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Marc Blitzstein: His Life, His Work, His World

Overview

A composer and lyricist of enormous innovation and influence, Marc Blitzstein remains one of the most versatile and fascinating figures in the history of American music, his creative output running the gamut from films scores and Broadway operas to art songs and chamber pieces. A prominent leftist and social maverick, Blitzstein constantly pushed the boundaries of convention in mid-century America in both his work and his life.

Award-winning music historian Howard Pollack's new ...

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Marc Blitzstein: His Life, His Work, His World

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Overview

A composer and lyricist of enormous innovation and influence, Marc Blitzstein remains one of the most versatile and fascinating figures in the history of American music, his creative output running the gamut from films scores and Broadway operas to art songs and chamber pieces. A prominent leftist and social maverick, Blitzstein constantly pushed the boundaries of convention in mid-century America in both his work and his life.

Award-winning music historian Howard Pollack's new biography 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 Nadia Boulanger and Arnold Schoenberg 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. Indeed, Blitzstein developed a unique sound that drew on everything contemporary, from the high modernism of Stravinsky and Hindemith to jazz and Broadway show tunes. Pollack captures the astonishing breadth of Blitzstein's work—from provocative operas like The Cradle Will Rock, No for an Answer, and Regina, to the wartime Airborne Symphony composed during his years in service, to lesser known ballets, film scores, and stage works. A courageous artist, Blitzstein translated Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera during the heyday of McCarthyism and the red scare, and turned it into an off-Broadway sensation, its "Mack the Knife" becoming one of the era's biggest hits.

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 important American artist.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
…Blitzstein's rehabilitation is proceeding slowly. Although the three-volume Marc Blitzstein Songbook was published more than a decade ago, most of his compositions languish in manuscript in libraries. Pollack brings these works out of the archives and into the light, examining them far more thoroughly than ever before, and in the context of Blitzstein's life and times…Marc Blitzstein is the story of an artistic genius who refused to sell out, and Pollack has made a powerful case for his rediscovery. With its extensive and insightful descriptions of the music, this biography ought to win for Blitzstein the wider recognition and appreciation he so clearly deserves after so many years of neglect.
—William S. Niederkorn
From the Publisher
"This comprehensive book about the life and music of the sadly neglected composer Marc Blitzstein is, as well, an invaluable guide to the workings of American arts during the composer's lifetime." —Edward Albee, playwright

"Marc Blitzstein was a friend, from the moment we first met in 1946 until he died eighteen years later. Now he lives again in Howard Pollack's pages. As a composer he was one of a kind, with his whistleable tunes encased in wise formality, and his bodily presence, so happy and so sad." —Ned Rorem, composer / author

"A timely and invaluable study of a composer we need to know more about. I marvel at Howard Pollack's capacity—as with his biographies of Copland and Gershwin—to digest and synthesize a wealth of information, copiously gathered." —Joseph Horowitz, author of Classical Music in America: A History

"A strong biography." Playbill


"A brilliantly researched new biography." —Jewish Daily Forward

"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 important American artist." —Newreads

"Now, Pollack has made Blitzstein happen, just as he succeeded in his comprehensive studies of Gershwin and Copland." —Jewish Herald Voice

"[An] exceptionally researched, detailed, and important study of this fascinating, complex, and still relatively unknown composer who well deserves a book of this quality." —Notes

"In this comprehensive, sensitive, and beautifully written biography, Howard Pollack scrutinizes every part of Blitzstein's complex personal as well as public life, sustaining his well-deserved reputation as our foremost biographer of American classical composers." —Judith Tick, Matthews Distinguished University Professor, College of Arts, Media, and Design, Northeastern University

"Pollack has already told us everything we need to know about Copland and Gershwin. Now he scrutinises Blitzstein in the context of his entire cultural and political scene in fascinating and impeccably researched detail." —Peter Dickinson, Emeritus Professor of Keele and London Universities

"A thorough biography." —DC Theatre Scene

"Now, Pollack has made Blitzstein happen, just as he succeeded in his comprehensive studies of Gershwin and Copland". —Jewish Herald Voice

26 "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 important American artist." Newreads

"The fluidity of prose, moving between established fact and new interviews and critical ideas, is remarkable, making for a book that is rivaled only by Pollack's biography of Aaron Copland...A momentous achievement indeed...Highly recommended." —Choice

"An eventful and rewarding voyage of immersion into the life and work of an important American composer." —New Music Connoisseur

"Especially valuable..." —Dance Chronicle

Library Journal
Pollack (music, Univ. of Houston; George Gershwin: His Life and Work) weaves an exceptional biography and critical analysis of an American composer who deserves more scholarly attention than he has previously received. The arguably little-known Marc Blitzstein led a fascinating and tragic life in addition to being a fairly prolific composer of theater music, instrumental works, and operas. Pollack takes the reader from Blitzstein's early and traditional music education with Arnold Schoenberg and Nadia Boulanger through his unconventional marriage and to his brutal murder at age 58. The author reveals an individual who was withdrawn and depressed and who embraced his homosexuality but was ultimately haunted by a largely unrequited desire for romantic love. Pollack also offers insightful musical analysis and carefully contextualizes Blitzstein's works—the most notable, perhaps, being the controversial, pro-union 1937 Broadway musical The Cradle Will Rock. VERDICT Pollack's book is a comprehensive and detailed addition to scholarship on 20th-century American composers. Because the critical analysis is mixed with engaging biography, music scholars as well as casual readers with interest in music will enjoy it.—Carolyn M. Schwartz, Westfield State Univ. Lib., MA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199791590
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 10/3/2012
  • Pages: 648
  • Sales rank: 1,136,278
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Howard Pollack is John and Rebecca Moores Professor of Music at the University of Houston and author of, among other books, John Alden Carpenter: A Chicago Composer; Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man; and George Gershwin: His Life and Work.

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Table of Contents

Introduction
Chapter 1: The Boy from Philadelphia
Chapter 2: Journeyman Years
Chapter 3: Early Works (1924-1929)
Chapter 4: Life with Eva, I (1929-1931)
Chapter 5: From is 5 (1929) to the Piano Concerto (1931)
Chapter 6: Life with Eva, II (1932-1936)
Chapter 7: Critical Writings (1931-1940)
Chapter 8: From the Serenade (1932) to The Chesapeake Bay Retriever (1936)
Chapter 9: The Cradle Will Rock, I (1936-7)
Chapter 10: The Cradle Will Rock, II
Chapter 11: From The Spanish Earth (1937) to Danton's Death (1939)
Chapter 12: No for an Answer (1937-1940)
Chapter 13: From Valley Town (1940) to Labor for Victory (1942)
Chapter 14: To London and Back (1942-1945)
Chapter 15: From Freedom Morning (1943) to the Airborne Symphony (1946)
Chapter 16: From Goloopchik (1945) to The Guests (1949)
Chapter 17: Regina, I (1946-49)
Chapter 18: Regina, II
Chapter 19: The Threepenny Opera (1950-54) and Other Adaptations
Chapter 20: Reuben Reuben (1949-1955) and This is the Garden (1956-1957)
Chapter 21: More Music for Shakespeare (1950-58)
Chapter 22: Juno (1957-59)
Chapter 23: Final Years, I (1959-1961)
Chapter 24: Final Years, II (1961-64)
Chapter 25: The Unfinished Operas
Conclusion

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