Marc Blitzstein Papers, 1918-1989

Scope and Content Note

The Marc Blitzstein Papers contain extensive information on both the personal and professional aspects of this innovative and talented composer's life. The collection provides particularly interesting documentation of the creative process of composition from the initial gathering of research materials, and making musical and script sketches, through producing the first work. Also illuminating are Blitzstein's efforts to reconcile the political, psychological, and musical aspects of composition, often at the same time he was struggling financially. The papers depict Blitzstein's concern with social and political implications of music, the relationship between music and the public, and his belief that music should be functional, rather than merely “pure.” Included as well are personal papers and writings of Blitzstein's wife, Eva Goldbeck.

The collection is arranged into the following series: Personal Papers, Writings, Motion Pictures, Operas, Ballets, Symphonies, Choral Cantatas, Theater, Miscellaneous Music Tablets, Other Compositions, Adaptations, Radio, Works By Other Composers, Miscellaneous, Scrapbooks, and Other Tape and Disc Recordings.

Much of the collection consists of musical scores and scripts; they are often supplemented by correspondence, research materials, clippings and other documents that allow the researcher to explore Blitzstein's work. Within each of the series the materials are ordered chronologically; unproduced works are placed at the end of each series.

The PERSONAL PAPERS give the researcher a glimpse into the personalities of Blitzstein and Eva Goldbeck, as well as an indication of the artistic struggles they faced. Included are correspondence and financial information such as contracts, royalty statements, and copyrights. Also included are two scripts, “Injunction Granted” and “Power,” from the Living Newspaper of the Federal Theatre Project; Blitzstein worked for this governmental agency during the Depression.

Documentation of MOTION PICTURES includes manuscripts for Hands, Surf and Seaweed, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, The Spanish Earth, Valley Town, Native Land, Night Shift, and the unproduced “Charlotte's Web.” Most significant among these is Native Land, for which Blitzstein wrote the musical score. Native Land, which premiered in May 1942, depicts the struggles of American labor to organize and protect civil liberties. Blitzstein later revised the score into an orchestral suite. Also included are 38 disc recordings (many of which have been copied onto tape) of various production stages of Native Land.

Materials in the OPERA series often present a nearly complete picture of a production. Blitzstein usually composed his music at the piano. For many of his works, therefore, there are initial piano sketches which evolved into piano scores, piano-vocal arrangements and, finally, orchestra-conductor scores. Although Blitzstein and others labeled these works “opera,” he conceded that they might more accurately be called “musical plays,” developing to the limit Blitzstein's innovation of musical conversation.

In this series are Triple-Sec, The Cradle Will Rock, No for an Answer, Regina, Let's Make an Opera, The Harpies, Reuben, Reuben, Juno, and several unproduced works, including Blitzstein's last major project, “Sacco and Vanzetti.” There are tape recordings of portions of No for an Answer, Reuben, Reuben, and Juno, and of The Cradle Will Rock in its entirety.

The Cradle Will Rock, first produced in June 1937, was Blitzstein's first major work and brought him to the attention of the working, political, and musical public. Its main topic, labor organizing and a strike, was a common one at the time. But the manner and power of his statement was controversial and made producers reluctant to handle it. The Cradle Will Rock was in fact cancelled just before opening night. Blitzstein, together with Orson Welles and producer John Houseman, moved the production to another theater and produced it on a bare stage without props or orchestra. No for an Answer, with a civil rights theme, also met with many of the same problems and criticisms in 1941.

The opera Regina was Blitzstein's attempt to bring out yet another facet of the voracious Hubbards in the musical version of Lillian Hellman's play The Little Foxes. Begun in 1946 with Hellman's permission, Blitzstein served as librettist, composer and lyricist of this work supported by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation. The commission by the foundation was an honor never before bestowed on an American. Regina made its Broadway debut on October 31, 1949 at the 46th Street Theatre and, though only 56 performances were then given, many of New York's critics as well as Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland, hailed Blitzstein's creation. Nine years later on April 27, 1958, a shorter “tighter” version was produced at the New York City Opera and was critically acclaimed. The records of Regina include piano-vocal scores and conductor's scores, notes and drafts of the libretto, score and lyrics, publicity, criticisms by Hellman, contracts and royalty statements, and general correspondence.

The series BALLETS contains materials from Blitzstein's major ballets, Cain and The Guests. Included are music sketches, piano scores, and theater orchestra scores. There is little non-musical material. For several unproduced works there are also musical sketches and scores. Together these files illustrate how Blitzstein developed the music for a variety of ballets.

Files on Blitzstein's SYMPHONIES Freedom Morning and The Airborne Symphony are also included. Freedom Morning was commissioned by Lord Beaverbrook and the British as a means of reducing the tension between white and black American servicemen when the blacks arrived in England during the war. Blitzstein composed the work while living in barracks with the blacks, who did menial work for the U.S. Eighth Air Force. The symphony was first performed in concert with black singers from the states. The Airborne Symphony, first performed in 1946, was commissioned by the U.S. Army Eighth Air Force while Blitzstein served in the Armed Forces. It was written to commemorate and chronicle 50 years of powered flight, but was also Blitzstein's warning against future wars. It was typical of Blitzstein in that it was a departure from the symphonic form being scored for orchestra, speaker, a male chorus, solo tenor, and solo baritone. The Airborne Symphony is well-documented in the collection with correspondence, scripts, music sketches and scores, production notes, clippings, and disc and tape recordings of several complete performances.

The series CHORAL CANTATAS includes materials about This Is the Garden, a six-section choral work about New York City, commissioned by the Interracial Musical Council in 1956 and first performed in May 1957. There are also records for two unproduced works, “Workers' Kids of the World Unite” and “Cantatina for Women's Chorus and Percussion.”

Blitzstein wrote much incidental music for the THEATER, beginning with Lear, the culmination in 1937 of Blitzstein's work for two productions of King Lear; and the Mercury Theatre's productions of Julius Caesar (1937) and Danton's Death (1938). The files on Lear, Midsummer Night's Dream, and Julius Caesar are extensive and varied, and include notes, scripts, extensive scores, instrumental parts, published songs, and publicity. Also included are materials on Parade, Danton's Death, Pins and Needles, Twelfth Night, Another Part of the Forest, Androcles and the Lion, The Winter's Tale, Toys in the Attic, “Goloopchik,” and “Volpone.”

There are eight MISCELLANEOUS MUSIC TABLETS in the next series. The tablets contain musical sketches from various works including “Scalero,” “Parabola and Circula,” “Italian Quartet,” and “Ajui Ballet.”

Within the series OTHER COMPOSITIONS are musical works written by Blitzstein which do not fall into other series. These include musical settings of poems by Walt Whitman and e.e. cummings; the latter later published as Songs from Marion's Book. Also included are many orchestral pieces, instrumental and piano works, and vocal works and songs, including a Piano Concerto (1931) and a Scherzo - Bourgeois at Play (1930), later performed by Norman Cazden. This series also includes a small group of canons and fugues with some original works and some by such other composers as Bach, Palestrina, Ravel, and Chopin. Transcriptions by Blitzstein include works which Blitzstein rewrote or arranged for combinations of musicians other than those in the original work. He arranged works by such composers as Aaron Copland, Serge Rachmaninoff, Richard Strauss, Modiste Moussorgsky, and Peter Tschaikowsky.

ADAPTATIONS contains, among other works, materials from one of Blitzstein's greatest successes, his translation and adaptation of The Threepenny Opera (Dreigroschenoper) by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. First performed in 1952, The Threepenny Opera ran on Broadway from 1955-1961. The song “Mack the Knife” made Blitzstein famous in another genre, popular music. The files concerning The Threepenny Opera include correspondence, royalty statements, contracts, scripts and translations, sheet music, and scores. Also included is a script edited for a British acting company. Other adaptations by Blitzstein include Brecht on Brecht, The Duenna, Carmen, La Traviata, and “Mother Courage” and “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny,” both unproduced but with fairly extensive files.

In the RADIO series is music written by Blitzstein for several radio productions. These include I've Got the Tune (CBS, October 1957), Labor for Victory, and Russia Is Singing.

WORKS BY OTHER COMPOSERS contains two works by Leonard Bernstein, who was a friend of Blitzstein's. These are On the Town and Trouble in Tahiti, written in 1952 and dedicated to Blitzstein. Another noted composer, Virgil Thompson, wrote Music for Shakespeare's Hamlet, which is also included. Eva Goldbeck wrote the words to the song, “First of May,” with music written by “Hammer.” Several other minor compositions are also included in this series.

The SCRAPBOOKS are comprised of eleven volumes kept by Blitzstein from 1937 to 1960. Noteworthy individual items in the scrapbooks include:

Volume 1: Photographs of Blitzstein in rehearsal for The Cradle Will Rock.
Review by John W. Gassner of December 11, 1937 radio broadcast of The Cradle Will Rock.
Review of The Cradle Will Rock by Alistair Cook, delivered on NBC radio, January 12, 1938
Volume 2: Review of Native Land, by Virgil Thompson
Notification of “Page One” award given by the Newspaper Guild for The Airborne Symphony, November 11, 1946
Volume 3: Recommendations of Blitzstein by Henry Allen Moe of the Guggenheim Foundation, Aaron Copland, and Davidson Taylor of CBS, for a job involving the use of music in public relations, June 1942-January 1943.
Military papers.
Volume 9: “A Note on The Threepenny Opera,” an article exploring its psychiatric and psychological implications, by Montague Ullman, MD, in American Journal of Psychotherapy, April 1959.
Volume 10: Letter from Radio/Television Daily informing Blitzstein that “Mack the Knife” from The Threepenny Opera had been voted “Song Hit of the Year,” 1959.
Photograph of Leonard Bernstein, his wife, and his children.