Review - 'The Partnership: Brecht, Weill, Three Woman, and Germany on the Brink' by Pamela Katz


The Partnership is a non-fiction exploration of the creation of The Three-Penny Opera and the tangled personal and professional relationships of Bertolt Brecht, Karl Weill, Lotte Lenya, Helene Weigel and Elisabeth Hauptmann. 

"Mack The Knife" from the movie "The Threepenny Opera"

Katz does not seem interested in casting the complicated personalities as heroes or villains but as people with multi-faceted and at times conflicting agendas. It’s a human, considered approach to individuals who are all too easy to damn in retrospect with a contemporary perspective.The final third of the book, which see the disintergration of Brecht and Weills creative relationship against the backdrop of the rise of the Nazis, is particuarly compelling and absorbing.  

"Mack The Knife" performed by Dean Martin

For someone not familiar with Brecht and Weills' influence over culture, both past and contemporary, the book opens your eyes to their presence. Sometimes it's the familiar songs that turn out to be derived from their song book, on other occassions it is their effect on other artists sensibilities.

 "Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)" performed by The Doors

Tom Waits springs to mind. Waits maintains he was not aware of Kurt Weill until other people started to compare his sound to the composer: "Well, the weird thing about Kurt Weill is that after I made a few records in the '80s, people started to tell me that I was sounding like this guy, or that I must be listening to this guy. So I figured I should probably go out and listen to him, because I'd never heard of him before. I did listen, and then I thought, 'Oh, I hear that.' " There is no reason to doubt Waits but it does make you consider that perhaps  Weills' sound is so pervasive that Waits had absorbed it whether he knew it or not.


                                           "What Keeps Mankind Alive" performed by Tom Waits

Weill and Burchts influence is not limited to the world of music. Comics writer and novelist Alan Moore has drawn on The Three Penny Opera for inspiration a number of times over the course of his career and early on produced a newspaper strip under the psdoneum Curt Vile. Anyone who is familiar with Moores career and particuarly his reponse to the overwhelming success of his comic Watchmen will be amused by Brechts similarly mixed feelings about The Three Penny Opera.


                                                     "Pirate Jenny" performed by Nina Simone

If The Partnership fails to deliver in any way it is the citical anaylsis of the works, which seems perfunctoary and obvious, and to the attention paid to Hauptmann, Lenya and Weigel. It is not that Katz fails to address their contributions it is that everythings seems to be purely inspired or motivated by Brecht or Weill. While this was underdoubatbly an important part of the interpersonal dynamics it's hard to see three such forceful and determined individuals purely motivated by their devotion to one man. To contrast that aspect to the rest of the book which deal with the complex, symbiotic relationship between Brecht and Weill, two men with very definite personal agendas, the observation seems a little thin. 

                                           "Ballard of the Soliders Wife" performed by PJ Harvey

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