Speak Low (When You Speak Love): The Letters of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya

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9780520078536: Speak Low (When You Speak Love): The Letters of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya
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They were an unlikely couple. Kurt Weill was a German cantor's son, cerebral, well-educated. Lotte Lenya was two years older, an Austrian Catholic coachman's daughter, waif-like, less than beautiful but always appealing to men. She survived the abuse of an alcoholic father, escaping to Zurich and finally Berlin, working as a would-be dancer turned actress. When they met, she was a domestic worker in the home of the playwright he had come to recruit as a librettist. Much to his family's dismay, they married in 1926.

Fiercely independent and yet codependent, Weill and Lenya spent twenty-five years discovering a way to live together after realizing that they couldn't live apart. Weill gave music to her voice, Lenya gave voice to his music. Their correspondence—first in German and later, after their move to America, in highly flavored English—is uninhibited, intimate, and irreverent. It offers a backstage view of German music and theater, the American musical theater in the late thirties and forties, and Hollywood. The letters are candid, vivid commentaries on world events, the creative process, and the experience of exile.

Never before published, this collection reflects the vibrancy of Weimar culture in the Golden Twenties and the vitality that èmigrès brought to American culture. Lenya's unfinished autobiographical account of her life before Weill is also included, along with a prologue, epilogue, and connective commentary. Immensely touching as well as informative, Weill and Lenya's letters preserve a portrait of a memorable love that somehow survived its turbulent surroundings.

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Review:

Different workplaces often kept Austrian singer Lotte Lenya and her husband, composer and conductor Kurt Weill apart, but the two shortened the distance through lively, often humorous correspondence. An unlikely couple, Weill came from an upper-class family and long line of German rabbis, while Lenya was the daughter of a washerwoman and an abusive cabby father. He studied with such masters as Ferruccio Busoni and Arnold Schoenberg; she worked as a child prostitute, dancer; and then singer, without any formal training. Despite their differences and numerous affairs they had profound affection and devotion for one another as this collection of letters, with annotations, explanations, and references by the editors, attests.

From the Inside Flap:

"I couldn't stop reading. Even though I knew Weill and Lenya for fifteen years, their private side, as unveiled in these letters, is a revelation. . . . This is an exhilarating correspondence, which is also a panorama of the golden years of theater and music in the twentieth century."—Burgess Meredith

"A lovingly assembled, translated, and annotated collection of intimate letters, full of sometimes dishy gossip, from two of the most fascinating personalities of the twentieth century. A record of momentous events refracted through a love as complex as it was intense."—John Rockwell

"One day near the end [Lenya] looked at me with those searing eyes and confessed, 'I've always envied you because you were able to sing Lulu.' I countered, 'But Lenya, you are Lulu.' And now that her revealing autobiographical fragment and these gripping letters are published, her portrait emerges in colors as vivid as Lulu's. Lenya and Weill remain unique and essential for the art of our time."—Teresa Stratas

"Fascinating. . . . The collection is lavishly and definitively informative about the highest show-biz milieu of the period. These letters are intimate without sentimentality, intelligent without literary pose, gossipy without slander, informedly opinionated without deviousness, and business-like without toughness. I'm deeply admiring of the skillfully caring annotational glue provided by the editors."—Ned Rorem, composer

"An impressive and enormously engrossing read about two of this century's greatest artists. If you love the theater, you will love knowing more about Kurt Weill and his enchanting Lenya. I certainly did."—Fred Ebb, lyricist of Cabaret, Kiss of the Spider Woman

"Because Weill and Lenya were ardent and explicit letter writers and seemingly met everyone working in music and theater, there are fascinating insights into the lives of the masters of the first half of this century. Vividly and entertainingly organized by Kowalke and Symonette, Speak Low is invigorating! It was impossible to put down."—Harold Prince (theater director/producer)

"Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya were an indispensable theatrical couple and this exchange of letters is an indispensable record of their relationship. It is also a record of great musical achievement both in Europe and the United States."—Robert Brustein (theater critic and stage director, head of American Repertory Theater in Boston, formerly head of Yale Repertory Theater)

"Behind the legends of a legendary relationship, this invaluable compendium of the extant correspondence reveals layer upon layer of fascinating reality. Readers of every kind will be grateful to the editors for their inspired research and brilliant detective work."—David Drew (Weill scholar, editor, critic, music publishing executive)

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9780520212404: Speak Low (When You Speak Love): The Letters of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya

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ISBN 10:  0520212401 ISBN 13:  9780520212404
Publisher: University of California Press, 1997
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