Marc Blitzstein: a brief biography
1905 - 1935
Blitzstein (l) with his family in 1906
Blitzstein with his sister Jo, 1909
Blitzstein in Salzburg, 1929
Blitzstein in Dubrovnik, 1932
Marcus Samuel Blitzstein was born in Philadelphia on March 2nd, 1905, the son of affluent parents. His musical gifts were apparent at an early age, and he had performed a Mozart Piano Concerto by the time he was seven. He went on to study piano with Alexander Siloti, (a pupil of Liszt and Tchaikovsky), and made his professional concerto debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Liszt’s E flat Piano Concerto when he was 21.

After studying composition at the Curtis Institute of Music,he continued his studies in Europe with Arnold Schoenberg in Berlin (with whom he did not get on), and Nadia Boulanger in Paris (with whom he did).

Despite his later political beliefs, he was, in the early years of his c
areer, a self-proclaimed and unrepentant artistic snob who firmly believed that true art was only for the intellectual elite. He was vociferous in denouncing composers - in particular Kurt Weill - whom he felt debased their standards to reach a wider public.

His works of this period, mostly pianistic vehicles such as the PIANO SONATA (1927) and the PIANO CONCERTO (1931) are typical of the Boulanger-influenced products of American modernism - strongly rhythmic (although in Blitzstein's case, not influenced by Jazz), and described by himself as "wild, dissonant, and percussive." All of which was very far removed from the Schoenbergian line of compositional thought.

Yet, a new aesthetic was taking shape in the early thirties, one that sought to make art useful and communicative to all audiences, and not just the "anointed in Carnegie Hall". Along with contemporaries such as Steinbeck and Copland, Blitzstein came to believe that “art for art’s sake” was creating a vast gulf between artist and audience.