town of Berlin.• New literary styles in dramas from this time (including naturalism, expressionism, and epic theater) were shared with new operas.• In the capital city of Berlin alone there were some 40 professional playhouses , 3 major opera theaters, and countless “specialty” stages (cabaret, variety, and vaudeville).
Naturalism, Expressionism, & Epic Theater• More recent plays often embodied modern literary styles that also appeared in operas of the day – one such was naturalism: – here the playwright looked realistically at the lives of people from lower social classes , underscoring their struggle in society . [this movement parallels Italian verismo of the 1920’s.]• Expressionism was another modern literary movement with resonance in the world of opera. – plays of this sort began to appear just before WWI and typically symbolize treatment of characters’ irrational impulses , which lead to grotesque or violent conclusions .• Kurt Weill wanted to avoid normal theatric illusion and prevent the audience from being drawn emotionally into an imaginary narrative. - Epic theater alienates or detaches the listener from the fictitious action so that its relevance to the real work becomes more apparent.
The Life of Alban Berg (1885– 1935)• 1885 - born in Vienna• 1904 - becomes the private student of Arnold Schoenberg• 1925 - breaks through to recognition as a composer with the premiere of the opera Wozzeck in Berlin• 1935 - dies in Vienna from blood poisoning
Principal Compositions by Alban Berg• Operas: – Wozzeck – Lulu (incomplete)• Orchestra: character pieces, a Chamber Concerto, and Violin Concerto• Chamber music : String Quartet, Op. 3; Lyric Suite for string quartet, Piano Sonata• Songs: about 100
Alban Berg’s Wozzeck• Wozzeck is a play which is a literary precursor of both naturalism and expressionism.• The cynicism and hopelessness that pervades this work is encountered often in 20th- century art and music.• In this opera, Berg demonstrates that atonal music could be successful in opera and could express a wide range of emotions .
Main Characters in Alban Berg’s Opera Wozzeck (1914–1922)• Wozzeck – a poor soldier• Marie – his common-law wife• Drum Major – a crude and brutal figure in Wozzeck’s regiment• Doctor – performs medical experiments on Wozzeck• Captain – of the regiment
Alban Berg, Wozzeck , 1914–1922, Act 3, scene 2Through-composed form
The Life of Kurt Weill (1900–1950)• 1900 - born in Dessau (between Leipzig and Berlin)• 1918 - attends Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, studying with Engelbert Humperdinck• 1920-23 - studies with Ferruccio Busoni and Philipp Jarnach in Berlin• 1928 - scores great success with The Threepenny Opera in Berlin• 1933 - flees from Hitler, first to Paris, later to New York• 1936 - begins to compose Broadway musicals• 1950 - dies in New York
Principal Compositions by Kurt Weill• Operas and Shows : about 30 works including – The Threepenny Opera – One Touch of Venus – The Lady in the Dark – Street Scene• Orchestra: includes symphonies (2), Violin Concerto• Songs: many collections• Chamber music : includes a String Quartet and Sonata for cello and piano
Kurt Weill’s Three Penny Opera• The Three Penny Opera revives an 18 th - century English ballad opera in its use of spoken dialogue alternating with musical numbers.• It exemplifies the notion of “epic theater” in which ordinary dramatic illusion is dispelled as the audience is coaxed to focus on the meaning of events in contemporary society.• Weill’s music consists primarily of songs having a popular flavor , one of which, “The Ballad of Mac the Knife,” became a hit song.
Main Characters in Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera (1928)• Macheath (“Mac the Knife”) – a highwayman and murderer• Peachum – runs a beggar’s supply shop• Polly Peachum’s daughter – in love with Mac• Jenny – an old flame of Mac• Sheriff Brown – bought off by Mac• Lucy Brown’s daughter – another old flame of Mac
Kurt Weill, Die Dreigroschenoper ( The Threepenny Opera , 1928, Ballad of Mac the Knife)Strophic form