This is the story of a great musician who embraced all the colorfulness of American life. Composer Marc Blitzstein has been largely forgotten, but in the 1930s he was famous for his political musical, The Cradle Will Rock. In the 1940s he was famous again for his Airborne Symphony, written in London during the war. And in the 1950s he made headlines once more, this time for his brilliantly funny and sarcastic adaptation of Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera.
And yet, he is virtually unknown today. Jewish, gay, and a stubborn political activist, he was on the margins of the arts world in his lifetime. Although championed by Leonard Bernstein, he had trouble getting his career off the ground, and many of his musicals failed after a few performances. And his death was so tragic that it haunted his legacy for decades.
This radio feature aims to celebrate his life with humor, storytelling, and vintage audio, as a new generation discovers his music. Join pianist Guy Livingston for four feature-length episodes, as he recounts the astonishing musical adventures of an American original, Marc Blitzstein.
October 14th: Composer Marc Blitzstein has been all but forgotten, but in the 1930s he was famous for his political musical, The Cradle Will Rock. Directed by Orson Wells, and banned by the Federal Government, the show was an instant hit.
October 21st: In this episode, I will tell you a story of an opera, a missing symphony, and a stolen song. This is the story Marc Blitzstein, and his student, Leonard Bernstein. This is a story of love and betrayal.
October 28th: Kurt Weill wrote Threepenny Opera in German, but Marc Blitzstein’s brilliant english adaptation made it famous in New York. In this episode I tell the story of how Mack The Knife came to Broadway.
November 4th: In 1964, composer Marc Blitzstein was writing an opera about Sacco and Vanzetti. Immensely controversial, this project was cut short by tragedy. Join Guy Livingston, for our final episode: Anarchists at the Opera.
A personal note on Marc Blitzstein
Wars and fashions, the McCarthy era, homophobia, and the accelerated march of history in the 20th century seem to have prevented many American composers from getting the recognition they deserved, and these artists have always fascinated me. The political angle is also important to me, and there Blitzstein’s musical activism is particularly appealing. So I was delighted to delve into his life through his music, his friends and his passionately intense story.
“The Cradle That Rocked: Rediscovering Marc Blitzstein” is hosted and directed by pianist Guy Livingston. This four-part series was produced for Concertzender Radio, Utrecht, The Netherlands; and is distributed by the WFMT Radio Network, Chicago. Funding for this project provided by the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music, Inc. New York, New York. Administrative support by the Transatlantic Foundation for Music and Art. Sound design by Erik Hense. Script editing by Hugh Livingston and Julien Clancy. Interviewees included: • conductor John Mauceri • Stephen Davis, Marc’s nephew • opera expert Fred Plotkin • pianist Steven Blier • Sara Fishko, host of “The Fishko Files” on WNYC • composer William Bolcom • Jamie Bernstein, daughter of Leonard Bernstein. Special thanks to: • Studs Terkel Radio Archive; • Metropolitan Opera Archives; • WOTH studios, The Netherlands; • New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Music Division; • At KWF: Elizabeth Blaufox, Dave Stein, and Brady Sansone; • At WFMT: Tony Macaluso, Heather McDougall, and Sarah Zwinklis; • Plus: Christopher Davis, Sem de Jong, Aletta Becker, Alanna Battat, Kristin and Arie Jan Anderson, Gerrit Vennema, Neale McGoldrick, New World Records, and Kelly Voigt at Naxos Recordings. Copyright 2016 by Guy Livingston.