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Symphony No.2

Kurt Weill - Symphony No.2

Kurt Weill is most famous for his bitingly ironical and radical ballad operas ‘The Threepenny Opera’ (1928), ‘The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny’ (1930) and ‘The Seven Deadly Sins’ (1933) in which he collaborated with the evangelical playwright and dramatist Bertold Brecht. In these works he developed a highly individualistic style that was influenced by the risque audacity of the new jazz music, the dark romanticism and longing of Mahler, and the powerful psychological expressionism of Berg. Strongly satirising the decadence of contemporary Germany in ‘The Threepenny Opera’ and the ills of a monstrous capitalism in ‘The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny’, Weill’s music had a completely original spikiness that was sometimes witty and sometimes highly sardonic in its description of society. At other times his music poignantly evoked the sadness, suffering and frustrated romances and loves of poor and oppressed people.

Weill’s two symphonies were respectively composed before and just after this central period of ballad operas, whilst the very rarely performed Bastille music is an arrangement of incidental music for a play that dates from just before this period.

The Second Symphony was begun in 1933 and was interrupted by Weill’s emigration to France. He then composed ‘The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny’, after which he returned to the Symphony, completing it in December 1933. In marked contrast to the First Symphony this work bears unmistakeable traits of the famous Weill. Some of the restlessness, energy and even ironic melodies, harmonies and rhythms of the ballad operas are discernable. At the same time, this is a very tightly structured symphony and can not really be compared to the theatrical style of Weill’s stage works. Although there are dark and stormy elements that seem to sense the terrible holocaust that was to come, there is also a strongly positive rhythmic power and, in the final movement, an outward exuberance that leaves an impression of a powerful life-force at the work’s conclusion. Nevertheless, Weill refused to give any programmatic clues about the work, and when the conductor Bruno Walter, who gave the Symphony’s premiere in 1934, asked the composer for a descriptive title all he was prepared to offer was the uninformative name "Symphonic Fantasy".

Jon Tolansky

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