Found in Translation: Kurt Weill on Broadway and in Hollywood, 1935-1939 Public Deposited

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Last Modified
  • March 20, 2019
Creator
  • Graber, Naomi
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Music
Abstract
  • This dissertation reexamines composer Kurt Weill’s position as an “assimilated” émigré by investigating his musical plays and film scores of the late 1930s, his first years in the United States. Previously unconsidered archival evidence, including correspondence, scripts, screenplays, and music, reflect both Weill’s keen awareness of the Depression-era culture and his continued commitment to innovation on the musical stage. He worked within experimental and political circles like the Group Theatre and the Federal Theatre Project to comment on pressing issues of the Depression, including pacifism (Johnny Johnson, 1936) and homelessness (the unfinished One Man from Tennessee, 1937). In Hollywood, Weill worked with fellow émigrés Fritz Lang and William Dieterle on films by two of the most prominent Left-wing directors, the anti-Fascist epic The River is Blue (released as Blockade 1938, although Weill’s score was not used) and the “social problem” film You and Me, 1938. Weill also composed scores for the more commercial Playwrights’ Producing Company. His best-known show from this period, Knickerbocker Holiday (1938), is often seen as simply a satire on President Roosevelt’s New Deal, but it also depicts European immigrants throwing off an Old World tyrant and embracing democracy at a time when suspicion of German émigrés prevented many of Weill’s European associates from securing visas to escape Nazi Germany. Weill also tried to comment on contemporary race relations in the unfinished Ulysses Africanus (1939). This show is filled with hidden analogies to Weill’s own experiences as a German-Jewish exile, and represents an attempt, albeit a clumsy and patronizing one, to reach across the U.S. color line. All of these works show that Weill did not simply “go commercial” upon arrival in the United States, as much current scholarship suggests, but, rather, carefully constructed an identity as a politically forward-thinking cultural figure. Weill’s experiences also reveal that, rather than the 1930s being a backward interregnum between early modernism of the early twentieth century and the high modernism of the 1950s, this was a decade of artistic and cultural innovation.
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  • In Copyright
Advisor
  • Carter, Tim
Degree
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Graduation year
  • 2013
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