The twenty-eight-year-old Brecht in Berlin, c. 1926. He always removed his glasses and often smoked a cigar when being photographed.
Weill always composed at his desk. A friend once remarked that Weill used his piano only as a place to put his pipes. Berlin, c. 1926.
Lotte Lenya and Kurt Weill on their wedding day, January 28, 1926. Kurt holds a package of celebratory herring under his arm.
In his search for an actress to fulfill his theatrical goals, Brecht declared, “Now, I need a face.” He found exactly what he wanted in the bold features of Helene Weigel.
Brecht and the twenty six-year-old Elisabeth Hauptmann in his Berlin studio on the Spichernstrasse in 1926. Hauptmann seemed permanently installed behind the black typewriter, prompting Lenya to dub her Brecht’s “devoted shadow.”
A 1926 painting of Brecht by Rudolf Schlichter, the leader of the November Group. This picture—a political and cultural badge of honor for the young poet and playwright—was hung on a wall of Schlichter’s restaurant.
The scandalous finale of the Mahagonny Songspiel, Brecht and Weill’s first collaboration, at the 1927 German Chamber Music Festival. Weill observes from the far left, while Lenya holds up a sign saying “for Weill” on the far right of the boxing ring. Next to her is Brecht, in a white suit at the rear, watching with one foot in the ring. Lenya’s sign was a direct answer to Brecht’s comment about future work together: “Weill has to get used to the fact that his name will notappear on the program.
Kurt Weill in Le Lavandou, where he and Brecht completed The Threepenny Opera in 1928. As Lenya wrote: “The two men wrote and rewrote furiously, night and day, with only hurried swims in between.”
A scene from the 1928 production of The Threepenny Opera. The signs in the background announce Peachums’s song, “The Insufficiency of the Human Endeavor.” The background titles and special lighting insured that the songs interrupted rather than continued the story being told.
Caspar Neher’s famous half curtain for the 1928 The Threepenny Opera (Die 3 Groschenoper). The spray-painted title was added just hours before the audience arrived.
Brecht’s signature leather jacket and cap and Weill’s dapper hat and tie illustrate their profoundly incompatible personalities.
By 1929 Brecht and Weill’s alliance had produced artistic and financial triumph, but they had curiously little affection for one another.
Elisabeth Hauptmann dressed up as the main character in her short story “Bessie Soundso” (“Bessie So and So”). The modest Hauptmann often hid behind a pen name, but occasionally she dared to bask in the spotlight.
Caspar Neher’s sketch of prostitutes for the 1930 premiere of Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. The scandalous brothel scene almost stopped the production. Weill and Brecht softened its crude sexuality with the love song “Cranes’ Duet.”
Lotte Lenya as Jenny in G. W. Pabst’s controversial film version of The Threepenny Opera. Script and musical changes compelled Brecht and Weill to sue the production company.
Lotte Lenya and Harald Paulsen (the original Macheath) in the 1931 Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. As Jim and Jenny, their romantic relationship cruelly depicted the uselessness of love in a society that cares only about money.
Helene Weigel in The Mother, 1932. Brecht rehearsed this Marxist play in the basement of the Berlin theater where Weill was staging the opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.
Erika Neher, wife of Caspar, with Kurt Weill. Their love affair began in 1932, when this photo was taken. Weill continued to write her passionate letters from France and the United States until the end of 1936.
Brecht in Paris, 1935; Kurt Weill in Paris, 1933. Although their partnership was over by the time both men fled Nazi Germany, exile forced them together one last time. Their brief collaboration on The Seven Deadly Sins in Paris prompted Weill to call Brecht “one of the most repulsive, unpleasant fellows running around on this earth.”
Tilly Losch and Lotte Lenya in The Seven Deadly Sins. Weill invited Lenya to be in the play in the hope of restarting her career in exile. He also wanted to distract her and her lover, Otto Pasetti, from the gambling casinos in the South of France, where they were losing a lot of money.
Helene Weigel’s Danish passport photo, 1939. Thanks to Weigel’s connections, Brecht and her children were able to able to live, work, and go to school in Denmark for six years. They fled in 1939, when the Nazis occupied the country.
Francesco von Mendelssohn, Eleanora von Mendelssohn, Kurt Weill, Lotte Lenya, and Meyer Weisgal on board the Majestic as they arrive in New York City in 1935. Weill’s friends were astonished when he and Lenya reunited in Paris and decided to begin a new life together in America. They remarried in New York in 1937.
Weill enjoyed creative and financial success on Broadway and adored America.