German-American composer Kurt Weill (1900–1950) wrote some of the most important works of opera and musical theatre of the first half of the 20th century. He is best known for Die Dreigroschenoper and Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, both written with the playwright Bertolt Brecht.
Weill was born in Dessau into a musical family. He studied in Berlin with Engelbert Humperdinck and Ferrucio Busoni. His first opera, Der Protagonist, was performed in Dresden in 1926; this was followed by several more avant-garde works, including Royal Palace (1927) and Der Zar lässt sich photographieren (1928). In 1927 he first collaborated with Brecht on the Songspiel Mahagonny, which met with such success that they extended the piece into the full opera Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (1930). Brecht and Weill also worked together on Die Dreigroschenoper (1928), a contemporary adaptation of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera of 1728. Brecht’s striking scenarios and texts and Weill’s richly varied scores ensured that their partnership was one of the most celebrated in operatic history. Though they fell out in 1930, they collaborated on a number of other works, including Der Jasager (1930) and Die sieben Todsünden (1933).
Weill left Germany following the rise of the Third Reich and settled in the USA in 1935, where he worked as a Broadway composer. Lady in the Dark (1940) and One Touch of Venus (1943) were both great successes, although an English-language Threepenny Opera was even more successful on its premiere in 1954, with his widow Lotte Lenya leading the cast as she had in the German premiere in 1928.