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Blitzstein, Marc

theater opera american music

Blitzstein, Marc, significant American composer; b. Philadelphia, March 2, 1905; d. Fort de France, Martinique, Jan. 22, 1964. He studied piano and organ with Sternberg in Philadelphia. In 1921 he entered the Univ. of Pa. on a scholarship, but left the following year when he failed to meet the physical education requirements. He then studied piano with Siloti in N.Y. From 1924 1926 he was a composition student of Scalerò at the Curtis Inst. of Music in Philadelphia. After further training with Boulanger in Paris and Schoenberg in Berlin (1926–28), he returned to the U.S. and wrote a few generic instrumental works in either a late Romantic or a more modern, Copland- influenced jazz style. However, he soon turned to creating works for the theater à la Brecht and Weill, in which “art for society’s sake” and “social consciousness” of a fervent left-wing persuasion became the norm. Particularly notable was his play in music, The Cradle Will Rock (N.Y., June 16, 1937). In 1940–41 and 1941–42 he held Guggenheim fellowships. From 1942 to 1945 he served in the U.S. Army Air Force in England, where he was music director of the American Broadcasting Station for Europe. Upon his return to the U.S., he resumed composing for the theater. However, in the 1950s he was unable to sustain his musical standing as his unique blending of musical theater and opera went out of fashion, as did his penchant for social protest. During the last decade of his life, his works became more conventional. In 1959 he was elected to membership in the National Inst. of Arts and Letters. In 1960 he received a Ford Foundation grant to compose an opera on the subject of Sacco and Vanzetti for the Metropolitan Opera in N.Y., but the work was never finished. Two other operas were also left incomplete. Blitzstein died from injuries sustained after a savage beating by 3 sailors in an alley. Three arias, 1 each from his 3 unfinished operas, were premiered at a memorial concert conducted by Bernstein in N.Y., April 19, 1964. Blitzstein remains best known for his adaptation of Weürs Die Dreigroschenoper as The Threepenny Opera (Waltham, Mass., June 14, 1952). It opened off Broadway on March 10, 1954, and had a remarkable 6-year N.Y. run, becoming a classic of the American theater.

Blitzstein, Marc(us Samuel) [next] [back] Bliss, Sir Arthur (Drummond)

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