– January 22
) was an American composer
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Jewish parents, among his works were The Cradle Will Rock, whose premiere was directed by Orson Welles, the opera Regina, an adaptation of Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes, the Broadway musical Juno based on Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock, No For An Answer, and his off-Broadway translation/adaptation of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera. He also completed translation/adaptations of Brecht's and Weill's Mahagonny and Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children, with music by Paul Dessau. Blitzstein also composed music for films such as Surf and Seaweed (1931) by Ralph Steiner and the documentary The Spanish Earth (1937).
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 WPA, the government agency which had originally funded the production, and so a performance without sets or costumes took place, 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, but heavily embellished.
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.
In 1964, Blitzstein was robbed and beaten in Fort-de-France, Martinique by three Portuguese sailors after a sexual encounter. He identified his assailants, who were later convicted of manslaughter after he had died of his wounds in the hospital.
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 bio-bibliography of any American composer (see ).
Although Blitzstein married novelist Eva Goldbeck, he was openly gay
and they had no children. He cited his homosexuality
as the reason for discontinuing his membership in the Communist Party
, which did not consider homosexuality compatible with the party's ideals. This is one interpretation. Another is that the organization became somewhat anti-intellectual when Foster replaced Browder as its head, and many of its most intelligent and artistic members left.
His mother-in-law was Berlin
-born musical star and opera singer Lina Abarbanell
, who survived her daughter. Abarbanell made her American debut in Fruchlingsluft
. She sang the role of Hansel in Hänsel und Gretel
at the Metropolitan Opera
in 1905 and went on to appear in The Student King
, The Merry Widow
, Madame Sherry
, Miss Princess
, The Geisha
, Flora Bella
and The Grand Duke
She died on January 6 1963 in New York City, aged 83
In 1951 Blitzstein was subpoenaed
to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities
. In closed session he admitted having been a member of the Communist Party and then refused to "name names", and wound up not being called upon to testify publicly. However, he was blacklisted
by the movie studio
- Triple-Sec (1928)
- Garrick Gaieties (1930) - revue - contributing composer (revival of Triple-Sec)
- The Condemned (1932, unproduced)
- Parade (1935) - revue - featured songwriter
- The Spanish Earth (1937) - composer with Virgil Thomson
- Julius Caesar (1937) - play revival - incidental music composer
- Pins and Needles (1937) - revue - contributing bookwriter
- The Cradle Will Rock (1938) - musical - composer, lyricist, bookwriter, director, pianist, and actor in the roles of Clerk, First Reporter, and Professor Mamie
- Danton's Death (1938) - play revival - incidental music composer
- Another Part of the Forest (1946) - play - incidental music composer
- Androcles and the Lion (1946) - play revival - incidental music composer
- I've Got The Tune (1938) - radio musical
- The Cradle Will Rock (1938) revival)
- No for an Answer (1941)
- Another Part of the Forest (1946) - play - incidental music
- Regina (1949) - opera - composer and orchestrator, librettist
- Let's Make an Opera (1950) - special performance - director
- King Lear (1950) - play revival - incidental music composer
- The Threepenny Opera (1954) - operetta revival - editor of Bertolt Brecht's book and lyrics into English
- Reuben, Reuben (1955)
- ''Juno (1959) - musical - composer, lyricist and co-orchestrator
- Toys in the Attic (1960) - play - featured songwriter for "French Lessons in Songs" and "Bernier Day"
- Tales of Malamud (2 one-act operas): Idiots First (1963, unfinished, completed by Leonard Lehrman, 1973) and The Magic Barrel (1964, unfinished)
- Sacco and Vanzetti (1964, unfinished, completed by Leonard Lehrman, 2001)
References and sources
- The Oxford Dictionary of Opera, by John Warrack and Ewan West (1992), 782 pages, ISBN 0-19-869164-5