A SINGULAR COMPOSER, A TWO-TIMING WIFE, AND A THREE PENNY OPERA

“THE ROMANCE of Kurt Weill, the Jewish cantor’s son, and Lotte Lenya, the Viennese coachman’s daughter, changed the history of Western music. Their work on The Three Penny Opera provides a knowing insight into their relationship: Weill was the creator whose work was backstage, unseen. Lenya was the performer who put the work into view. They heard the same unique music, but he gave it form while she gave it life.”
–from the cover flap of LOVE SONG, by Ethan Mordden

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If you like a bargain and biographies, I’ve just read a book I’m about to tell you about, titled LOVE SONG. The “bargain” is hinted at in the subtitle: THE LIVES OF KURT WEILL AND LOTTE LENYA — a double biography, two lives for the price of one. If you’re acquainted with the music of Kurt Weill and the mystique of Lotte Lenya, an individual biography of either would be a bargain at twice  – nay, thrice — the price.

Kurt Weill was born in Germany in March 1900. As a young man (according to Mordden), “Music was his only interest, in total immersion.” He later fled the Nazi takeover and came to New York, U.S.A., in September, 1935. That month is notable for its namesake song, which may be the most unforgettable of his many memorable compositions:

Lotte Lenya, twice-married to Weill and many times in bed with other men, was born in Vienna in 1898 and outlived her husband by 31 years. Quoting from the book, “Lenya was quick to adapt to her audience: a performer, but a warm and giving one, quickly intimate with anyone she liked….she could play everything from the merrily heartless Jenny of The Threepenny Opera to the helplessly coquettish Frau Schneider of Cabaret.” Here she sings one of my favorite Weill songs:

I wish I could give you a front row seat at the real-life opera that is the LOVE SONG of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, for it is not only a love story, but an adventure and a 20th century history ranging from early success in Weimar Germany, escape from war-torn Europe, and finding the fulfillment in America which was cut short in their native land….but I could not begin to get you as caught up in their story as this “meticulously researched and detailed” book does. If you love the music of Kurt Weill, you will love this biography.

I would love to post clips of such Weill classics as Speak Low, This Is New, and To Love You And To Lose You, but that would perhaps be too much of a good thing….so I’ll bring down the curtain with this Bobby Darin hit from The Three Penny Opera which my fellow seniors will well remember (assuming your memory is sharp):