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Kurt Weill: The Threepenny Opera

  • Play with music (1928)
  • based on the text of the Kurt Weill Edition
  • 0 0 0 0 - 0 1 1 0 - sop.sax(Bb), alto sax(Eb), bar.sax(Eb), t.sax(Bb), bjo, harm, timp
  • Duration: music: 55'
  • Instrumentation details:
    alto saxophone in Eb (+fl
    tenor saxophone in Bb (+cl(Bb)
    trumpet in C
    trombone (+cb)
    banjo (+band
    hawaii guit
    timpani (+perc)
    harmonium (+pno
  • Roles: Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum, head of a gang of beggars Mrs. Peachum Polly Peachum, their daughter Macheath, head of a gang of crooks Brown, Chief of London Police Lucy, his daughter Macheath's gang, street bandits: Walt Dreary, Crook Finger Jack, Matt of the Mint, Sawtooth Bob, Ed, Jimmy Filch, one of Peachum's beggars Jenny Diver, a whore Smith, a police constable Reverend Kimball Beggars, Whores (Dolly, Betty, Vixer, Molly, and others), Policemen
  • Composer: Kurt Weill
  • Librettist: Bertolt Brecht
  • Writer of pre-existing text: John Gay
  • Piano reduction: Kurt WeillNorbert Gingold
  • Editor: Edward HarshStephen Hinton
  • Text author: François VillonJoseph Rudyard Kipling
  • Translator: Elisabeth HauptmannMichael FeingoldKarl Anton Klammer
  • Table of contents:
    1. Ouvertüre
    Vorspiel: 2. Die Moritat von Mackie Messer
    1. Akt, 1. Bild: 3. Morgenchoral des Peachum
    4. Anstatt daß-Song
    2. Bild: 5a. Hochzeitslied (unbegleitet)
    5b. Hochzeitslied (unbegleitet)
    6. Seeräuberjenny
    A6. Seeräuberjenny (zusätzliche Strophe)
    7. Kanonensong
    5c. Hochzeitslied
    8. Liebeslied
    3. Bild: 9. Barbarasong
    10. Erstes Dreigroschenfinale 10. Erstes Dreigroschenfinale
    2. Akt, 4. Bild: 11. Melodram
    A11. Pollys Lied
    Ax1. Die Ballade von der sexuellen Hörigkeit
    5. Bild: 12. Zuhälterballade
    A12. Zuhälterballade (zusätzliche Strophe)
    6. Bild: 13. Ballade vom angenehmen Leben
    14. Eifersuchtsduett
    A14. Eifersuchtsduett (zusätzliche Strophe)
    15. Zweites Dreigroschenfinale
    3. Akt, 7. Bild: 16a. Lied von der Unzulänglichkeit menschlichen Strebens
    16b. Reminiszenz
    17. Salomonsong
    A17. Salomonsong (zusätzliche Strophe)
    8. Bild: 18a. Ruf aus der Gruft
    18b. Ruf aus der Gruft (zweite Strophe)
    19. Grabschrift
    19a. Gang zum Galgen
    20. Drittes Dreigroschenfinale
    Appendices: A2a. Moritat als Motiv
    A2b. Moritat als Walzer
    A7a. Kanonensong für Orchester
    A8a. Liebeslied für Orchester
    A12a. Zuhälterballade für Orchester
    Ax2. Arie der Lucy (gestrichen, nicht orchestriert)
  • Remarks: based on the text of the critically edited full score, Kurt Weill Edition, Ser. I, Vol. 5

Work introduction

The idea for the Dreigroschenoper [“Threepenny Opera”] came from Elisabeth Hauptmann, Bertolt Brecht’s widely-read employee, who had heard of the enormous success of the 1920 revival of John Gay’s old English Beggar’s Opera (music by John Christopher Pepusch) at London’s Lyric Theatre. She made a rough translation of Gay’s text for Brecht, and it became one of his many current projects.

Brecht was intrigued by the story, set in a milieu of beggars, whores and thieves; it seemed the perfect form in which to cast his criticism of the bourgeoisie. In adapting it, he transferred the action to the Victorian era of the 19th century and turned Gay’s “disguised critique of public disgrace” into a “public critique of disguised disgraces,” in Werner Hecht’s phrase. “It no longer aims at the cream of society; it strikes out at ‘normal bourgeois existence,’ as it were.”

Not a note had been written yet when Brecht was introduced to the idea; he made it a condition of accepting the commission from Josef Aufricht that Kurt Weill should compose the music. Time was scarce, so Brecht and Weill travelled with their wives in May 1928 to southern France, where they could work undisturbed.

The opera was finished in late July and rehearsals began early the next month for the premiere performance on 31 August at Berlin’s Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, where it was a colossal success. By contrast, the first American performance, on Broadway in 1933, was an outright failure, due to a poor translation and inadequate staging; it closed after 12 performances.

Lotte Lenya played Jenny in the 1956 revival, an adapted version by Marc Blitzstein at a Greenwich Village theatre, where it played for over 2000 performances. Today, the Dreigroschenoper is one of the most frequently produced musical dramas of the 20th century.

(Partially taken from Jürgen Schebera, Kurt Weill, Deutsche Verlag für Musik, Leipzig 1990, pp. 90 et seq.)


Sample pages

World première

Berlin (DE)
Theo Mackeben

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