Opera composer glorified in biography
In an effort to showcase the essence of classical opera music composers, Moores School of Music professor Howard Pollack will be hosting a recital and book signing to promote his latest book “Marc Blitzstein: His Life, His Work, His World” at 8 p.m. Thursday Nov. 8 at the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center at 5601 S. Braeswood Blvd.
The Daily Cougar caught up with Pollack to discuss the book and how he interpreted three aspects of Blitzstein’s life that give audiences an inside look on the man behind the music.
The Daily Cougar: What drew you to write a biography for Marc Blitzstein?
Howard Pollack: Blitzstein was a fabulously gifted and innovative lyricist-composer who made a profound mark in his own time, but who has been largely forgotten since his death in 1964. Although there had been a big biography of Blitzstein published in 1989, that author had a background in cultural studies rather than music so I thought I could bring some new perspectives to the subject.
TDC: How did you approach researching for this book?
HP: Blitzstein’s estate purchased a copy of Blitzstein’s microfilms for me which I donated to UH. I also find it helpful to bring the music to life by teaching a class that would enable me to present scenes from Blitzstein’s opera, ‘The Cradle Will Rock’ with students.
TDC: What caused Blitzstein to experiment in different genres like film scores, musicals and operas?
HP: He integrated speech and wrote music in such a fashion that they seemed like musicals. Blitzstein was very appreciative of the accomplishments of such Broadway composers like George Gershwin and Burton Lane, but I would say that his work was loftier than theirs.
TDC: How did politics influence Blitzstein’s music across such a variety of genres?
HP: Blitzstein was terribly concerned about the rights of women, immigrants, minorities, working people and the poor. He was also about the obligations of the more privileged to society. He found theater, documentary film and radio congenial venues in which to express such concerns.
TDC: How was writing this biography different from your other biographies on such composers as Gershwin and Aaron Copland?
HP: This is my sixth book and all my other books are also biographical. They have points of similarity, but there are real differences like way they integrate life and work, which is a daunting problem for the critical biographer. In Gershwin, for instance, I just created two big parts: life and work. Here, I was able to integrate the material more thoroughly.
TDC: For those unfamiliar with Blitzenstein’s work, where do you suggest they begin listening to his work?
The two undisputed masterworks are “The Cradle Will Rock” and “Regina.” There are a number of good recordings of the former and the 1958 City Opera recording of “Regina,” which has just been released on CD, is a classic. There’s also the original cast recording of Blitzstein’s “Threepenny” Opera that wound up having a big influence on Bob Dylan.