Threepenny Opera No.2, “Ballad of Mack the Knife”


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Macheath is back in a classic arrangement of this 1928 piece that became a huge hit for pop music artists in the 1950s and 1960s.


The Threepenny Opera (Die Dreigroschenoper) is a German musical (literally a “play with music,” a style that lacks typical opera recitatives) by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, adapted from The Beggar’s Opera written in 1729 by John Gay. Both works share themes including societal critique, and blurring the lines between good and bad.

The second piece (and the first song) of the work,
Die Moritat von Mackie Messer, introduces a knife-wielding criminal of the London underworld named Macheath. The music became a popular hit in the United States when Louis Armstrong recorded it in the 1950s, using a translation from Marc Blitzstein, and later when Bobby Darin made it a number one hit.

While the lyrics are rather dark, the music enjoys wide public acceptance. James L. King III’s arrangement goes from a single note melodic theme to more complex accompaniments, keeping the tempo in the slower range as Weill intended in the original 1928 musical. Overall, it is on the easy side of intermediate. Students also get to work on arpeggiated left hand patterns and two-step chordal patterns.

pedagogy: unaccompanied melody, pedalling, rolled chords

key: C major

mood: contemplative, absorbed, wary


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