A thorough biography of radical composer Blitzstein (1905-1964). Of all 20th-century composers, Blitzstein was perhaps the one of whom it could be said that his politics and his music were inseparable. Like his peer (and sometime lover) Aaron Copland, he broke away from European traditions to compose music that spoke convincingly in American idioms; but it was his left-wing radicalism that most informed his efforts (one of his lesser-known works was a piece of musical theater entitled "Sacco and Vanzetti"). Gordon chronicles Blitzstein's "little Lord Fauntleroy" upbringing in Philadelphia (mostly in the company of women), his distinguished academic work at the U. of Penn. (where he showed a strong bent for creative writing), and his Paris years as yet another sycophant of Nadia Boulanger (where he learned to distrust the school of music being forced on the century by Schoenberg: "He would," Blitzstein wrote, "make of music an inert, dead pattern, fit only for the laboratory. . ."). But Blitzstein's efforts were not universally admired, either. In one letter to a friend, he complains that "I am treated everywhere with contempt, condescension, or outright vituperation." Indeed, famed critic Olin Downes referred to his music as "singularly repellant puerility." Often tiresome in this work, in truth (and one can't help but feel that it isn't so much Gordon's fault as it is the problem of Blitzstein's relevance) is the author's overdescription of the technical aspects of the various stagings of Blitzstein's works. For, really, outside of The Cradle Will Rock and his translation of Weill's The Threepenny Opera, not much of the composer's work stands up to history. A sympathetic account of this quasi-tragic character (whose death came in a dingy Martinique alleyway)—and probably the definitive word on its subject's life and work.
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