Marc Blitzstein

Marc Blitzstein was born in Philadelphia on March 2, 1905, the son of affluent parents. His musical gifts were apparent at an early age; he had performed a Mozart Piano Concerto by the time he was seven. He went on to study piano with Alexander Siloti, (a pupil of Liszt and Tchaikovsky), and made his professional concerto debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Liszt’s E flat Piano Concerto when he was 21.
After studying composition at the Curtis Institute of Music, he continued his studies in Europe with Arnold Schoenberg in Berlin (with whom he did not get on), and Nadia Boulanger in Paris (with whom he did). Despite his later political beliefs, he was, in the early years of his career, a self-proclaimed and unrepentant artistic snob who firmly believed that true art was only for the intellectual elite. He was vociferous in denouncing composers — in particular Kurt Weill - whom he felt debased their standards to reach a wider public.
His works of this period, mostly pianistic vehicles such as the Piano Sonata (1927) and the Piano Concerto (1931) are typical of the Boulanger-influenced products of American modernism — strongly rhythmic (although in Blitzstein's case, not influenced by Jazz), and described by himself as "wild, dissonant, and percussive." All of which was very far removed from the Schoenbergian line of compositional thought.
Although Blitzstein married novelist Eva Goldbeck on March 2, 1933, he was openly gay and they had no children; Goldbeck died in 1936. His mother-in-law was Berlin-born musical star and opera singer Lina Abarbanell.
Blitzstein summered at the Pine Brook Country Club located in the countryside of Nichols, Connecticut which became the summer rehearsal headquarters of the Group Theatre (New York) in the 1930s and 1940s.
The dramatic premiere of the pro-union The Cradle Will Rock was at the Venice Theater on June 16, 1937. The cast had been locked out of the Maxine Elliott Theatre by the Works Progress Administration, the government agency which had originally funded the production. So the cast and musicians walked with the audience to the nearby Venice theater. There, without costumes or sets, they performed the production, with actors and musicians performing from the audience (to evade union restrictions on their performance) and Blitzstein narrating at the piano. In 1939, Blitzstein's close friend Leonard Bernstein led a revival of the play at Harvard, narrating from the piano just as Blitzstein had done. The 1999 film Cradle Will Rock was based on this event, though heavily embellished. In the film, Blitzstein (played by Hank Azaria) is portrayed as gaining inspiration through ghostly appearances by his idol Brecht and his late wife.
Additional major compositions include the autobiographical radio song play I've Got the Tune, The Airborne Symphony, and Reuben, Reuben. At the time of his death Blitzstein was at work on Idiots First, a one-act opera based on the eponymous story by Bernard Malamud – to be part of a set of one-acts called Tales of Malamud – which Ned Rorem has called "his [Blitzstein's] best work". It was the piece Blitzstein said would be his magnum opus, a three-act opera commissioned by the Ford Foundation and optioned by the Metropolitan Opera, Sacco and Vanzetti.
Both Tales of Malamud and Sacco and Vanzetti were completed posthumously, with the approval of Blitzstein's estate, by composer Leonard Lehrman.     Leonard Bernstein and others judged Blitzstein's legacy to be "incalculable".    On September 30, 2005, Praeger published the long-awaited Marc Blitzstein: A Bio-Bibliography, by Leonard Lehrman. At 645 pages it is the longest published biographical bibliography of any American composer.
In 1958, Blitzstein received a subpoena to appear before the HUAC, the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Appearing first in a closed session, Blitzstein admitted his membership of the Communist Party (which had ceased in 1949), and, challenging the right of HUAC to question him at all, refused either to name names, or co-operate any further. He was recalled for a further public session, but after a day anxiously sitting in a waiting-room, he was not called to testify.
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Mark the Music, The life and work of Marc Blitzstein by Eric A.Gordon. St.Martin's Press, New York, 1989  ISBN 0-312-02607-2
Mark the Music, The life and work of Marc Blitzstein by Eric A.Gordon. St.Martin's Press, New York, 1989  ISBN 0-312-02607-2
Register of Marc Blitzstein Papers: State Historical Society of Wisconsin (Archives Division), Madison, Wisc.53706