© The Ballad of Magna Carta: Cantata for Solo Voices & Chorus with Piano Accompaniment. Words by Maxwell Anderson, Music by Kurt Weill (New York: Chappell & Co., 1940)
The Ballad of Magna Carta was first performed on 4 February 1940, on ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ programme of the Columbia Broadcasting System. Composed by Kurt Weill (1900–50) – a German Jewish composer who had fled the Nazis in 1933 – and with lyrics by Maxwell Anderson (1888–1959), the original orchestration included parts for harp, trumpets and saxophones, with the role of narrator being sung by a man or woman. The display of the Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta at the New York World’s Fair and at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC in 1939–40 had brought the document into the American public consciousness at this time. King John is portrayed in The Ballad as a deeply unpopular monarch, abandoned by his supporters and compelled to agree to Magna Carta:
And he wrote on the parchment with the goose quill in his hand,
And he signed away the right of Kings to take away our land;
He signed away the right of Kings to take your teeth and eyes,
And Kings since that time are cut down to normal human size.