Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Kurt Weill's bite is back as a lost song resurfaces

The lost manuscript, recovered...
Credit: Freie Universität Berlin, Institute for Theatre Studies,
Theatre History Collections, Gerda Schaefer papers

1931, Berlin. It's the depression, the Nazis are in the ascendency and the composer Kurt Weill is at the height of his powers. For a political revue to benefit unemployed actors of the Berlin Volksbühne, he creates a song entitled 'Lied vom weißen Käse'. In it, a blind girl tells of a phoney evangelical preacher's attempts to heal her using white cheese - represented by a Lutheran chorale - and concludes that it might be better if everyone were blind so that they couldn't see what was happening in the world.

The lyrics, by Günther Weisenborn, satirise the methods of a notorious Berlin faith-healer, Joseph Weißenberg. Lotte Lenya, for whom the song was written, remembered its existence, and began looking for it in the 1960s, without luck. "Nowhere to be found. Probably buried in some basement," she concluded.

Until now. It has just turned up unexpectedly in the archive of the Volksbühne actress Gerda Schaefer and will soon be published at last.

And it's a whopper. The New York Times has a performance of it to hear, from the Kurt Weill Foundation - please pop over and listen to this. Its bite is powerful with its Bach [sorry].

"Although the discovery is small in terms of the song’s length, it is truly sensational," commented musicologist Elmar Juchem, Managing Editor of the Kurt Weill Edition, who was able to identify Weill's manuscript while conducting archival work in Berlin. "Nobody believed that something completely unknown by Weill could still surface, let alone from his Berlin heyday." Juchem came across the song in the archives of the department of theater studies at the Freie Universität Berlin. While examining documents related to Weill's music for the play Happy End (1929), he inquired whether the university held any other Weill-related materials. Archivist Peter Jammerthal pulled a number of programs, photos, and press clippings, and then retrieved the hitherto unidentified music manuscript. The neatly written holograph score resides among the papers of a relatively obscure actress named Gerda Schaefer, whose documents came to the Freie Universität several years ago. Schaefer was an ensemble member of the Volksbühne in the early 1930s.

More about it from the Kurt Weill Foundation, here.