Marc Blitzstein

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Marc Blitzstein (1905-1964) was born in Philadelphia, the son of affluent parents. His musical gifts were apparent at an early age, and 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. His works of his early period, mostly pianistic vehicles such as the PIANO SONATA (1927), CAIN (1930), 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." Yet, a new aesthetic was taking shape in the early thirties, one that sought to make art useful and communicative to all audiences, and not just the "anointed in Carnegie Hall".

Along with contemporaries such as Steinbeck and Copland, Blitzstein came to believe that “art for art’s sake” was creating a vast gulf between artist and audience. Fundamental to the formation of these beliefs was the critic and novelist Eva Goldbeck (born in Berlin in 1901). They had met in 1928, and travelled together throughout Europe. She was the dedicatee of his CAIN, his ROMANTIC PIECE FOR ORCHESTRA, and his STRING QUARTET. They married in Philadelphia on March 2nd, 1933, Blitzstein's twenty-eighth birthday. During World War Two, Blitzstein joined the US Army Eighth Air Force. He had no reservation about joining in the fight against fascism, and his abilities were used as music director of the American broadcasting station in London. 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. Blitzstein's last projects were two one act operas, IDIOTS FIRST, and THE MAGIC BARREL, both adaptations of short stories by Bernard Malamud, and SACCO AND VANZETTI, a commission from the Metropolitan Opera, New York. Blitzstein was beset by thugs while on a long holiday in Martinique, and died, tragically, on January 22nd, 1964. Leonard Bernstein, learning of Blitzstein's death as he was in his dressing-room preparing for a concert, dedicated the performance of the Eroica he was about to conduct to Blitzstein's memory, and wrote the following of his friend; "(He) was so close a personal friend that I cannot even begin to measure our loss of him as a composer. I can only think that I have lost a part of me, but I know also that music has lost an invaluable servant. His special position in musical theatre is irreplaceable." Excerpted from author John Jansson,, with permission.