The music of Weimar-era Berlin cabaret is something I have such a passionate interest for, that it merits a page of its own on this site.
I’ve always loved the music of Kurt Weill since I was introduced to it at school. Later, during the course of researching the music for a stage production of The Blue Angel (eventually produced by the RSC), I became enthused about the songs of less well-known popular composers of the era – luminaries of the Berlin cabaret such as Friedrich Holländer, Rudolf Nelson, Werner Richard Heymann and Mischa Spoliansky.
As a result of working on The Blue Angel, I got to know Spoli Mills, the daughter of Mischa Spoliansky, and we remained firm friends until her death in 2004. From her, I purchased Mischa’s Bechstein baby grand which still has pride of place in my music room. I am still in frequent touch with Spoli’s sons, Chris and Greg, and have assisted Chris in researching, identifying and recording pieces of Mischa’s music in his archive.
Link to the Mischa Spoliansky trust http://www.mischaspoliansky.com/
My knowledge and expertise in the field of German and Austrian cabaret/popular music in general has been particularly relevant on the following projects:
- What Now Little Man? at Greenwich Theatre – as Musical Supervisor I helped to select German 1920s/1930s repertoire for the show, and arranged it in ‘Comedian Harmonists’ style.
- The Blue Angel (RSC, tour and West End) – I researched and selected songs, also orchestrated them as well as composing additional music, writing additional lyrics, and MD-ing the show
- BBC Proms – My arrangement of the Rudolf Nelson song ‘Peter’ was performed at the 1997 Proms
- Entartete Musik (Drill Hall) – I was MD and played piano for this cabaret infused show directed by Jude Alderson.
- The Captain of Köpenick (NT, Olivier Theatre), dir. Adrian Noble) – I composed music (and also selected existing recorded music) for this show set in early C20 Berlin.
- The Threepenny Opera (NT (Education dept) – Cottesloe Theatre & tour) – re-orchestration for an actor/musician line-up (normally you are not allowed to do this, but my arrangements received the blessing of the Kurt Weill Foundation)
- A Kurt Tucholsky Evening (Arcola Theatre, devised by Irving Wardle) – I played piano for this tribute to one of 1920s Germany’s most celebrated writers.
- The Merchant of Venice (NT, Cottesloe/Olivier) – I composed music, and adapted a piece of Mischa Spoliansky’s, for this production set in a fictional Weimar-era Venice
- Es Liegt in der Luft – I was commissioned to re-create the lost vocal score of Mischa Spoliansky’s 1928 cabaret-revue. More recently I was asked by Helene Mathiesen and Pablo Orts Torner at the Royal Northern College of Music to provide translations and new English versions of 8 of the songs and surrounding dialogue. This was for a performance scheduled at the Hope Mill Theatre in June 2020 but sadly postponed owing to the pandemic.
- Send for Mr Plim! (Battersea Arts Centre) – an adaptation of (and orchestration for) Mischa Spoliansky’s 1931 cabaret-opera. Read Michael Billington’s Guardian review here.
- Repertoire advice (and lyrics) to Melinda Hughes (www.melindahughes.com) for her album ‘Smoke and Noise’
- Repertoire advice to Philip Headlam and the Continuum Ensemble/BBC Singers for their show ‘Swept Away – Music of a Lost Generation’ featuring music of 1920s Berlin and Vienna https://www.universaledition.com/ue-magazine/the-continuum-ensemble-presents-swept-away
Currently I am working with my colleagues Margarete and Julian Forsyth in developing a companion piece for ‘Send For Mr Plim!’ using an all-Spoliansky selection of material. We showcased this at Soho Theatre in late 2017 and recorded most of the songs in Spring 2018.