Marc Blitzstein

Biography

Born: March 2, 1905; Philadelphia, PA   Died: January 22, 1964; Fort-de-France, Martinique  
In the first half of the twentieth century, no one successfully fused classical and popular music styles or convincingly fit American vernacular speech to music as well as composer-pianist Marc Blitzstein. Blitzstein composed primarily for the musical stage, using his own librettos, though he also wrote non-dramatic vocal and instrumental music as well. From experimental and polytonal beginnings, Blitzstein's music changed as he rejected the idea Read more of art for art's sake in the 1930s and turned instead to a socially oriented aesthetic that had been embraced by Bertolt Brecht and the rest of the scattered or destroyed German avant-garde.

Exposed to music as a young child, he attended the University of Pennsylvania, losing a scholarship after he flunked a physical education class, but persisting with studies in piano and composition. In 1926 he appeared as solo pianist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, soon after which he left for further compositional studies in Europe. He major mentors for the next two years were Nadia Boulanger and Arnold Schoenberg. Afterwards, he made his first two major New York appearances in 1928: as a composer-pianist performing his Sonata for Piano (1927) and as a music critic in the periodical Modern Music. His criticism was better received than his composition, and he returned to Europe in 1929, continuing to compose and write.

Blitzstein's first operas were short avant-garde works; they included Triple Sec (1928) and Parabola Circula (1929). However, with The Condemned, a 1932 work on the subject of the Sacco/Vanzetti trial, Blitzstein began to take up the social themes common to most of his later work. In the mid-1930s he attended Hanns Eisler's lectures on the social responsibilities of musicians and took them to heart. The Cradle Will Rock (1936) was the most important of Blitzstein's works of this period, which lasted through 1941. The work was originally intended for the Federal Theatre Project, but it was considered too controversial (the plot dealt with a revolutionary labor uprising), and it ended up as a production of Orson Welles's Mercury Theater (and eventually as subject matter for the Tim Robbins film Cradle Will Rock of 1999).

While serving in the U.S. Air Force in London from 1942 to 1945, Blitzstein wholeheartedly supported the war effort with his music. After the war he returned to writing for the stage, though somewhat less militantly than previously. A Koussevitsky Foundation commission led to the opera Regina (1946-1949), originally intended as a Broadway musical and based on Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes. Stage works of the 1950s included Reuben Reuben (1950-1955) and Juno (1957-1959), based on Sean O'Casey's play Juno and the Paycock, two unsuccessful attempts at Broadway musical theatre. On the other hand, his adaptation of Brecht's Die Dreigroschenoper as The Threepenny Opera was an off-Broadway hit and has become the standard English version. In the 1960s Blitzstein received a Ford Foundation/Metropolitan Opera commission to return to the Sacco and Vanzetti story. Sacco and Vanzetti, and two more one-act operas on stories by Bernard Malamud, were never completed: Blitzstein died after being beaten up by three sailors he met in a bar while on vacation on Martinique. Read less
Browse 1-15 of 15 Available Recordings
  • 1.
    The Viennese School: Teachers & Followers Of Schoenberg, Vol. 2
    Label: Md&g (Dabringhaus & Grimm)   Catalog: 6131434 Release Date: 01/25/2011   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Arnold Schoenberg,  Natalia Prawossudowitsch,  Peter Schacht,  Nikos Skalkottas  ... 
    Performer:  Steffen Schleiermacher
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  • 2.
    Blitzstein: Regina / Krachmalnick, Lewis, Carron, Brice, Hecht
    Label: Sony   Catalog: 72912 Release Date: 07/20/2010   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Marc Blitzstein
    Performer:  Emile Renan,  Joshua Hecht,  Carol Brice,  Brenda Lewis  ... 
    Conductor:  Samuel Krachmalnick
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  New York City Opera Chorus,  New York City Opera Orchestra
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  • 3.
    First Life - Marc Blitzstein / Cahill, Del Sol String Quartet
    Label: Other Minds Records   Catalog: 1017 Release Date: 05/12/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Marc Blitzstein
    Performer:  Sarah Cahill
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Del Sol String Quartet
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  • 4.
    Blitzstein: Regina / Mauceri, Ciesinski, Ramey, Réaux
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 433812 Release Date: 04/13/2009   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Marc Blitzstein
    Performer:  Katherine Ciesinski,  Samuel Ramey,  Angelina Réaux,  Sheri Greenawald  ... 
    Conductor:  John Mauceri
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scottish Opera Orchestra,  Scottish Opera Chorus
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  • 5.
    Blitzstein: Zipperfly & Other Songs / Sharp, Holvik, Blier
    Label: Koch International Classics   Catalog: 7773 Release Date: 01/27/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Marc Blitzstein
    Performer:  William Sharp,  Steven Blier,  Karen Holvik
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  • 6.
    Dawn At Dusk - A Late Night Recital / Dawn Upshaw
    Label: Kultur Video   Catalog: 4198 Release Date: 05/29/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  George Gershwin,  Richard Rodgers,  Stephen Sondheim,  Kurt Weill  ... 
    Performer:  Fred Hersch,  Dawn Upshaw
    Conductor:  Eric Stern
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Sinfonietta
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  • 7.
    20th Century Piano Music / Bennett Lerner
    Label: Etcetera Records   Catalog: 1036 Release Date: 10/01/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Roy Harris,  William Schuman,  Phillip Ramey,  Aaron Copland  ... 
    Performer:  Bennett Lerner
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  • 8.
    Bernstein Century - American Masters 2 - Piston, Hill, Et Al
    Label: Sony   Catalog: 61849 Release Date: 04/11/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Edward Burlingame Hill,  Marc Blitzstein,  Walter Piston
    Performer:  Orson Welles,  David Watson,  Andrea Velis
    Conductor:  Leonard Bernstein
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Columbia Symphony Orchestra,  New York Philharmonic,  Choral Art Society
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  • 9.
    Heritage  Songs Of Free Men / Paul Robeson, Et Al
    Label: Sony Classical Masterworks   Catalog: 63223 Release Date: 12/09/1997   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Traditional,  Lehman Engel,  Ivan Dzerzhinsky,  Felix Mendelssohn  ... 
    Performer:  Paul Robeson,  Lawrence Brown
    Conductor:  Emanuel Balaban
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Columbia Concert Orchestra
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  • 10.
    Gay American Composers Vol 2
    Label: Composers Recordings, Inc. (Cri)   Catalog: 750 Release Date: 05/20/1997   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Henry Cowell,  Harry Partch,  Samuel Barber,  Marc Blitzstein  ... 
    Performer:  Henry Cowell,  David Reid,  Dick Schleppe,  Harry Partch  ... 
    Conductor:  Lukas Foss,  James Bolle
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gate 5 Ensemble,  Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra,  New Hampshire Symphony Orchestra  ... 
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  • 11.
    I Wish It So / Dawn Upshaw
    Label: Nonesuch   Catalog: 79345 Release Date: 08/02/1994   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Leonard Bernstein,  Stephen Sondheim,  Marc Blitzstein,  Kurt Weill
    Performer:  Dawn Upshaw,  Matthias Naegele,  Eric Stern,  Leslie Stifelman
    Conductor:  Eric Stern
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  • 12.
    Blitzstein: Piano Concerto;  Picker: Keys To The City / Foss
    Label: Composers Recordings, Inc. (Cri)   Catalog: 554 Release Date: 04/20/1994   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Marc Blitzstein,  Tobias Picker
    Performer:  Michael Barrett,  Tobias Picker
    Conductor:  Lukas Foss
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra
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  • 13.
    Patti Lupone Live
    Label: Rca   Catalog: 61797 Release Date: 06/08/1993   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Kurt Weill,  Julie Gold,  Irving Berlin,  Cole Porter  ... 
    Performer:  Jackie O'Neill,  Brian Miller,  Mike Vaccaro,  Joel Dibartolo  ... 
    Conductor:  John McDaniel
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  • 14.
    American Songbook - The American Music Collection Vol 3
    Label: Koch International Classics   Catalog: 7360 Release Date: 04/23/1996   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Leonard Bernstein,  George Gershwin,  Marc Blitzstein,  William Bolcom  ... 
    Performer:  Steven Blier,  Judy Kaye,  William Sharp,  Karen Holvik  ... 
    Conductor:  Michael Barrett,  Joel Revzen,  H. Robert Reynolds
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  American Musical Theater Festival Orchestra,  St. Paul Chamber Orchestra members,  Minnesota Orchestra members  ... 
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  • 15.
    Blitzstein: Zipperfly & Other Songs / Sharp, Holvik, Blier
    Label: Koch International Classics   Catalog: 7050 Release Date: 04/1991   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Marc Blitzstein
    Performer:  Steven Blier,  William Sharp,  Karen Holvik
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