Articles for Nov/Dec 1998

MAHAGONNY at Lyric Opera

CUBE in Concert at Queens College's Aaron Copland School of Music

November 1 Concert featuring Jory Vinikour, harpsichord and oboist/composer Patricia Morehead

Mostly Music presents

Jory Vinikour, harpsichord

Winner of the International Haprischord Competition of Warsaw and the International Harpsichord Competition of the Prague Spring Festival

with oboist/composer Patricia Morehead

Program of works by J.S. Bach, Bernardo Storace, Domenical Scarlatti, Padre Antonio Soler, Gyorgy Ligeti, Robert Moevs, Pancrace Royer,

and a new work by Patricia Morehead

Sunday, November 1, 1998, at 4 pm

Smart Museum, 5550 S. Greenwood, Hyde Park

Pre-concert discussion with Mr. Vinikour and James Mack at 3:00 pm

Admission $15 -- For information call (773) 667-1618

Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht MAHAGONNY at Lyric Opera

Kurt Weill composed two dramatic works based on the "Mahagonny-Gesänge" of Bertolt Brecht, first published in 1927. The first was the Mahagonny-Songspiel, the title being a pun on "Singspiel," the central ingredient being the American-influenced "song" rather than the operatic aria. Generically, the Songspiel can best be described as an "anti-opera". It was set in a boxing ring, and incorporated "lowbrow" jazz music and intentional vulgarity. Many of the musical gestures are taken from familiar tonal contexts (foxtrots, waltzes and marches) but are spiced with surrealistic dissonance. If it was intended to shock, then Mahagonny certainly achieved that aim. The premiere was a succès de scandale. Since Weill and Brecht soon resolved to expend the 25-minute work into the full-length opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, the Songspiel was effectively suppressed, with just one more staged production and a few concert performances before the composer emigrated to the USA.

Weill's correspondence with his publishers records how his collaboration with Brecht began in April 1927 with the idea of using the poet's "Mahagonny-Gesänge" as the basis for the Songspiel. Later, however, in an article he describes the Songspiel as "a stylistic study by way of preparation for the operatic work, which was already begun and, the style having been tried out, was then continued."

That the composer wished retrospectively to relegate the Songspiel to the status of a mere "Stilstudie"is understandable. But why he should also claim, by backdating the genesis of the full-scale opera, that this was his intention all along remains unclear. He obviously wished to stress the importance of the latter work to his theatrical output, partly no doubt because of Brecht's rather negative assessment. Another factor may have been the charge of plagiarism levelled at Weill and Brecht by the playwright Walter Gilbricht: the earlier the inception of their work, the less likely they could have known Gilbricht's Die Grossstadt mit einem Einwohner, completed in 1928. What is certain, however, is that the actual composition of the Songspiel preceded the full-length opera Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny. Moreover, although the Songspiel is related both thematically and stylistically to the later work, Weill's musical language evinces a change of attitude during the two-year genesis (1927-29) of the opera. Comparison of the music adapted from the Songspiel -- especially the "Alabama Song" -- readily reveals those differences: the earlier harmonizations have been divested of their harsher dissonances.

As the composition of the opera progressed, Weill gradually distanced himself from the earlier acerbic "song style" (though not from the song style as such, as Happy End, 1929, shows), cultivating "a perfectly pure, thoroughly responsible style," as he himself described it in a letter to his publishers. The development culminates in the exquisite "Cranes' Duet," added in October 1929 in response to strong criticism from the publishers, who urged that some of the work's more risqué material should be removed. It is indicative of the difficulties surrounding the opera that the question of where to place the love duet has never been satisfactorily solved, either dramatically or musically. It is also characteristic of the work's fate that Otto Klemperer, having been enthusiastic about the Songspiel, should reject the opera after the Kroll Oper, Berlin, had committed itself to giving the first performance under his direction. Like the publishers, Klemperer was perturbed by the depravity of the libretto. The work was therefore entrusted to the Neues Theater in Leipzig, where the first night provoked one of the greatest scandals in the history of 20th-century music (the producer was Walther Brügmann, the conductor Gustav Brecher, the stage designer Caspar Neher). Further productions followed in Brunswick and Kassel, with both houses insisting on cuts for moral, religious and political reasons. Fuelled by Nazi sympathizers, protests nonetheless continued both in and out of the opera house. The work did not reach Berlin until December 1931, when, at the instigation of the impresario Ernst Josef Aufricht, it was given at the Theater am Kurfürstendamm in a radically reduced and shortened version by a team of singer-actors associated with Die Dreigroschenoper (The Three-penny Opera), with Alexander von Zemlinsky as conductor.

The difficulty that any prospective producer faces, notwithstanding the work's intentionally "uncomfortable" aspects, stem in part from tensions in the Brecht-Weill partnership itself: "The very nature of the work compels us to continue searching for ideal solutions long after we have recognized there are none to be found." Thus David Drew, summarizing his fascination with a work which he sees in terms of "the collision of two congenial yet incompatible minds." For all its reliance on the "song" idiom, musically the work aspires to be much more than the mere sum of its parts. Weill described it as a "structure based on purely musical laws." Just how incompatible his views were with Brecht's can be measured from the collaborators' divergent attitudes towards the use of the projected inscriptions. Weill was concerned with "giving the links between the musical numbers a form that obstructs as little as possible the musical design of the whole."For Brecht, on the other hand, the inscriptions constituted an important means of defamiliarization," something central to his theory of epic theater. Just as the emergence of the opera out of the Songspiel reflects conflicts in the Weill-Brecht partnership, with Brecht's theorizing about the opera anticipating his later experiments in the genre of didactic theater, so the opera itself invites directors and conductors to take sides in those conflicts.

Adapted from articles on the Songspiel and the opera by Stephen Hinton in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, edited by Stanley Sadie.


By a miracle of scheduling and a lot of luck the entire CUBE ensemble will assemble in LeFrak Concert Hall at the Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College, 65-30 Kissena Blvd., Flushing, New York, on Monday, November 2, 1998, at 1 PM, to present a concert of works by Chicago composers (and "honorary"Chicago composer Bruce Saylor, former Lyric Opera Composer-in-Residence and Professor at the Aaron Copland School). Both of CUBE's artistic directors will be represented, as well as University of Chicago Professor John Eaton and Roosevelt University Professor Robert Lombardo.

The program will include Janice Misurell-Mitchell On Thin Ice for flute and marimba, Bruce Saylor Soggetti cavati II for flute and harpsichord, Robert Lombardo Dark Moon for solo alto flute, Patricia Morehead The Edible Flute for flute and piano, and John Eaton Golk Sonatina for oboe and piano.

CUBE Co-Artistic Director Janice Misurell-Mitchell has been in New York City this fall teaching a graduate course in Women's Studies at New York University, where her husband, University of Chicago Professor W.J.T. Mitchell, is in residence. Janice and CUBEpercussionist Dane Richeson will also present a performance/demonstration for the composers' workshop at Queens College.