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Marc Blitzstein: a brief biography
1958 - 1964
MB, late 50s
On holiday with Bernstein
In Martinique, 1963
In 1958, Blitzstein received a subpoena to appear before the HUAC, the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Appearing first in a closed session, Blitzstein admitted his membership of the Communist Party (which had ceased in 1949), and, challenging the right of HUAC to question him at all, refused either to name names, or co-operate any further. He was recalled for a further public session, but after a day anxiously sitting in a waiting-room, he was not called to testify.

By the late 50s, the McCarthy witch-hunts were running out of steam, and Blitzstein, being by that time neither the big name that McCarthy liked to humiliate, nor having any substantial income that a public investigation could jeopardise, was in less danger from the threat of the black-list. Nevertheless, the strain that the experience caused was the last thing that he needed in those gloomy years at the end of the decade.

Blitzstein's last projects were two one act operas, IDIOTS FIRST, and THE MAGIC BARREL, both adaptations of short stories by Bernard Malamud, and SACCO AND VANZETTI, a commission from the Metropolitan Opera, New York. The trial and execution of the Italian immigrant anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartomoleo Vanzetti, in 1927, was an infamous left-wing cause célèbre. It had formed the subject of his earlier choral opera THE CONDEMNED (1932), and continued to fascinate him. All were to be left incomplete.

In 1963, Blitzstein had decided to spend the winter in Martinique, leaving New York in November of that year. Late one evening, in January 1964, following a session of heavy drinking, he had picked up three Portuguese sailors. Exactly what happened next is unclear, but it seems that whilst travelling between bars, one slipped into a nearby alley with Blitzstein in response to his sexual advances. The other two followed and all three robbed him, beat him up and stripped him of all his clothes except his shirt and socks.

The police found him moaning and crying in the middle of the night, and took him to a hospital. The injuries did not appear serious, but he was bleeding to death from internal contusions and he died the next evening, January 22nd, 1964.

Leonard Bernstein, learning of Blitzstein's death as he was in his dressing-room preparing for a concert, dedicated the performance of the Eroica he was about to conduct to Blitzstein's memory, and wrote the following of his friend; "(He) was so close a personal friend that I cannot even begin to measure our loss of him as a composer. I can only think that I have lost a part of me, but I know also that music has lost an invaluable servant. His special position in musical theatre is irreplaceable."
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