Compositions: Waterfall Barcarolle, Innocent Psalm, Percussion Music for Piano, Cain, The Guest
Performers: Leonard Lehrman p
Catalogue Number: TOCCATA TOCC0438
Marc Blitzstein (1905-64) was an integral figure in mid-20th century American music. He wrote the socialist musical The Cradle Will Rock (directed by a young Orson Welles), and translated Brecht for a long-running production of The Threepenny Opera. His major work was the opera Regina, recorded in 1992 by Decca: his only opera to receive a production. In 1964 he was gay-bashed to death at the docks in Martinique.
An excellent pianist, Blitzstein wrote extensively for his instrument, mostly short vignettes. This volume collects several, beginning with juvenilia from 1918. Some are charming, including the Waterfall Barcarolle, or the later Innocent Psalm (1952), written for the birth of Leonard Bernstein’s daughter. (It sounds uncannily like Bernstein). Others are experimental, such as Percussion Music for Piano (1928-29) and the cluster-laden Piano Sonata (1944). You realise how few experimental pieces survive. The piano lid banging of the Rondino from Percussion Music, or the random mosaic structure of the Sonata no longer sound remotely revolutionary. Tippett managed the latter format more coherently in his Piano Sonata No 2.
There are two suites from ballets: Cain (1930), and The Guests (1946-49). As always, I would prefer to hear the orchestration. While a lot of this program is insubstantial or incomplete, it’s played sympathetically by Leonard Lehrman, who specialises in the composer’s work.