The Threepenny Opera

The Three Penny Opera and the Musical Gestus of Kurt Weill

In a 1929 review of The Threepenny Opera, Felix Salten wrote:

...the young Weill’s music is as characteristic as Brecht’s language, as electrifying in its rhythm as the lines of the poems, as deliberately and triumphantly trivial and full of allusions as the popularizing rhymes, as witty in the jazz treatment of the instruments, as contemporary, high-spirited and full of mood and aggression, as the text.

(qtd. in Hinton, 188)

These characteristics which Salten describes seem to relate to the concept of gestus, which is a difficult word to interpret but nevertheless has become the crucial link connecting Brecht’s theories of acting, playwriting and theatrical production. In epic theatre, actors become demonstrators of a character, rather than the characters themselves (rather than using Stanislavsky’s method of acting, which relies on an actor “stepping into a character’s shoes”). Brecht intended his actors to always remember that they were playing another person’s story and emotions. Most importantly, epic performers are always concerned with wider social relations, rather than the egoism of becoming wrapped up in one’s character. Gestus expresses these wider social relations with “the idea of contradiction and opposition and the...

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