The Cradle that Rocked: Rediscovering Marc Blitzstein

This radio series about the composer Marc Blitzstein aims to celebrate his life with humor, storytelling, and vintage audio, as a new generation discovers his music. Join pianist Guy Livingston for four feature-length episodes, as he recounts the astonishing musical adventures of an American original, Marc Blitzstein.

This is the story of a great musician who embraced all the colorfulness of American life. Composer Marc Blitzstein has been largely forgotten, but in the 1930s he was famous for his political musical, The Cradle Will Rock. In the 1940s he was famous again for his Airborne Symphony, written in London during the war. And in the 1950s he made headlines once more, this time for his brilliantly funny and sarcastic adaptation of Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera.

And yet, he is virtually unknown today. Jewish, gay, and a stubborn political activist, he was on the margins of the arts world in his lifetime. Although championed by Leonard Bernstein, he had trouble getting his career off the ground, and many of his musicals failed after a few performances. And his death was so tragic that it haunted his legacy for decades.

This radio series aims to celebrate his life with humor, storytelling, and vintage audio, as a new generation discovers his music. Join pianist Guy Livingston for four feature-length episodes, as he recounts the astonishing musical adventures of an American original, Marc Blitzstein.

A personal note on Blitzstein from the director:

Wars and fashions, the McCarthy era, homophobia, and the accelerated march of history in the 20th century seem to have prevented many American composers from getting the recognition they deserved, and these artists have always fascinated me. The political angle is also important to me, and there Blitzstein’s musical activism is particularly appealing. So I was delighted to delve into his life through his music, his friends and his passionately intense story. – G.L.

Mar 5:  

  • The Cradle that Rocked. Composer Blitzstein has been all but forgotten, but in the 1930s he was famous for his political music, The Cradle will Rock. Composed by Blitzstein directed by Orson Wells, and banned by the federal government, the show was an instant hit.

Mar 12:

  • Love and betrayal. In this story about Marc Blitzstein, we'll hear a story about airplanes and about a Southern Belle. But the most compelling story is how a composer and a student became friends, lovers, rivals, and friends again.

Mar 19:

  • Mack the knife on Broadway. Composer Blitzstein straddled many genres, from classical to Broadway. He could make text and music marry each other in simple and glorious ways. We'll hear Bob Dylan, Louis Armstrong, and Lotte Lenya talk about Blitzstein’s brilliant adaptation of Threepenny Opera. Blitzstein's own songwriting was remarkable focused and spare, paired down to the most basic elements yet with fiery results.

Mar 26:  

  • Anarchists at the opera. Composer Blitzstein’s wrote politically engaged music of his life. In the early 1960s, he was commissioned to write an opera in New York about Sacco and Vanzetti. Immensely controversial, this opera about anarchist cut short by his murder in Martinique.