This study focuses on three songs from stage works of Kurt Weill (1900-1950): “September Song” from Knickerbocker Holiday (1938), “Speak Low” from One Touch of Venus (1943), and “Lost in the Stars” from Lost in the Stars (1949). All from Weill’s time in the United States, these songs are adaptable as solos and have become American standards performed in various arrangements and styles of popular music by many different artists.
The first part of this study is a biographical sketch of Weill’s life and music. It is intended to provide context for the three songs by tracing his beginnings as a German composer of stage works with volatile political messages, to his flight to the United States and his emergence as a composer of Broadway successes.
The second part is a commentary on the composition of the three selected songs. The lyrics and musical content are examined to show how Weill’s settings convey the dramatic mood and meaning as well as the specific nuances of the words. Description of the context of these songs explains how they were textually and musically intended to advance the plot and the emotional arc of the dramatic characters. The popularity of these songs endures beyond their original shows, and so there is discussion of how other artists have adapted and performed them, and available recordings are cited.
Weill’s songs, his little masterpieces, have proven to be truly evocative and so attractive to American audiences that they have undergone myriad adaptations. This study seeks to provide the personal and historical background of Kurt Weill’s music and to demonstrate why these three songs in particular have proven to have such lasting appeal.