by Steven Bergman
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday May 10, 2013

Kurt Weill (1900-1950) remains one of the most performed and appreciated composers of the 20th century. His musical output included the musical theater classics, "The Threepenny Opera" and "Happy End," as well as the operas, "The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny," and "Street Scene." Recently, however, one of his earliest works has been rediscovered, and is now being released by CPO Records.

"Zaubernacht" (German for "Magic Night") is Weill's score to a children's pantomime originally written by Vladimir Boritsch. Through a series of mutual friends and connections, the two men were introduced to one other in Berlin in 1919. The piece is a series of short to mid-length instrumental segments with the exception of the opening song, "Song of the Fairy," performed here by the young German soprano, Ania Vegry. A second vocal piece, "Farewell Song of the Fairy," disappeared in 1933, and remains lost to this day. "Zaubernacht" existed only in Weill's piano reduction until British arranger Meirion Bowen set about orchestrating Weill's piece for wind ensemble in the late 1990's. However, in 2005, Weill's orchestrations were fortuitously found in a safe in the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University, and this recording represents the first recording of the composer's own arrangements as he intended.

The story is geared towards younger listeners, but it is clear that the twenty-year old Weill was well on his way to developing the sophistication and musical maturity that would define his music during his lifetime, as themes from the song cycle would subsequently appear in both "The Threepenny Opera" and "Happy End," as well as in his cantata "Der neue Orpheus" in 1925.

The German group, Arte Ensemble, gives an accurate and safe rendition of "Zaubernacht." Weill's motives for the various toys which come to life in the panto are sensible (i.e. a rocking horse gallop in traditional 6/8 time), and the ensemble effectively navigates the various styles within the piece.

At one-hour in length, it is important for us to note the discovery of this piece for its place in Weill's compositional evolution.

Kurt Weill / Arte Ensemble
CD and digital formats
CPO Records

Steven Bergman is a Composer / Playwright / Performing Arts Educator based outside of Boston, MA.


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