Blitzstein, Marc

Blitzstein, Marc

(Marcus Samuel Blitzstein), 1905–64, American composer, pianist, and librettist, b. Philadelphia. After attending the Univ. of Pennsylvania and the Curtis Institute of Music, he studied in Europe with Nadia Boulanger and Arnold Schoenberg. In the 1920s he completed several piano works and debuted with the Philadelphia Orchestra. His one-act opera Triple Sec (1928) was performed on Broadway as part of the 1930 Garrick Gaieties. In the 1930s, Blitzstein became identified with left-wing musical theater; his best-known work, the musical The Cradle Will Rock (1937), a pro-union political satire for which he wrote the music, lyrics, and book, dates from this period. Commissioned by the WPA's Federal TheatreFederal Theatre
(1935–39), branch of the Work Projects Administration designed to provide employment for actors, directors, writers, and scene designers. As well as providing a nationwide audience with inexpensive, high-quality productions, it gave impetus to experimental
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 project, federal support was withdrawn before opening night, ostensibly for budget reasons, but it opened without set or costumes at another venue with Blitzstein onstage at the piano and actors singing from the seats. Other works include The Airborne Symphony (1946); Regina (1949), an opera on Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes; an English adaptation of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera (1954); and the Broadway musical Juno (1959), based on Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock. Blitzstein was working on the opera Sacco and Vanzetti at his death; it was completed (2001) by the composer Leonard Lehrman.

Bibliography

See biographies by E. Gordon (1989) and H. Pollack (2012); biographical bibliography by L. Lehrman (2005).

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Blitzstein, Marc

(1905–64) composer; born in Philadelphia. A pianist and composer as a youth, in 1924 he enrolled in the newly established Curtis Institute to study composition. He went on to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and Schoenberg in Berlin, where he encountered the socially-conscious works of Brecht and Weill. In 1928, he gave his first major performance in New York as composer-pianist (his Sonata for Piano), but in the 1930s he became even more attracted to writing music with explicit social themes and began to focus his efforts on writing for the musical theater. His best known work, The Cradle Will Rock (1937), fulfilled this aim and he became a member of the Communist Party (1938–49). After serving in the U.S. Air Force in World War II—which inspired his Airborne Symphony (1946)—he returned to writing works for the musical stage; the most ambitious of these was Regina (1949), but none of them achieved the success of his adaptation of the Brecht/Weill Threepenny Opera. At the time of his death—he was murdered while on holiday in Martinique—he was working on a commission from the Metropolitan Opera, his Sacco and Vanzetti (begun in the early 1930s).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.