German composer and conductor Paul Dessau was born in Hamburg on 19 December 1894 into a musical family. Initially he studied violin with Florian Zajic at Berlin's Klindworth-Scharwenka Conservatory.
Before being drafted for military service in 1915, he studied composition with Max Julius Loewengard and became second Kapellmeister at Bremen's Tivoli Theatre. After World War I, he began to work as a conductor - at Kammerspiele Hamburg, and continued working as a Kapellmeister, for Otto Klemperer and Bruno Walter.
He moved to France in 1933 and to the USA in 1939, where he found it difficult to find work, then returned to Germany in 1948, settling in East Berlin.
He wrote ballets, film music, incidental music, operas, oratorio, orchestral music, vocal and solo instrumental music. He also wrote Gebrauchsmusik for GDR propaganda. He is known for his collaborations with Bertolt Brecht in the 1950s, producing incidental music for Brecht's plays and operas based on them.
Paul Dessau died at Königs Wusterhausen near Berlin on 28 June 1979, aged eighty-four.