The Paradox Man

More than half a century after his death, composer Kurt Weill still provokes strong reactions

On that Broadway, Brecht was a faintly clownish curiosity, and Richard Rodgers a king. Weill, sanely, preferred to become a sort of eccentric duke in Rodgers's kingdom, rather than compose for a theater that didn't exist. Yet he pushed the edges of the one that did exist as far as they could reasonably go at that time. Virgil Thomson was right (no surprise) when, in his obituary, he defined Weill's importance by calling him "a musical architect" and describing his works as "a repertory of models" for future composers to build on. Even on Broadway, the musical theater we have now would be more recognizable to Weill than to Rodgers, and probably owes a great deal more to those bothersome Kurt Weill works that not everybody likes than to the endearing Richard Rodgers musicals that everyone loves and knows by heart.

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