A composer of enormous musical innovation and influence, Marc Blitzstein remains one of the most versatile and fascinating figures in the history of American music, his creative works running the gamut from Broadway musicals and film scores to concert and chamber pieces. As an open homosexual and a prominent leftist, Blitzstein constantly pushed the boundaries of acceptability in mid-century America in both his music and his life.
Award-winning music historian Howard Pollack's new biography is the first to put Blitzstein's music on equal footing with his politics, theatrical innovation, and other aspects of the composer's life. Pollack covers Blitzstein's life in full, from his childhood in Philadelphia to his violent death in Martinique at age 58. The author describes how this student of contemporary luminaries Arnold Schoenberg and Nadia Boulanger became swept up in the stormy political atmosphere of the 1920s and 1930s and throughout his career walked the fine line between his formal training and his populist principles in his composition. Indeed, Blitzstein developed a unique sound that drew on everything contemporary, from the high modernism of Schoenberg to swing and jazz. Pollack captures the astonishing breadth of Blitzstein's musical language—?from politically scandalous Broadway musicals like The Cradle Will Rock
and No for an Answer
, to the patriotic Airborne Symphony
, to lesser known early pieces, film scores, and chamber works. A fearless artist, Blitzstein translated Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera
during the heyday of McCarthyism and the red scare, and, with Leonard Bernstein and Lotte Lenya, turned it into an off-Broadway sensation.
Beautifully written, drawing on new interviews with friends and family of the composer, and making extensive use of new archival and secondary sources, Marc Blitzstein
presents the most complete biography of this quintessentially American composer.
This is a thorough, in-depth, comprehensive exploration ... A momentous achievement indeed. (K.S. Todd, Choice
Howard Pollack's massive new study reminds us that Blitzstein composed a huge amount of music, much of it virtually forgotten, still unpublished and unrecorded. (David Schiff, Times Literary Supplement
A brilliantly researched new biography (Benjamin Ivry, Forward Newspaper