Hugo Weisgall was born on October 13, 1912, in Eibenschutz, Moravia (now Ivancice, Bohemia). At the age of eight, Weisgall immigrated to the United States with his family. He studied at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, Maryland and at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Later, Weisgall earned a Ph.D. in German literature at Johns Hopkins University. During World War II, Weisgall was assigned to General S. Patton as an assistant military attache. From 1949 to 1951, Weisgall was the director of the Baltimore Institute of Musical Arts. He later became a professor at Queens College, the Julliard School, and the Jewish Theological Seminary, all located in New York City. In 1952, he founded the Hill Top Opera Company.
Weisgall was raised in a family of several generations of cantors. Throughout his life, he would maintain an interest in both sacred and secular Jewish music. In 1992, Weisgall was appointed by the Friends of the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary to compose a song cycle, Psalm of the Instant Dove, commemorating the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain.
Weisgall is best known as a composer for opera and vocal music; although he has also composed ballets, chamber music, and choral works. Among his most famous works is his most elaborate opera, Athaliah, and his very popular opera, Six Characters in Search of an Author.
In 1955, he was awarded the Columbia University William Schuman Award. Weisgall died on March 11, 1997, in New York City.