Weill Popular Adaptations

Article excerpt


Kurt Weill. Popular Adaptations 1927-1950. Edited by Charles Hamm, Elmar Juchem, and Kim H. Kowalke. (The Kurt Weill Edition, ser. IV: Miscellanea, vol. 2.) New York: Kurt Weill Foundation for Music; European American Music Corpo ration, 2009. [Foreword to the Kurt Weill Edition in Eng., Ger., p. 7-10; list of sigla, p. 11; intro. in Eng., p. 13-14; gallery and catalog of covers, p. 17-37; "Popular Adap ta tions of Weill's Music for Stage and Screen, 1927-1950," by Charles Hamm, p. 39-85; facsimiles of selected adaptations, p. 87-320; abbrevs., p. 321; credits and acknowledgements, p. 322-23; copyright info., p. 324-26. Cloth. ISBN 978-0-913574-67-6. $225.]

Like many musical theater composers, Kurt Weill often incorporated set pieces into his stage work. Sometimes, as in The Threepenny Opera, his scores consisted of little else; other times, as in Mahagonny or Down in the Valley, he imbedded songs into larger through-composed structures. In either case, during his lifetime, publishers released individual numbers-or sometimes medleys of such numbers-from his dramatic work, usually for voice, but also arranged for chorus, jazz band, and solo instrumentalists. Most of this music was brought out by either his principal Euro - pean publisher (Universal), or his main American one (Chappell).

The Kurt Weill Foundation, after scouring the earth for all such items, has devoted a volume of the Kurt Weill Edition to this phenomenon. Entitled Popular Adaptations 1927-1950, and edited by Charles Hamm, Elmar Juchem, and Kim H. Kowalke, this publication forms the second volume of the edition's fourth series, "Miscellanea," and exhibits the sort of meticulous care that characterizes the edition as a whole. Such lavish treatment for what is largely ephemera might be regarded as something of an extravagance. And yet, in their introduction to the volume, Kowalke and Stephen Hinton offer this rationale for its publication:

. . . this volume can lay claim to being an indispensable part of the Kurt Weill Edition, not least because of the crucial questions it provokes. Were such adaptations a symptom or a cause of his popularity? How can popularity be measured: by conformance to stylistic norms, by means of dissemination, by extent of circulation, by longevity of interest? How popular were Weill's songs during his lifetime? What was the financial impact for Weill and his publishers? To what extent were his songs actually adapted for commercial exploitation? How did such adaptations then influence, in turn, the performance and reception of Weill's theatrical works? (p. 14)

What follows, first, is a gallery of color plates and a catalog of all 176 items that the foundation has been able to locate. (The editors imagine that other such items were published during Weill's lifetime but disappeared without a trace for one reason or another, including the destruction wreaked by the Nazis.) These items are arranged chronologically according to the "work from which these adaptations derive" as opposed to their publication dates, so that, for instance, all the published versions of "September Song" are grouped together. Although this catalog essentially limits itself to those items published during Weill's lifetime, the posthumous 1951 publication of one number is included for reasons stated in the helpful notes (p. 17) that precede the gallery and catalog. The catalog itself includes, to the extent that such things can be determined, the title, lyricist, publisher, plate number, publication date, cover design (sometimes a simple description, other times the name of an illustrator), and archival source for each item.

The volume then proceeds to a scholarly essay by Charles Hamm, "Popular Adapta - tions of Weill's Music for Stage and Screen, 1927-1950," keyed to thirty-eight facsimiles that make up the bulk of this publication. Hamm and his fellow editors apparently selected those thirty-eight items that they felt best illustrated the topic's scope in terms of medium, language, genre, and popularity. …