Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera: A Rough Guide For The M.D.

May 19, 2015

A Few Words About the Piece:

The Threepenny Opera is part of the Canon of Musical Theatre; it is the most important work of both Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, and it deeply influenced later important works. If you decide to mount a production, you’ll need to choose a version to do. For our production we chose what has long been the standard English Language translation, which was written by the American composer Marc Blitzstein. There is another version licensed by Samuel French which was translated by Desmond Vesey and Eric Bentley. The Blitzstein lyrics did more for me than the Bentley, and I wouldn’t mind never doing anything licensed by Samuel French again. The SF website doesn’t list any instrumentation and recommends you purchase the UE vocal score and hand write in the translation. User friendly? Not really.

Before You Start:

I wound up buying a lot of research material for this show. Some of it proved useless, and some of it was an absolute lifesaver. I’ll try and save you some time and money by narrowing down what’s critical to have and what isn’t:

You really should get the following:

The Off-Broadway cast recording, which roughly corresponds to the R&H Library materials.

This CD of historical rarities, some of which amount to an ‘original cast recording’ (with one actor switched out) If you find yourself trying to figure out how the original German orchestra managed to get through the parts, this is how. There are two versions of the original German edition of 3Penny available in various places. Both are published by Universal Edition. For your purposes, either will do, there is no benefit in getting both. (as I did) The newer edition is slightly more accurate, but I found them to be roughly the same in terms of efficacy if you’re using it as reference for the English version.

I splurged and bought the full score, also published by Universal Edition. The Amazon reviewer is right, the parts are miniscule. But it’s really well edited, and it cleared up dozens of questions I had, especially as regards the orchestration. More on that later.

You should probably get the following too,if you’re the type that likes to do your homework: When the Off Broadway production got everybody interested in the piece again, a handsome studio recording in German was released with Lenya.

The Cambridge Opera Handbook for the show is really interesting. It’s full of essays on all aspects of the piece, written by really thoughtful and well informed scholars. I will refer back to it often here.

I found the Eric Bentley translation interesting for reference and comparison with the Blitzstein, but my German is decent enough to roughly translate things myself from the script included in the full score. Still, the Bentley is cheap and small enough to fit in your bag. It also has an entertaining foreword by Lenya and a guide to performance at the end by Brecht, which must be taken with a big grain of salt. I think the piece is effective if you don’t have a live horse at the end. Brecht disagrees. Without getting into Brecht too terribly deeply, I think his work is best performed without paying too much heed to his performance advice.

The Days Grow Short: The Life and Music of Kurt Weill by Ronald Sanders is a good bio of Weill. (it’s also super cheap on Amazon, I think Libraries bought too many copies at some point) I also read two others: Kurt Weill On Stage: From Berlin To Broadway and Love Song: The lives of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya by Ethan Mordden. The Sanders is very thorough. The Hirsch is more readable, and less rigorous. The Mordden is very readable, like all his books, but the interesting facts and conjectures are not really sourced. The run down of books in the appendix and the discography of Weill’s music is excellent.

I didn’t get this other reference book, but it looks fantastic, and Hinton’s Cambridge handbook is excellent, so I bet it’s worth looking at. With all these bios, you needn’t read past the chapters concluding Weill’s brief partnership with Brecht, although his American career is awfully interesting. I think there is a danger in reading Threepenny through the context of the later work of both of these writers. Brecht was studying Marx, but had not fully developed the philosophy and theories about Theatre we have come to know him for, and Weill’s style changed drastically in the U.S. Better to try and see Threepenny in its German surroundings. More on that later.

Nerd points for owning:

The DVD of the original German and French films. Totally interesting stuff, but maybe more for the director than for you. I will say that the DVD extras include interviews with experts and are a great introduction to the history of the piece. The film version has some of the original cast and the original orchestra, but many songs are removed, some are re-assigned, and the plot is altered drastically. Some of these changes are fabulous, like Polly taking over a bank, and we actually see all the beggars, who become an unstoppable army. The film-making is excellent. But I’m not sure how much it helps you as you’re preparing. I found it better to watch at the end, after I knew the show really well.

The 1994 Donmar Warehouse Cast Recording. To me, this alternate translation is kind of interesting, but I think the tone of the whole production is wrong. More on tone in a moment. Super Nerd Points for owning or at least listening to the original John Gay Beggar’s Opera, upon which Threepenny is based. I rather enjoyed this one, with Bob Hoskins in it

Reading The Threepenny Opera through the lens of other works

There is a great essay by Stephen Hinton in his Cambridge Handbook called Misunderstanding ‘The Threepenny Opera’. The misunderstanding in question has to do with whether the first audience, who really enjoyed the work can really have understood what it was about. He follows that train of thought through period journalism expertly. I have a different kind of misunderstanding to briefly explore here: the projection of works influenced by Threepenny and the other Weill/Brecht collaborations backward into the original material.

I think when someone who casually knows Threepenny thinks of the show, they perhaps know the dry delivery of Weill’s songs by Lenya, Teresa Stratas or Ute Lemper. The accompaniment figures in Weill’s Weimar period were used incredibly effectively by Kander and Ebb in Cabaret in 1966, with Lenya herself in the cast. They were instantly recognizable as Weill pastiche to contemporary audiences. Lehman Engel bemoaned that fact, and wrote, “It’s time that John Kander begin to find John Kander.” The Weill sound is evoked so effectively in Cabaret, that when Americans think of the Weimar republic, they think only of Weill’s music, which was in reality something of an oddity historically. American audiences also think of this Harmonium/dry winds orchestral sound when they think of Victorian England due to Threepenny’s setting. Hence Sweeney Todd‘s use of many of those ideas and colors to evoke a grinding class struggle in England, even though strictly speaking, the music isn’t related to the period.

I bring this up because productions of the Threepenny Opera are often freighted with the darkness of Sweeney Todd and the sexual excess of Cabaret, in which MacHeath becomes a proxy for the Emcee, Polly becomes Joanna, the Whores in Act 2, scene 2 become the Kit Kat girls, Jenny becomes Sally Bowles, and Mr. and Mrs. Peachum become Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider, or Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney, or even the Thenardiers. (whose Master of the House number sounds oddly Weillesque) The reality of the show as it’s written is that it’s really very funny, and even the darkness is comic. Using this other iconography also blunts one of the central ideas of the play, which is that criminals, the police, the sex industry, and beggars are all functioning corruptly and in their own self interest like corporations and governments. The play isn’t about the rise of Nazism or the danger of vengeance, like all those other pieces are. It’s probably impossible to truly separate those later ideas from audience perceptions of Threepenny Opera, but I think the creative team is better served trying to figure out what is there in the text itself.

As You’re Casting:

Street Singer

Needs to be charismatic enough to open the show, but the number isn’t terribly vocally demanding. The part could also be divided up among two or more actors if you so desired.


Peachum is a Baritone, with some optional higher notes taking him up to the F. Should be a gifted comic actor with a good sense of timing.

Mrs. Peachum

Can be sung by a soprano, or by a female tenor. Some of the numbers give you options. Doesn’t have to be an incredible singer, but needs a pretty good ear to negotiate Weill’s flexible key areas.


A very funny role for a gifted comedian, who doesn’t necessarily have to sing.

Matt, Jake, Walt, Bob

They need to be able to match pitch, but don’t need to sing all that well. Let the director make the choice after you’ve weeded out the ones who can’t sing.


A delightful role for an ingenue soprano, but does need a little fire to deliver some of the speeches.


Suave, sexy, sophisticated. Tenor, really, although he could be sung by a high baritone. Macheath is the main character of the piece, and his charisma is essential to making the piece work.

Tiger Brown

Bass Baritone, (needs the G# below middle C, and the line is somewhat hard to hear)


The Tango Ballad is not too high or challenging musically. A dance might be nice, certainly someone who can evoke a sexual history with Macheath.


She isn’t in the piece all that much, but she makes a big impression anyway. You could cast it with a soprano, as it originally was cast, or you could cast a female baritone, like Bea Arthur, who was cast in the 1954 production. The difference for you is what key her numbers are in. I’ll get to that as we hit each number in question.

Theives, Beggars, Prostitutes, etc.

This group needs to be able to match pitch for when they appear briefly in the two finales, but otherwise don’t concern the music director much. It’s not a singing chorus show.

A Word About the Materials:

R&H Theatricals licenses the Blitzstein version. The materials are a mixed bag. The piano vocal score is mostly good, although in many places, you’ll want to switch to the Universal edition as quickly as possible, because it’s much easier to read. (All the parts and scores are hand written) The vocal score also lists as repeats some passages that are actually different the second time through with no explanation and contains a number of errors. More on that as we go into individual numbers. I have two real quibbles with these parts and scores, though, and you’ll have to manage them yourself as you MD the show:

Firstly,  this show was originally conducted from the piano in 1928. It is the sort of show one should be able to conduct from the keyboard. The Piano-Conductor score says it’s been fully cued for use with orchestra, but it dosn’t include many of the things Weill wants the pianist to play, and it doesn’t properly cue out everything so that the pianist knows when to stop playing and conduct. The pit pianist part is pretty well laid out and copied, but it has huge swaths of rest and no cueing for other instruments or vocals, so you can’t conduct from it. I’m afraid the only thing to be done is to copy and cut together your own book, unless you want to ignore Weill’s intentions for the piano book. I think that would be a poor choice, because Weill is one of our great writer/orchestrators and this is literature.

Secondly, I disagree with what I presume are Blitzstein’s choices in reducing Weill’s orchestra for the 1954 Off-Broadway production here provided. It was by no means an easy job to reduce Weill’s original parts, 25 instruments being played by 7 people with very odd doublings to something playable by a standard pit orchestra. Interestingly, the original cast recording of Blitzstein’s version reveals woodwind doublings closer to the original than in the parts you’ll get in the mail. The real crux of the problem comes with player 6, who originally doubled Timpani, Percussion, and 2nd Trumpet. (crazy, right?) It’s possible Blitzstein was hampered by union rules, but his choice to break that book into 2nd trumpet (in the same book as 1st trumpet) and another book for the drummer makes for a 2nd trumpet player that doesn’t play very often at all. There are a handful of places where the 2nd trumpet is important, and I’ll let you know where they are. The instrument that we could really use instead of a second trumpet throughout the show is the double bass, which in the original orchestration was in the trombone book. We do need that trombone, it’s critical. But there are a great number of places where the trombone playing the low notes is not the same as the bass doubling Weill offers as an alternative, and this reduced orchestration sorely lacks a low end. There was a cello in the guitar book that’s gone, there was a bari sax in reed 1 that’s also been removed. You’re stuck with the books as they are, but it’s important going in that you know this feature of the orchestration, because as you play from the piano vocal book, you’ll likely double octaves in the left hand to provide a full bass sound, and your cast will get used to the big, rich sound the piano provides. When your band comes in, everything will kick up a notch, except the low end, which will be provided only by occasional timpani, tenor sax and your left hand, which you may be surprised to discover is not even playing sometimes in passages where you had been providing a very loud bass in rehearsal.

You will find that Weill doesn’t care for key signatures. This is mostly a blessing, because he changes key a lot. There are a couple of places where it’s confusing. I’ll let you know where when we get to them.

You will also find that Weill rather consistently leaves numbers open-ended with no button to indicate to the audience they’re supposed to applaud. In rehearsal, everyone will get used to this, but there will be odd moments in the show itself where nobody knows when the number is over. I think this is intentional. Don’t button up every number, let the audience squirm.

Trouble Spots and Advice:

1. Overture

The overture is a great little piece of Modernism, and it’s also one of the few places where the baroque origins of The Beggar’s Opera are referenced. Stravinsky’s L’Histoire Du Soldat hangs in the air here, although Weill quickly finds a musical language that is more infused with popular song. Compare the strident chords and passagework here if you’re not already familiar with Stravinsky’s 1918 masterpiece. Weill acknowledged that debt when he said, “What Stravinsky atempts in his Soldier’s Tale can count as the mixed genre most assured of a future… perhaps it can form the basis of a certain type of new opera.” If you bought the Universal Edition piano score, you’ll want to copy the overture and use the engraved version instead. It’s much easier to read. The first 12 measures are a place where trumpet 2 is necessary. Afterward, apparently the original player played timpani. Here, trumpet 2 doubles 1 in places, but does not have his own part from 13 on. I found balancing the parts in the middle double fugato section tricky because of the instrumentation. If you’re using a harmonium sound, be sure you’re using a reedy kind of organ patch; an electric sound would be really wrong here. But the section beginning at 34, for example, is tricky to balance the harmonium against the Tenor Sax. It’s a problem if you stage the overture, as we did, because when you’re accompanying, naturally a passage like measure 41 you’ll be punching the topmost voice, and the cast will expect to hear that really cutting through. But the piano reduction has ironed over some of the texture there. That countermelody sits lower in measure 42, and the melody isn’t reinforced in octaves the way it looks. The clarinet is up there all alone, and the tenor sax, harmonium and trombone are not providing the effect the reduction seems to indicate. In measure 49, that descending line of octaves looks really impressive leading its way back to the recapitulation of the first theme, but when it’s happening on a harmonium in one octave only and the trombone, it isn’t as impressive an effect. Weill uses accent and staccato articulations almost exclusively throughout the show. In your first rehearsal with the band, indicate that one of the keys to the style of the piece is a very clipped staccato and a strong emphasis wherever they appear. From the very beginning, the instrumentation of the piece doesn’t overwhelm you with effects. The point is clarity, not necessarily volume.

2. Ballad of Mack The Knife

I understand this was the last piece Weill wrote for the show, and of course it has become the most iconic music of the entire show. Consequently, we have to knock a lot of dust off our preconceptions to keep the number in the style of the show and the period. We have to clear our heads of all Sinatra, Darin, and McDonalds commercial covers and try to experience the piece as an artifact of Weimar Germany. It is very difficult to get a handle on 20s German Jazz. It was suppressed and destroyed by the Nazis, who considered it degenerate, and what we do have is as varied as you might expect from a cosmopolitan international culture. After playing this score for a while, I’ve come to think that what Weill appreciated about Jazz at this point was the raggedness of it, which he saw through the prism of his musical modernism. His musical vocabulary doesn’t organically spin ideas out over the course of a chorus in the fluid way that Armstrong or Bechet would have done things about this time. His musical ideas are laid out more like a parquet floor, referring to themselves in patterns. The other aspect of Weill’s interaction with Jazz is really key here: this show doesn’t ‘swing’. The subsequent hit versions of Mack The Knife are really swingin’ big band tunes. Weill is not swinging the eighths. You will have to fight the urge to lilt these eighths. Later in his career, after he comes to America, Weill will prove he can write in the other manner as well as anyone else. But here, his musical gestures feel like a fractured version of march music mingled with deliberately ‘common’ musical material. Your banjo player will want to swing, but you’ll need to insist on the straight eighths. Later in the show, Weill will be very creative in his modulations, and is pretty fluid in his conception of key area. Here he doggedly stays in C. The only funny business we see is the bassline, which seems on its own track. the 3rd and 4th full measures are still toggling between the tonic and dominant notes, as though we’re still on a I chord, while the chords above seem to be indicating a ii7 tonality. (this bassline on its own track effect is a modernist trademark, used by Stravinsky extensively in L’Histoire, later appropriated by Copland and Bernstein) The following two measures the V9 chord is more conventionally grounded, but the return of the melody to A at every major cadence leaves the musical rhetoric off kilter. The cascading chords in verse 7 are mock-chromatic for 8 measures, then trace out open 5ths, 4ths, and Octaves for the next 8, in a kind of goofy exoticism we’ll encounter later in the Army Song. For a very thorough examination of motives in 3penny, see David Drew’s essay Motifs, Tags and Related Matters in the Cambridge Handbook. I’m afraid the stride piano in the 3rd, 5th, and 6th verses took quite a bit of practice. Stride is always easier in a key with black notes. These are all white, so you don’t have much help orienting things, and the right hand has some awkward jumps that are trickier yet when you have to think simultaneously about leaps in the left. In measure 51, you may find yourself in rehearsal longing for an orchestra to reinforce the bassline or the chords so you can relax, but you’re on your own, pal. The banjo is tacet, there is no bass, and the rest of the winds are playing the countermelody. It may interest you to know that the first 2 verses were originally played on a barrel organ that was cranking a roll, kind of like a player piano. If you watch the film version, you can see what I’m pretty sure is the actual Organ (and the roll inside it) that was used in the original production. And when you get to the end of the song, which in the film is only accompanied by that hand-cranked organ, you can hear some of those musical ideas from the orchestra included in the organ part. It’s really cranked quickly too. So in that sense, it’s like the 1920s equivalent of a pre-recorded click track in a pit orchestra today. Kinda neat. You should pick out a specific place for the vocal cutoff at the end. The number ends rather unceremoniously. Get used to that. Think of it as Brechtian alienation. Or perhaps a metaphor.

3. Intro To Act I Scene 1

Not in the original score. See notes for morning anthem.

4. Morning Anthem

As I understand it, this is the only number Weill borrows from the original John Gay Beggar’s Opera. Here’s a link to it in its original form. Weill has given it a more austere, less lilting treatment here, and we had a good time doing the first part in a dour manner, then picking up the pace at “Sell him out, your own brother, you lout!

5. Instead of Song

David Drew’s fine essay in the Cambridge Handbook on motives in Threepenny Opera is well worth looking over, but I want to call attention to one further motive he doesn’t mention, a falling minor third. It first occurs here in the Instead of Song, as a delightful, bell-like afterthought in the piano and the Glockenspiel: threepenny motive example 1 The next time we encounter it in Polly’s Melodrama and Song, where it forms the basis of the accompaniment, again in a sparkling timbre, this time played by the celesta:threepenny motive example 2 Finally we hear it in The Ballad of the Easy Life, first as another slyly echoing motive, then expanded into a very Jazzy 20s piano lick. threepenny motive example 3 threepenny motive example 4 There are only 2 verses in Blitzstein’s “Ballad Of The Easy Life“, and the extension I’ve noted above doesn’t appear in this version, but the falling third figure does feature in the winds rather delightfully in the second verse. (which was Weill’s third)

Observe the tenuto in the trombone part, staccato in the trumpet. Be sure to observe the tempo change at the poco meno mosso. There is a mistake in the Piano Vocal in measure 19. That right hand figure belongs on the downbeat as in measure 42. This is also one of those places where orchestration details have you scratching your head. In measures 14 and 17, you’re scrambling to get your left hand back down to play the low notes, but on beat 2 of measure 19, the orchestration has a dead rest with nobody on the bass notes you see in the piano score.  At 24, the original trombone player switched to bass and the guitar player switched to cello. But since we don’t have those instruments, you’re forced to play them on the Harmonium (as per the full score) It’s marked as a piano part in the parts that come from R&H, but either way, it’s not a great sound for that passage. The piano vocal indicates the same melody in 34-35, with the piano playing along. The old UE engraved score does the same. But the full score has an alternate melody for Peachum there, and that melody is cued into the piano in the orchestra parts you’re renting. (the old melody is still being played simultaneously by the sax) The whole thing is very perplexing, and neither the piano nor the harmonium are nearly as effective as the winds were in the first verse. The ending is perfect, but by no means decisive. Your audience won’t know it’s over.

6. Interlude Music

The full score has this tune written and fully orchestrated as a little waltz. I wonder why it was never used in this version. This one is included in an appendix in the full score as well.

7. Interlude Continued

More re-appropriated Moritat. Again, the original materials had some incidental music, but it appears we’re not sure where they go. All these interludes and overtures to acts 2 and 3, bows, and so forth are choices made for the Blitzstein production. I don’t know why, but this piano part gave me trouble. Maybe it’s in full measure 3, where the right hand octave drops down a minor 7th and the left down 2 octaves and a 6th in the space of an eighth note? No help from the rest of the band here, by the way.

8. Wedding Song

Not much going on here. You might want to begin by teaching the reprise (#11) first here. The accompaniment does help ground things.

9. Pirate Jenny

This is one of the most iconic numbers in the piece, and occasionally it’s reassigned to a different character. It’s Polly’s song in the original, and you can hear a very scratchy 1929 Carola Neher recording on that CD of rarities. You can also hear Lenya’s take in a 1930 recording, in a much higher voice than we’re used to hearing from her in later years. It’s really a great performance. She records it in English in the 1954 cast album (although the materials MTI sends out has it assigned to Polly, not Jenny), and she records it again in German in 1958. Each of these recordings is very different. Lenya is the best; you can learn a lot just by listening and comparing her various versions. The metronome marking Weill gives is very brisk, but there is a freedom in nearly every recorded version that isn’t indicated in the score. If you tried to keep it at 92 to the quarter, it would be a mess to get through. Here is one place also where Blitzstein soft-pedals Brecht’s stronger lyric choice, and I’m not sure why.

The original German reads:

Und es werden kommen hundert gen Mittag an Land
Und werden in den Schatten treten,
Und fangen einen jeglichen aus jeglicher Tür
Und legen in Ketten und bringen for mir
Und fragen, “Welchen sollen wir töten?”
Und an diesem Mittag wird es still sein am Hafen,
und man fragt, wer wohl sterben muß
Und dann weden Sie mich sagen Hören:
Und wenn dann der Kopf fällt, sag ich:

Which I translate roughly:

And hundreds will come on land around noon,
And they’ll walk in the shadows,
And they’ll seize everyone from every door,
And put them in chains and bring them to me,
And ask, “Which ones should die?”
And at noon today, when it’s still in the harbor,
And they ask, who has to die,
Then you will hear me say,
“All of them.”
And when the heads fall, I’ll say,

Bliztstein changes the order of things but keeps almost all the details rather ingeneously:

By noontime the dock is all swarmin’ with men
Comin’ off that ghostly freighter.
They’re movin’ in the shadows where no one can see
And they’re chainin’ up people and bringin’ them to me,
Askin’ me, “Kill ’em now or later?”
Noon by the clock and so still on the dock,
You can hear a fog horn miles away,
In that quiet of death, I’ll say, “Right now!”
And they pile up the bodies, and I’ll say:
“That’ll learn you!”

But notice how to rhyme freighter, he needed to use ‘later’, which changes the question and takes the culpability for murder away from the singer. “Kill ’em all!” is way stronger than, “Kill them now!”

“That’ll learn you!” sounds like it’s right out of Oklahoma! to me.

The image of death among men in the dark down by the harbor is somewhat chilling when you realize Blitzstein would one day die at the hands of 3 sailors, one of whom he had propositioned at a bar in Martinique.

As an example of why I didn’t choose Bentley’s translation, this is his. It lacks verve here as elsewhere:

And a hundred men will come ashore before it’s noon
And will go where it’s dark and chill.
And every man they find they will drag along the street
And they’ll clap him in chains and lay him at my feet,
And they’ll ask: “Now, which of these are we to kill?”
And when the clock strikes noon, it will be still down by the harbor.
When folk ask: now just who has got to die?
You will hear me say at that point:
All of them!
And when their heads fall, I’ll say,

The word ‘Folk’ doesn’t do it for me, and makes it sound like the people who collected these unfortunates aren’t the people asking the question. Whoopee! is no better than “that’ll learn you!” Eric Bentley knew Brecht personally, and he’s one of our great minds. I just don’t care for the translation. If your German is any good at all, it’s fun to look at the lyric choices throughout the show. Blitzstein is often really wonderful, but occasionally leaves you scratching your head. Weill, for his part, was evidently happy with this translation, because it was on the basis of this lyric, sung to he and Lenya over the phone by Blitzstein in 1950, that Weill gave his blessing to Blitzstein to translate the whole thing.

The orchestration is a model of economy. One place where the new lyric rhythm requires a musical shift is in measure 49, near the end of the piece, in third verse I just referenced. In the original, that pianissimo Gbm7 chord and cymbal comes after “Hoppla!”, but because Blitzstein has added more syllables for “That’ll learn you!”, the chord is notated to come on the word “learn”. Properly, it goes after the phrase is over, as Lenya does it in the cast recording.

10. Army Song

Fun number. The “See the world we never saw” line harmony part is hard to hear and goes down really low. Budget some time to go over that. There are a bunch of songs in this show that have three pickup notes in the clear. It’s kind of a feature of the show. Here it’s: “Lets all go…” in measure 87. I will follow this pickup phrase idea throughout the show.

This is one song where I moved as quickly as possible to the UE engraved edition, because it’s much easier to read. I think the dotted eighth-sixteenth rhythms need to be very pronounced, and the articulation very much clipped and accented. Measure 44 is another of the spots where the second trumpet makes a difference. That fanfare is delicious. After measure 52, though, trumpet 2 originally switched to drums. Because this song is about the military, that need for both drums and trumpets makes the original distribution of parts particularly inadequate, and your drummer will find himself wondering why he isn’t playing in certain places. There is an impossible Banjo to Hawaiian Guitar to Banjo switch in this number your player will need to find his way around. In a couple of places here, Weill uses a curious effect he’ll come back to several other times: the snare rolls through a few measures to punch up a cadence. It’s more idiomatic to a march here; in the tango later, I think he’s onto something new. I didn’t really slow down the tempo at 77. In the section beginning in measure 92, the reduction doesn’t quite do justice to the piano part; the rising and falling figure in the piano really makes the whole section feel like it’s going off the rails, especially at 95, where the harmony gets more and more bizarre. The little splash cymbal at the end is pretty hilarious, one of many anticlimactic endings. Do listen to the 1930 recording, you’ll be delighted to hear how free the original music director is with his part, even adding a glissando.

11. Wedding Song Reprise

Don’t neglect the very softly and sweetly marking, and observe the accents and staccati that are by now a familiar feature of the score. 2nd trumpet does help here.

12. Love Song

There are actually a LOT of issues for the Music Director in this one. The lines are supposed to be spoken over the instruments playing the melody in the same rhythm. In order for these lines not to be really oddly slow, you have to take it at a bit of a clip. Nobody takes it at 60 to a quarter as written. It’s also kind of free. So you need to conduct. Unfortunately, you can’t conduct with your hands, they’re both tremoloing. So you do it with your head bobbing up and down. But I found that when I did that vigorously enough to indicate tempo well, it made the players play too loud. After all, they’re only underscore. I would put aside time in the sitzprobe here to really make this thing gel. You can tremolo the first 2 measures with your left while conducting with your right and switch to head nods in measure 3, where both hands are essential. In measure 41 in the piano vocal, we really ought to get a courtesy D natural. You’re in E flat minor, but Weill isn’t using a key signature. So intuitively, we’re expecting to see a the natural sign on the D in measures 36 and 41, because when you see B,E,A, and G flats, D flats are mostly the rule. Keep an eye out there; mark up your score.

13. Intro Act 1 Scene 3

Another interpolation for this version; not in original.

14. Ballad of Dependency

This number was cut from the original version, I believe on content grounds. Trude Hesterburg sings it in the Tenor range in the 1958 German Version. Helga Dernesch sings it rather operatically in Mauceri’s 1988 version. For German versions, I like Lemper’s version on the first volume of her Weill albums. This is yet another case where Blitzstein’s translation soft-pedals and tones down the original. If you weren’t paying pretty close attention, you might not know the song was about Sexual Dependency. The instrumentation is oddly open-ended. An actor and I took turns playing the right hand on the accordion, which was fun. in the original score, it’s cued for Bandoneon and Guitar. (but it doesn’t appear in the rental part for guitar) The bass line appears to be optional. In the UE full score, the bass line is cued in ad lib to the tenor sax and trombone, but it isn’t in either rental part. Blitzstein has taken the Harmonium part at 11 and 24 and cued it into the winds. It’s odd, really. I suppose it’s possible that Blitzstein didn’t have access to the full score for this particular piece, but here’s a place where Weill’s orchestrational intentions weren’t really honored.

Set aside some serious time to learn this melody. It wanders freely from key area to key area with some rather ingenious voice leading, but the singer needs to know the ropes well to keep up, or those arpeggiated melodies will be badly out of tune.Take the number slowly, so that the words can come across. One further moment I’m sure you’ll notice immediately is that the melody in measure 8 is off by one beat from the left hand accompaniment, which has otherwise been identical. That’s worth pointing out to the singer, and perhaps whomever you have playing the melody in the orchestra.

15. First Threepenny Finale

This is the least effective of the three finales, but it’s not bad. First off, an orchestration issue. That line in the piano vocal in your left hand does not sound like that. It is a trombone, yes, but it’s up the octave, which is a TOTALLY different sound. I wound up doubling it in the piano. That’s one of those places where Weill’s original orchestration had the option of the trombonist switching to bass, although one source I read indicated that the doubling isn’t indicated in the original part. If you intend to play it the way Weill intended, throw that left hand up the octave for that whole section. All the parts should be crisp and clear. 2nd trumpet is a big help here. There are lower options for Mrs. Peachum in 33-38, and higher options for Mr. Peachum in 28-29 and 57-58. I’d use them in the later case, and not the former. Be aware that the accompaniment matches the lower version. Measure 58 has another trademark 3 note pickup in the clear, “Won’t have it…” Set aside some time with your orchestra to work out the ritardando in 96. That’s a little hard to cue with your head. The voice leading and harmonic progressions in this piece are really cool, especially at 83 and similar places. The telescoping chromatic lines make a lot of sense, but leave us really at sea tonally. At the end, having cadenced in F#m, Weill abruptly moves up to G minor, perhaps to bring the tonality full circle with Peachum’s Morning Anthem, which was the original opening to Act I before they wrote the Moritat.

16. Overture to Act 2

There is no Overture to Act 2 in the original score. This bit of the Army Song was added in the 1954 production.

17. Melodrama & Polly’s Song

Polly’s song was cut from the original German production, and reinstated for the 1954 production. The Urtext suggests that originally the Melodrama came second, but that’s a little unclear.The piano reduction really doesn’t do justice to the lovely, delicate orchestration, which works in spite of some odd changes. The melody in the bells and alto is lovely! This orchestration has transposed the number down, moved the Soprano Sax line to the clarinet, and that Alto Sax was originally a flute line. A pizzicato Bass, which would be just right here, has been moved to the Trombone, not altogether happily. There is an error in the first trumpet book here, in measures 6 and 7. They should be the same as the previous 5 measures were.

17A. Music to Interlude

Again, an interpolation. Not a bad one!

18. Ballad of Dependency Reprise

See notes for 14.

19-20. Intro to Act 2 Scene 2

Again, this number is interpolated. Notes below for the Tango Ballad apply here.

21. Tango Ballad

So many things to say about this. I know I tend to go on and on, but I’ll try and keep it brief. It’s a tango, to be sure, but it’s a quirky one! Weill’s tango has some unorthodox features that strike one as errors upon first hearing. Again, there’s no double bass, and we really feel that it’s missing! There is an effect common in tango where the orchestra comes to a full stop for a break and then resumes at the beginning of the next measure. Weill does this the ‘normal’ way in measures 34-36, (where there’s another of those famous 3 note pickups) and then again at 76-78. But it also seems like he’s headed that way in measure 18. The winds have led to a whole note in 17 that ends abruptly, and the rhythm section stops dead, (without even a downbeat in the drums, guitar or bass) When this happens at your first orchestra rehearsal, if you’re conducting from the piano, you’ll feel like you’re the guy who missed the memo. But Weill clearly wants you to keep playing through what feels like it should be a break! The drum part has some really terrific rolls into downbeats, which I don’t recall hearing in other tango literature, but maybe I’m just behind the curve there. Somehow the number manages to slowly go from C# minor to A major to D minor. The modulation at 37 and 79 from D minor to what sounds like it might be A major again (or is it B dorian?) is wonderful and bewildering.

The entire number has been transposed down a minor third in the Blitzstein version. As soon as your singers learn their parts, I’d leave that crummy vocal score behind and read from the pit piano part. It’s much easier to read, and the piano vocal glosses over some key details in the orchestration, like the fact that in measure 56 and 60 the tango rhythm stops for a measure to make room for more 3 note phrases in the clear. These details are important to whatever blocking and choreography is involved, and you want to give the right indication of what’s going on. There is an error in the piano part in measure 62; the outside notes of the right hand read, in octaves, F, E, F, E, not F, F, F, F. The trumpet book contains a transposition error in measures 15-17. It should read F, F, F Gb, A natural, B, C#. (they are currently a whole step higher). These three measures sound a little odd, although they’re really odd in a good way. Even when you correct that trumpet part it’s a little spicy, like somebody dashed some paprika in the pot. The Hawaiian Guitar was undergoing a vogue in Germany at the time, Weill also uses it in other pieces around that time, like The Rise and Fall of The City of Mahagonny or Happy End. Here’s a song from a few years later featuring the guitar at about the 4:30 mark. I think you can be a little over-the-top with the solo in the dance break.There is also an optional third verse which is really good. If your director wants to use it, he or she may want the number to be laid out in a more traditional musical theatre manner: Verse 1, Verse 2, Dance Break, Verse 3. It is possible to do this, but it’s problematic. When you get to the end of the dance break, it’s easy enough to go right back to 44 for verse 3. But the dance break is clearly meant to be at the end of the number, because it cadences in C# minor, the ‘real’ key of the piece. If you end with the words and not the dance break, you’ll find you’ve cadenced at that odd modulation at 37, which won’t do. Try it and you’ll see what I mean. The solution is to tack on the last two measures, but have everyone play them up a half step, in concert D.

22. Intro To Act 2, Scene 3

Another interpolation. Let your Hawaiian guitar soloist really go to town.

23. Ballad of the Easy Life

Hey, it’s our first key signature since Morning Anthem! Key signatures mean that Weill intends to park in one key. This number is the most ‘conventional’ in the piece, but it’s a real challenge. We open with the by-now-familiar 3 note pickup, but in the instrumental parts. You have to talk through this with your band, and you might want to give them some of the lines that come in the rests, just so they have their bearings. Again, switch from the hand-copied version to the engraved version for rehearsal as quickly as your singer knows the part. (note: you’ll need to skip verse 2) If you don’t switch to the published score, note that the echoing piano phrase in the hand-copied parts in measures 26, 28, 30, and 32 are errors. The right hand has nothing in beat 2 of any of those measures, so that the cascading echo phrases in the winds can come out. There is a bit of a balance issue there, because the Tenor Sax is naturally much louder and less subtle in that range than the other instruments. Actually it’s a funny effect: dit dit dit dit DAT DAT dit dit… Just tell your T Sax to do her best not to blow everyone out of the water.

The piano obbligato is awesome, but I think it’s really impossible to play dotted sixteenth-thirtysecond patterns accurately at the tempo which seems to suit the melody, and the left hand that accompanies the rocket up into the stratosphere at the end of the chorus is tricky and hard to hear at that! Make sure the passage beginning at measure 13 is more legato in the piano, to provide contrast with the earlier staccato section. Also note that it’s marked leggierissimo, so be sure the pp marking in the snare is really observed. The Cambridge Handbook indicates that the percussion in the original production was a little different from the one we use today, and did not include a hi-hat. The Boom-chuck at the beginning in the percussion part is I think somewhere between the fast polka on a trapset we think of today and the cymbal mounted on the top of the bass drum we see in concert performances of marches.

24. Barbara Song

I’m given to understand that this song was given to Lucy originally, then we think reassigned to Polly for the first production, but maybe not on opening night, sung again by Polly in the 1931 film, re-reassigned to Lucy in the failed 1933 Broadway premiere, and then here in the Blitzstein version, assigned to Lucy again. The interesting thing is that there is a snippet of the melody in the third finale, which means something different depending on who sang it earlier. Again, here it’s Lucy’s number, but it was not ever thus.

It’s been suggested that the opening melody is an allusion to “Ich bin nur ein armer Wandergesell’ from the 1921 Operetta Der Vetter aus Dingsda, but the similarity could very well be a coincidence. I had hoped to be able to tell you why the thing is called the Barbara Song. I could not figure it out. This one has a two note pick-up into the chorus at 26, 70, and 114, but the effect is the same.

With all that out of the way, it’s a REALLY fun piece to accompany. The piano part fits beautifully under the hand, and there is room for the accompaniment and the singer to find rubato together. The falling left hand figure in measures 16, 60, and 104 I couldn’t bring myself to play as written. I just played the octaves all the way down. Was the range of the keyboard an issue? There’s a picture of the band onstage, and there’s a full sized grand piano out there. Can’t figure it out otherwise. As you’re rehearsing, be aware that the band comes in in the last 16 measures of each verse, so you’ll need to head-nod your way through every crazy tempo change or fermata you do. This is particularly tricky in the last 10 bars or so. I found it helpful to tell the band what was being sung and in what rhythm from 123 on so they could follow the singer a little.

This is also one of those numbers with a LOT of words, over very similar music. I find the key to memorizing something like this is working hard to discover WHY the lyric choices were made. It’s hard, but you can think your way through it and discover the subtleties of meaning that make the word choices necessary.

25. Jealousy Duet

The Jealousy Duet is the most explicitly operatic moment in the piece after Lucy’s Aria was cut. I’m certain it’s one of the inspirations for the number Bosom Buddies in Mame, written 12 years after the first successful American production for Bea Arthur and Angela Lansbury. The Jealousy Duet was originally written for two women with the same range: soprano. In order to modify it for the talents of Bea Arthur, a baritone, and Jo Sullivan, a soprano, the first verse of this duet was moved up a minor third. Or I should say, Jo Sullivan sang it up a minor third like a manic bird, and Bea Arthur sang her part a Major 6th lower, (!) simplifying the coloratura along the way. The hand-copied version of the first verse, now in B flat major, is a mess! As the tune modulates in the flat direction, the key signature becomes less and less helpful, until at measure 17, you’re in G flat minor, fighting F flats, C flats, B and E double flats… I’m not normally a whiner about these things, but at some point F#minor is called for. Plus it’s messy and hard to read. The pit piano part is easier to read, by the way, but in the same key. If you’ve cast two equal voices, you can do it in the original key, which I think is the best option. If you didn’t get the UE engraved version, you can play the second verse twice; that’s the original key. Note that the rising 16th note figure that creates the rhythmic impulse in the opening vamp is played by the clarinet, not the pianist. There is an unavoidable orchestration problem in reed 1, and I’m not sure how they got around it in the original production. Between verses 1 and 2, reed 1 needs to quick switch from Alto to clarinet, and the clarinet part at 34 is the driving force of the accompaniment. I’d sacrifice 32 unless your player thinks he can manage the switch without knocking out any teeth.

Other things that need to be taken into account: there is a set of two descending tritones that are hard to hear on the words “On my Mackie” and on “Didn’t I?” that are somewhat hard to hear. If your actresses are listening to the original cast recording and you’ve changed the key, they may lock into the wrong tritone, since ironically, the fully diminished chord is identical pitch-wise in the transposed and un-transposed versions. (so both tritones ‘work’) Does that even make sense? Anyway, check it carefully as you do it. Jo Sullivan also sings a wrong note on the second syllable of ‘admire’ in the second verse on the cast recording, singing an A instead of a C.

Also, Blitzstein not only crafted his key to match Bea Arthur, he also built the words around her height and personality.



Ach, man nennt mich Schönheit von Soho
Und man sagt, ich hab so Schöne beine


Meinst du die?


Man will ja auch mal was Schönes sehen
Und man sagt, so schön gibt es nur eine.


Selber Dreckhaufen!
Ich soll ja auf meinen Mann sock einen Eindruck machen.

Sollst du das? Sollst du das?

Ja, da kann ich eben wirklich lachen.

Kannst du das? Kannst du das?

Ja, das wär ja auch gelacht!

Ja, das wär ja auch gelacht?

Wenn sich wer aus mir nichts macht?

Wenn sich wer aus dir nichts mach! USW

My rough literal translation:


Oh, they call me the beauty of Soho
And they say, I have such pretty legs


Are you talking about those?


People want to see something beautiful
And they say, there’s only one so beautiful


That’s a load of crap!

You’re a load of crap!
I make a big impression on my husband.

Is that right? Is that right?

Yeah, I can laugh about it.

Can you now? Can you now?

Yeah, that makes me laugh.

It makes you laugh?

… if there’s anybody who didn’t like me.

If anybody didn’t like you? (etc.)

Blitzstein’s version of this is great, even bringing in Tiger Brown! (it goes by in a flash, but when you think about it, Polly doesn’t know she’s referring to the Father of the woman she’s arguing with)


Yes, they call me beauty of the town
See my legs and say, “Now these are pretty.”
I’m glad you’re glad to admire beauty.
Note the trimmest ankles in the city.

Go peddle your wares somewhere else!

I knew I would make a big impression on my Mackie.


Did you, did you?

You’ll be pleased to know I’ve met his Jackie.

Have you, have you?

Well, you kind of make me laugh

Now I kind of make you laugh!

Who would want a big giraffe!

Who would want what big giraffe?

If you didn’t cast a giraffe, that line doesn’t make sense. Or if Polly is taller, you could switch the lines.

The Bentley is dirtier, but not better. In fact it’s dirtier than Brecht’s original lyric, but not funnier. The Donmar Warehouse lyric has some funny moments, but is also dirtier than the original. It also an anachronistic Torville and Dean joke. (what?)

26. Second Threepenny Finale

This brutal finale is a tour de force, and packs a powerful punch, especially since this is the very first time in the show the entire cast has been singing at the same time. Pabst was right to move it right to the beginning of his film version, the evocative driving rhythm is exhilarating to play and hear! As soon as the cast learned the tune, I moved to the piano part and wrote in the three pickups to measure 24 to play for rehearsal, partly because it’s better laid out than the piano vocal, and partly so I could get my left hand to do what it needed to do. It’s actually not that difficult, but it takes some getting used to. (I’m sure you noted the recurring 3 pickup note motif on “What keeps a…”) Drill your cast on the cutoffs for “alive” and “survive“, and don’t miss the thrilling quarter rest in 35. When your band comes in, be sure they err on the side of shortening the sixteenths, so that you don’t get into a lazy triplet feel. The sixteenths are staccato, the downbeats accented. Work for absolute accuracy of ensemble, and blow them away with the ferocious ending and dead clean cut-off.

27. Overture Act 3

Again, not in the original. If you put an intermission here, it might do. Or the end of the Second Finale might be a better choice. Incidentally, somewhere in here are some snare cues in the script you’ll want to copy, highlight and get to your player.

28. Useless Song

We cut a verse out of this, because it goes on rather long. The script has Macheath signaling for the beggars to play. We had a number of instrumentalists in the cast, so I wrote parts for them based on the original instrumentation. Originally that harmonium part was cranked out on the same organ as the Moritat at the top of the show, I believe. I don’t think this has to be all that clean, after all, they’re beggars! At measure 42, things get really fun! As always, the articulations are the key to the style.

29. Useless Song Reprise

Same as above.

30. Solomon Song

Another song for Jenny, some speculation it was originally intended for Polly although if you wanted to, you might split it up between all 3 of Mac’s women. Blitzstein has transposed the number down a 4th for Lenya. For the most part this piece is easy enough to play, although measures 81-83 are hard for some reason. Maybe it’s just me. I think this was also originally hand-cranked by the organ, and I discovered an odd performance problem which I’ll try and warn you about now. Hopefully for others, this won’t be a problem. In 29 (Useless reprise), the MD plays the piano, then switches quickly at the beginning of 30 to harmonium. I had played all the rehearsals on the piano patch, because the synth I was using only had very electronic organ sounds. When I finally brought my own keyboard in with a better reedy harmonium sound, I discovered immediately that it was tricky to get the separation Weill seems to be asking for in the left hand, but more importantly, that all the page turns were impossible when I was holding down the fort all by myself on the organ trying to maintain legato fingering. I xeroxed the pages and cut them down and still wound up with a huge sheet across my music stand that I didn’t have time to put in place or take off. After the number is over, you’re back on the piano immediately, so you need to change the patch as you’re tearing the music off the stand. The pit part is better laid out, as it turns out, but it was an oddly stressful stretch of the show considering how laid back the tune is. Again, if I could get a crank organ pre-programmed for an actor, the problem would go away. One further thing: The timpani has a G in measures 3 and 52. Totally random, not in the urtext. When we put it in, we kind of liked it.

For the singers, distinguishing between the eighth and sixteenth pickups can be tricky, and some of the rhythms don’t quite fit on the words comfortably. A little rehearsal clears all that up, though.

31. Intro to Act 3 Scene 2

Another interpolation. Trombone pickup is critical.

32. Call From The Grave 1

We’re getting to the final section of the piece, where the tension really begins rising. I think the first Call From The Grave should be quiet and filled with excitement held in reserve, as it were. Save something for CFTG 2. The winds have a pad through this that’s pretty menacing and cool. Also, switch to the engraved German piano vocal score as soon as your Macheath knows his part. you don’t need to double the melody like it says in the PV. No instrument is doing that in the pit.  Following Call 1, there is a tenor drum repeated figure that goes under the scene that follows until Matt says, “How jammed is it out there- that mob?”, and then the bell rings. We made the Westminster chime a sound cue from the booth and the drums just kept going until it was time for 32 A. In rehearsal, just play the rhythm on a low E to give the actors an idea of what’s happening.

32A. Call From The Grave 2

For some reason the lyric is a little harder to get out here, but otherwise it’s the same thing as 32.

33. Death Message

Again, the PV is misleading. The melody is in the trombone down the octave. You can play the harmonium part from the half notes in the PV here.  The section at measure 3 is very like what Peachum had in measure 13 in the first finale, it seems to be the go-to texture for moralizing in the show. What a great melody Macheath has at 23! Take the time to really learn it well, it’s so satisfying to sing. Because the orchestration is top-heavy, this section will not build the way you expect it to. If you’ve been playing that with a full sound, you’ll have to get used to covering Mac’s melody in 4 octaves instead. The heavy lifting there comes from the winds. In the third finale, Mac will also be rather high in the range with a thin accompaniment. I’ll let you know wherethat happens. I did beef up the piano part at 31, playing each left hand note down the octave first and then popping up on beats 2 and 4 to the octave as written. (sorry, Kurt)

34. Passage to the Gallows

This is a continuation of the previous idea, vamp subject to your director’s conception of what’s happening on stage. You can hit the harmonium chord from the keyboard book, hold it down with the sustain pedal, then adjust your volume with your left hand while conducting with the right. Fun stuff.

35. Third Threepenny Finale

This is a great finale, and one of the few moments in the piece that actually approach operatic proportions. Having said that, it also has a ludicrously difficult piano part, one that can’t really be played with many synth-keyboard actions. Furthermore, if you conduct from the keyboard, the broken octaves for pages will make true ensemble difficult with your orchestra and your singers, and you’ll have a lot of trouble keeping things clear. I wound up playing the simplified version in the PV, and I think I hear the simplified version in the 1954 cast recording. The Donmar Warehouse plays it as written, and it sounds muddy to me. The only recording I know where I can hear it and it sounds good as written is Mauceri’s recording for Decca. Every other recording seems to be fudging it a little, including the sumptuous Brückner-Rüggeberg recording for Columbia. If you choose to do it the virtuosic way Weill wrote, you should know that in measure 45 of the pit piano part, each hand only plays the top note of their respective parts according to the Urtext score. Only 2 octaves total, not 4 there, through 52. At 53, it goes back to 4 octaves as written.

I do want to call attention to something interesting. In June 1952, Leonard Bernstein conducted the then brand new Blitzstein translation at Brandeis university with Lotte Lenya and Jo Sullivan. This would become the basis of the successful Off-Broadway version we have been discussing. 3 years later, Bernstein would begin writing West Side Story. Bernstein famously remembered and synthesized everything he loved into his music, and I think I detect a little of this Finale in the Rumble Music:Threepenny third finale exampleWest Side Example

Naturally, neither Weill nor Bernstein have a corner on the broken-octaves thing; it’s been around for a long time, since at least Beethoven and Hummel. But I’ll bet this moment was one Bernstein pulled out of the Weill bag of tricks.

If you’re going to be using a cockney accent, you’ll have to puzzle over the word “Hark!”, which properly would have no H at the beginning of it. You’ll have to decide if “Ark, who comes” makes sense. We decided it did, actually! Clean cutoffs in this all around, it’s nearly the only place in the show where choral ensemble is important. Make it clear to the men from the get-go that there is a difference between the melody at 29 and at 53. Incidentally, I have never been able to make sense of the accompaniment at 53. The right hand in the conductor’s score is unplayable at speed, and is attempting to combine the clarinet piano part, as represented by the running octaves in the right hand, the trumpet and saxophone part as represented by the left hand figure, and the melody notes, which are crammed in here and there. The trouble is that everyone is really going to have to just plow through; the niceties of doubling the vocal line are lost as seconds clash against the melody frequently. I’d play the men’s melody in octaves in the left, try to catch the ladies entrance, and switch to playing the orchestral part when everybody comes. Warning, though, your piano part enters at 53 on an A flat in four octaves against the men’s B flat. It’s a mess, really.

The original version had Brown entering and doing the recitative. The Blitzstein version assigns this announcement to Filch, which is potentially very funny. You should know, in case your Filch sings, that there are actual pitches for every note of this, which can be found in either of the UE scores. Whether Filch or Brown, sung or unsung, the rhythm must be accurately worked out, with the piano punctuating thoughts where indicated. If you cast a non-singer in the part, this may take a little work, but you can do it.

And now a word about measures 82-86. I gotta say, it isn’t really worth the effort to woodshed it. It’s a really cool little passage, hard to execute at speed in octaves as written. Your right hand is doubled by a clarinet, and the trumpet and tenor saxes have a passage hitting 8 notes of the lick in a dotted eighth-sixteenth pattern. There is also a snare roll that’s going to completely drown out most of what you play. So keep that in mind before you spend hours cleaning that. Just do the best you can.

At 88, the piano reduction is a pretty good indication of what the band will sound like. But 92 is going to be quieter when the band plays than when you play, the piano is tacet, and just ‘when the need is sorest’ for the singer to be supported by the band, they drop to pianissimo and leave him stranded. Depending on your singer, you may want to reinforce things in the bass particularly.

117 is tricky to conduct, with the ritardando for only one measure, especially since you’ve just been playing the previous 10 measures. It just takes a little practice, though. It can be done. This passage echoes the Barbara Song, which doesn’t quite work coming off Polly’s vocal, since in this version she didn’t sing the Barbara Song. We solved that problem by having all three of Mac’s women sing it. Be sure the passage at 122 is crisp and clean, and build that dynamic slowly to 147.

The final section of the finale bookends the entire show with chorale melody pastiche, with Peachum’s Morning Anthem being the other example. This one is very very Lutheran, and one wonders whether Weill wanted to harmonize it in 4 parts and felt the singers wouldn’t be able to manage it, or whether he was going for that spare, open throated statement on purpose. Build in some cutoffs so that everything is clean, and try to line up those vowels for a unified sound. I ran into some trouble here when I brought my orchestra in. The orchestration calls for Harmonium, which is, of course, right for what the music is trying to do. But the Harmonium doesn’t have enough bite at the beginning of each note to drag along the orchestra and the cast, and it’s hard to articulate a mid-tempo 6/4 meter with your head while playing. I wound up begging the ghost of Weill for forgiveness and playing the keyboard part on the piano, where I could really lead things. If I had another player on keys and were conducting, I think I could have made it work, but from where I was it seemed the only viable option.

35A. Reprise- Mack the Knife

This number wasn’t in the original score, but I like it. It makes the show seem like it’s come full circle, it gives the audience more of what they’ve come to expect from a musical, the words are pithy, and it’s a good send-off. Should you choose to use it, I would have the singer interrupt whatever applause is starting after the end of the finale, otherwise it’s really awkward. Denying the audience applause is also very Brechtian, after all. We wound up assigning various lines to various characters to give it an ensemble ending.

36. Exit Music

You’ve been playing this the whole show, really. It has the most anticlimactic ending of any bows I’ve ever played. That’s probably as Weill would have wanted it.

? Lucy’s Aria

I don’t know if Blitzstein ever translated it, it was cut from the original production early and never orchestrated. The Mauceri recording has a cool orchestration by Mauceri himself, but it doesn’t really match the tone of the rest of the orchestration; the trumpet part is much harder than any of the rest of the show. It’s much more operatic than the rest of the show. I’d like to see it reinstated in some production so I can see what it looks and sounds like in the piece.

Your Pit Orchestra:

This is not a big pit, you should really hire all the books. If your budget doesn’t allow it, I’d make sure I had:

Guitar-Banjo-Hawaiian Guitar and Percussion


Reed 1 and Reed 2 (roughly the same importance)


Trumpet 1 and Trombone

then Trumpet 2

If it were possible to forego trumpet 2 and bring in a double bass, that would be perfect, but that isn’t in your licensing agreement, and you’d have to make a part yourself referencing the full score and keeping track of all the changes made for this production.

The piano book really isn’t that hard, except for the occasional stride passage, which are doable, the Ballad of the Easy Life, which just needs a careful going over for fingering, and the Third Threepenny Finale, which is nearly impossible.

There is a nice passage in the Cambridge Handbook talking about the original instruments that probably played the percussion book. The part calls for Timpani, (which my player did effectively electronically) Bass drum, Snare, Tenor drum- tom tom, wood block, sand blocks, triangle, bells & chimes E F# G# B (which we also did electronically) cymbals, hand & suspended, and tam tam. I don’t know how to describe the player needed here. There will be a temptation to keep making the part groove more, which white-washes some of Weill’s eccentric writing. You need someone who can embrace the quirkiness of it, without being too straitlaced. The tango, for example, just isn’t a normal tango beat. It starts out on the timpani, for goodness sake. But we don’t want that player to drop into a normal rhythm while the rest of the band is working out Weill’s idiosyncratic take on the dance. We also don’t want too much hi-hat. The part doesn’t call for it, and the original player didn’t have it.

The guitar book is fun, and not at all traditionally written. There are no chord symbols or open changes, no chords with more than three notes, and the only really traditional writing is in the Melodrama and Polly’s song. You need somebody who knows their way around a banjo, and somebody who can convincingly use a slide in the Hawaiian Guitar parts.

Reed 1 and 2 are about equal in importance and difficulty. Both have clarinet, reed 1 has alto, reed 2 tenor sax. It would be nice to have people familiar with the way reed players played in the 20s, sweeter, with a faster vibrato. Accurate articulation is also critical to achieve the ensemble the show needs. But the books aren’t all that hard, especially for good players.

The trumpet book doesn’t sit too awfully high, but it does require a good ensemble player who knows how to listen. There’s a lot of mute work, and you and the player can have fun choosing the sounds you like.

The trombone book also doesn’t sit too awfully high, but needs a sensitive player who can articulate accurately and watch. There are some important pickups that start the whole number in the trombone book.

The Threepenny Opera isn’t for the faint of heart, but it is a great masterwork and very rewarding to work on! Good luck with your production.


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