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 Liszts 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 career,
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.
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 arts sake was creating a vast gulf between artist