The Seven Deadly Sins – An introduction

Wednesday 5th October 

One of my very favourite composers is Kurt Weill, and my best loved work is The Seven Deadly Sins.  He wrote this in 1933, with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht, actually the last of these collaborations and I think the best; while there are some beautiful songs on Mahagony and The Threepenny Opera, the whole song cycle of Seven Deadly Sins works so beautifully.  I first encountered Kurt Weill in a circus tent of all places; on Barnes Common again, but no circus at all. This must have been in, Oh 1981 I suppose, and a poster I saw on the way home caught my eye.  The Bubble Theatre company was performing Happy End, a 1929 early collaboration.  I went along out of pure curiosity, and was delighted, both by the performance and the music, with such memorable songs as the Bilbao song and Surabaya Johnny.  I straight away tried to find a recording, and couldn’t find any; there had been a couple of German recordings but all sadly deleted, so I bought a collection of Kurt Weill songs, many sung by his wife Lotte Lenya, instead.

Later I caught a recording on the BBC of The seven Deadly Sins and it just thrilled me. The unique aspect of this work is that it was called a ballet-chante, and is a combination of ballet and short opera.  It tells the story of twin sisters Anna I and Anna II; Anna I sings while Anna II interprets the story through dance, and although the lyrics are all about my sister and I, you understand that they are one and the same person. Anna (and her sister) set out across America, from the Mississippi via Philadelphia and Los Angeles and end up in San Francisco, and encounter along the way the seven biblical deadly sins.  It is supposed to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of a decadent capitalist society such as America, but is actually a delight both to watch and to listen to.

I have several recordings now, as the music of Kurt Weill had made a bit of a comeback of late, and even one by Marianne Faithfull of all people; I had read about some of her escapades with the Rolling Stones in the late sixties, but had forgotten all about her until I saw her CD in HMV; yes, the very same store I had visited so many years before with Adrian, and so I bought it.  It is really rather good, her voice of course is not operatic, but somehow I think that this allows her to be a bit more expressive than really good singers like Ute Lemper; the piece takes on a sadder and darker shade with Marianne’s interpretation.  I have since discovered that she has made quite a few classical recordings, several by Kurt Weill, and I have started collecting them all.  I even bought a CD of hers called Broken English, which I occasionally re-visit; although in a rock and roll style, the lyrics are amazingly frank and honest, and her voice just rasps its’ way into your heart.

But it is the Seven Deadly Sins I return to time and again. It is well worth a listen; there are even bits of it on You Tube, so go ahead and learn to enjoy it as I have all these years.