Kurt Weill: Speak Low

Written by Michael Barrett

Associate Artistic Director, NYFOS

October 23, 2019

On Nov. 19,  NYFOS will be presenting a concert version of Kurt Weill’s Der Silbersee (Silverlake) at Merkin Hall in NYC. Weill is an adopted New Yorker, having emigrated in 1935. His music had been banned by the Nazis. His early theater works, The Threepenny Opera and The Rise and Fall of Mahagony were considered entartete (degenerate) music. His scores were full of jazz rhythms and harmonies. And Weill was a Jew, so the designation was convenient to the Nazi government. His last work written in Europe (France) was Silverlake. It had a very short stage life and has been mostly on the shelf ever since.

New York was friendly to Weill, and he made the transition from the German language to English provided by his librettists Alan Jay Lerner, Ira Gershwin, Ogden Nash and others. His Threepenny Opera was translated by Marc Blitzstein in 1954 and finally got a successful Broadway run. Weill died at age 50, in 1950 so many of us never had any personal connection to him. Blitzstein and Weill protege Maurice Abravanel was as close as we ever got. Here is the composer himself playing and singing one of his hits “Speak Low” from One Touch of Venus. The words are by Ogden Nash. Nash is the smart ass who quipped about my home town: “The Bronx? No Thonx.” 

Michael Barrett

Michael Barrett is the co-founder and associate artistic director of New York Festival of Song, as well as the co-founder and music director of the Moab Music Festival in Utah. A conductor and a pianist, Michael was a protégé of Leonard Bernstein and serves as music advisor to the Leonard Bernstein Estate.

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