Weill's Musical Theater: Stages of Reform

By Feisst, Sabine | Notes, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Weill's Musical Theater: Stages of Reform


Feisst, Sabine, Notes


Weill's Musical Theater: Stages of Reform. By Stephen Hinton. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012. [xvi, 569 pp. ISBN 9780520271777. $49.95.] Music examples, illustrations, appendix, index.

Building on his 1990 Cambridge opera handbook on Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera, his critical edition of that work, and numerous essays on Weill, Stephen Hinton presents in Weill's Musical Theater: Stages of Reform for the first time a musicological study of all of Weill's works for the stage. In this large-scale book comprising nearly six hundred pages, Hinton provides copious information about each composition, including the lesser-known Zaubernacht, Der Silbersee, Marie Galante, and The Firebrand of Florence. Hinton's discussions generally include biographical, political, and aesthetic contexts of the works, information about the compositions' often complex genesis, collaborative nature, influences, and intertextuality. They also incorporate music analysis and interpretation, as well as information on the works' performance and publication history, and critical reception. Hinton's aim was to "explore both the variety of Weill's solutions to the problems he continuously set himself and the common aesthetic underlying his approach" (p. 2).

Hinton does not organize his discussions of the works in chronological order, but rather according to genre as determined by institutional and structural criteria. Most of these genres receive their own chapters: one-act opera, Songspiel, play with music, epic opera, didactic theater (Lehrstück), exile works, musical play, film music, American opera, vaudeville, and musical tragedy. Despite the difficulty of grouping some of Weill's hybrid works, this presentation allows Hinton, author of several entries in the Handwörterbuch der musikalischen Terminologie (Wiesbaden: Fritz Steiner, 1972- ), to address terminological issues and the complexities of Weill's genre experiments, and to compare related works with each other. Chapter 7, "Didactic Theater ('Lehrstück')," which features the didactic Der Lindberghflug and Der Jasager, includes a lengthy exploration of the Lehrstück's religious and secular roots and background information on Gebrauchsmusik (music for use). Chapter 8, "Stages of Exile," weighs the categories of spectacle, ballet chanté (sung ballet) and ballet opera with reference to Die sieben Todsünden; operetta with reference to Der Kuhhandel and A Kingdom for a Cow, and oratorio and pageant with reference to The Eternal Road. Chapter 9, "Musical Plays," which covers Johnny Johnson, Knickerbocker Holiday, Lady in the Dark, and One Touch of Venus, starts with an explanation of the terms "musical," "musical play," "Stück mit Musik," and Broadway operetta. Hinton's treatments of Weill's music theater works are also shot through with discussions of the work of art concept, musical style, orchestration versus instrumentation, realism versus naturalism, and include excursions into philosophy.

Occasionally Hinton points to intriguing and heretofore little-explored dimensions in Weill scholarship, such as the role of urbanity and the pastoral in Weill's music. Weill, who once noted that his "music smacks of the city" (p. 149), evokes imaginary and real cities (Mahagonny, Paris, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York City, etc.) in works from Der neue Orpheus, Der Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, and Happy End to Die sieben Todsünden and Street Scene, often through the use of dance music (derided as "asphalt music" by the Nazis). Johnny Johnson, on the other hand, suggests the idea of the pastoral. Drawing on the work of Ralph Locke, bruce mcclung, and Michael Baumgartner, Hinton also briefly and cautiously touches on gender issues in his discussions of Die sieben Todsünden, Lady in the Dark, and One Touch of Venus (pp. 212-13; 293-94; 307- 10). Given the great potential that Weill's works hold for feminist readings, the question arises of why, to date, few scholars have explored these trajectories, and whether the very small number of women in Weill scholarship provides an explanation for this circumstance. …

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