Book

Marc Blitzstein

Howard Pollack

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199791590
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199949625 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199791590.001.0001
Marc Blitzstein

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This is a study of the life and work of one of America’s most brilliant and inspiring composer-dramatists, Marc Blitzstein (1905–1964). A piano student of Alexander Siloti, and composition student of Rosario Scalero, Nadia Boulanger, and Arnold Schoenberg, Blitzstein innovatively combined serious and popular techniques and traditions in order to reach the large audience for radio, film, and Broadway shows, producing work, conditioned by Marxist perspectives, that spoke to the concerns of workers, immigrants, women, and minorities. His most successful works include the operas The Cradle Will Rock (1937) and Regina (1949, adapted from Lillian Hellman’s 1939 play, The Little Foxes), for which he wrote both the words and music, and his adaptation of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, which helped popularize that piece in English-speaking countries, and which yielded the hit song “Mack the Knife.” Other notable works include the opera No for an Answer, the Airborne Symphony for soloists, chorus, and orchestra, the ballet The Guests, and two late stage works, Reuben Reuben and Juno. Such works had, according to Leonard Bernstein, an “incalculable” influence on the American musical theater, and remain particularly noteworthy in terms of their musical prosody, their formal novelty, and their amalgam of serious and popular elements. This study considers other aspects of the composer’s life: his Jewish-Russian background and his childhood in Philadelphia; his activities as a pianist, critic, and translator; his marriage to the writer Eva Goldbeck and his relations with friends and colleagues; his involvement with various progressive social causes; his service in the Army as an entertainment specialist during World War II; his brush with anti-communist attacks; and his violent death in Martinique at age fifty-eight.

Keywords: Blitzstein; musical theater; communism; The Cradle Will Rock; Regina; The Threepenny Opera; Jerome Robbins; Lillian Hellman; Bertolt Brecht; Kurt Weill

Book.  648 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: American Music ; Popular Music

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