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Influences - Literary - Huckleberry Finn
(Please also see Mark Twain, Quarter Less Twain - the River Chanty
10/8/2014 blog entry.)
Huckleberry Finn is an American classic written by Mark Twain. In 1950, Kurt Weill died while writing a set of songs for a play about Twain's protagonist (Huckleberry). Duke Special was first to record these songs in 2009 In addition, he has since performed some them not infrequently while touring in Europe and the United States. I'm quite fond of these songs partly because I have enjoyed the novel, Huckleberry Finn, and Mark Twain. I don't know that the book was much of an influence in any other way.
The official recording of the Huckleberry Finn Ep has the best version of Apple Jack. The version below is from a live recording, and is enjoyable, but I have a preference for the studio version.
Read a review of Duke Special's recording of these songs (as well as those of The Stage, A Book, and the Silver Screen) published by the Kurt Weill Newsletter in 2010.
Purchase official recordings.
On a Personal Note - The Uncanny Pull of Mark Twain
A Midwesterner, I grew up hearing respect, almost reverence in people's voices when they spoke about Mark Twain. I read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, struggling as many others with school essay questions about their adventures. Beyond the literature, there was a cultural resonance. We lived on the Ohio, one of largest rivers emptying into the Mississippi. We saw the large barges that passed, and heard stories about the dangers of the currents, and other river-related tales.
The four Huckleberry Finn songs, River Chanty, Come In Mornin,' This Time Next Year, Apple Jack, and the Catfish Song, were written by Kurt Weill (of Mack the Knife) shortly before his death in 1950, the project remaining incomplete.
Weill, a 1935 German immigrant to the United State, embraced the hopes of his new country, and saw potential to infuse himself into popular culture. Writing music for a Huckleberry Finn play, was one way he thought to do just this.
He wrote, “Art should belong to the people,” he wrote. “It should be ‘popular’ in the highest sense of the word. Only by making this our aim can we create an American art, as opposed to the art of the old countries.”
Weill's succeeded in his endeavor, his music has entered popular culture. Mack the Knife is still heard, and has been recorded many times. The Doors did a version of Weill's 1927 "Song of Alabama," as did David Bowie, and Duke Special. Tom Waits owes a lot to Weill as well. This short essay, cannot delve more into Weill's popular legacy, unfortunately.