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Speak Low (When You Speak Love): The Letters of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya
     

Speak Low (When You Speak Love): The Letters of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya

by Kurt Weill, Lys Symonette (Translator), Kim H. Kowalke (Editor), Lotte Lenya
 

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They were an unlikely couple. Kurt Weill was a German cantor's son, cerebral, well-educated. Lotte Lenya was two years older, an Austrian Catholic coachman's daughter, waif-like, less than beautiful but always appealing to men. She survived the abuse of an alcoholic father, escaping to Zurich and finally Berlin, working as a would-be dancer turned actress. When they

Overview

They were an unlikely couple. Kurt Weill was a German cantor's son, cerebral, well-educated. Lotte Lenya was two years older, an Austrian Catholic coachman's daughter, waif-like, less than beautiful but always appealing to men. She survived the abuse of an alcoholic father, escaping to Zurich and finally Berlin, working as a would-be dancer turned actress. When they met, she was a domestic worker in the home of the playwright he had come to recruit as a librettist. Much to his family's dismay, they married in 1926. Fiercely indepent and yet codepent, Weill and Lenya spent twenty-five years discovering a way to live together after realizing that they couldn't live apart. Weill gave music to her voice, Lenya gave voice to his music. Their correspondence‹first in German and later, after their move to America, in highly flavored English‹is uninhibited, intimate, and irreverent. It offers a backstage view of German music and theater, the American musical theater in the late thirties and forties, and Hollywood. The letters are candid, vivid commentaries on world events, the creative process, and the experience of exile. Never before published, this collection reflects the vibrancy of Weimar culture in the Golden Twenties and the vitality that èmigrès brought to American culture. Lenya's unfinished autobiographical account of her life before Weill is also included, along with a prologue, epilogue, and connective commentary. Immensely touching as well as informative, Weill and Lenya's letters preserve a portrait of a memorable love that somehow survived its turbulent surroundings.

Author Biography: Lys Symonette began her collaboration with Weill and Lenya in 1945 asWeill's musical assistant on Broadway. After Weill's death, she was Lenya's accompanist and musical adviser and now serves as Musical Executive of the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music in New York. Kim H. Kowalke is Professor of Musicology at the University of Rochester and President of the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music. He has edited two collections of essays about Weill and authored numerous essays on twentieth-century music and theater.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
He was a well-educated cantor's son and important German composer who made a successful transition to pre-WWII Broadway and Hollywood. She was a dancer and actress who had once supported herself as a prostitute like Jenny in his Threepenny Opera. Married in 1926, they weathered separation, divorce and emigration to the U.S., ultimately remarrying in 1937 and living together until Weill's sudden death in 1950. Their relationship was by turns peaceful and tumultuous. But, during their time apart (on theatrical tours, sometimes with other lovers), they wrote each other at least weekly. The editors have gathered 410 missives, the vast majority (296) from Weill to Lenya. The writing is peppered, as one might expect, with references to theater associates such as Helen Hayes, Alan Jay Lerner, Maxwell Anderson, Marlene Dietrich (very stupid and superficial), Andr Malraux and Bertolt Brecht (whom Lenya disliked and distrusted). But the letters are equally full of domestic arrangements, endearments, naughty sketches, risqu lyrics and pet names. Roughly half were written in German, but all have been smoothly translated to blend with later English letters. Symonette, who served as Weill's musical assistant starting in 1945, and musicologist Kowalke have wisely chosen to retain the original, at times highly idiosyncratic, spelling and grammar. While there is often something vaguely prurient about reading letters never intended for publication, the correspondence between Blumchen and her Weilili is unexpectedly charming and adds an informative and touching dimension to two well-known lives. (May)
Library Journal
This is a first-ever compilation of the correspondence between German-born composer Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, the actress-singer who popularized his operas and dramas and became his wife. Their writings depict the wide and colorful spectrum of their journey from Weimar Germany to expatriate life in the New World. Their correspondence illuminates not only their lives but also German and American music and theater, Hollywood, and events in the international arena at that time. The volume is organized into two parts, roughly matching their journeys in Europe (with correspondence in German) and later in America (with correspondence in English). Letters in the second part were transcribed literally, preserving errors. A biographical glossary of most significant persons mentioned proves helpful, considering the amount of correspondence. Recommended for large public libraries and music collections.-Ali Houissa, Cornell Univ., Ithaca, N.Y.
Booknews
The first publication of letters between the provocative public couple, composer and singer, from 1924 until he died in 1950, and her letters about him until 1981. The some 400 letters include translations from the early letters in German, and the English letters after they migrated to the US in 1935. They document all the parting and reuniting throughout their relationship as well as their personal and shared views of music, the theater, society, politics, and friends and colleagues. No subject index. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
This is the complete correspondence of Weill and Lenya, though because she preserved far more of his letters than he did of hers, the book tends to heavily favor Weill's voice.

Composer/songwriter Kurt Weill (190050) and singer/actress Lotte Lenya (18981981) were an ill-matched pair: he from a Jewish family, a serious composer, devoted to his wife; she a Catholic girl who fell into a career as an actress/singer and had many affairs throughout their marriage. This volume begins with a fragmentary autobiography that Lenya wrote about her years before meeting Weill. Then, the book proceeds chronologically through all the extant letters, beginning in 1924 and ending in 1948, two years before the composer's death. Weill was a wonderful diarist, recording his impressions of the many famous folk who crossed his path, first in Germany, then in Paris and London, and finally in Hollywood and New York, including Bertolt Brecht (who was Weill's collaborator on The Threepenny Opera), Maxwell Anderson, Ira and George Gershwin, Cheryl Crawford, and Fritz Lang. Lenya tended to be more off-the-cuff in her letter writing. Weill's innate egotism can get out of hand at times, as when he noted the "bumpkin" George Gershwin's reaction to his presence in Hollywood: "Gershwin seems to be shitting in his pants because of me." He loathed the Hollywood scene: "This is the most bourgeois hick town I've ever seen; everyone's gossipy, narrow- minded, jealous." Despite the ups and downs in their marriage, the couple's affection for each other comes through loud and clear in this chronicle. Lacunae in the letters are well filled in thorough notes by the editors, Symonette, musical executive of the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music, and Kowalke, president of the foundation.

Recommended for the student of musical-theater history; less vital for the general reader.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780520212404
Publisher:
University of California Press
Publication date:
12/17/1997
Edition description:
REPRINT
Pages:
554
Product dimensions:
7.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 1.25(d)

What People are Saying About This

John Rockwell
A lovingly assembled, translated, and annotated collection of intimate letters, full of sometimes dishy gossip, from two of the most fascinating personalities of the 20th century. A record of momentous events refracted through a love as complex as it was intense.

Meet the Author


Lys Symonette began her collaboration with Weill and Lenya in 1945 as Weill's musical assistant on Broadway. After Weill's death, she was Lenya's accompanist and musical adviser and now serves as Musical Executive of the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music in New York. Kim H. Kowalke is Professor of Musicology at the University of Rochester and President of the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music. He has edited two collections of essays about Weill and authored numerous essays on twentieth-century music and theater.

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