Review by Howard Pollack: "Locating Queerness in American Composition," ISAM Newsletter Fall 2006 p.13:

Marc Blitzstein (1905-1964) figures only peripherally in The Queer Composition, as he does in most accounts of American music. In his monumental Marc Blitzstein: A Bio-Bibliography (Praeger, 2005, $119.95), Leonard Lehrman notes that Hubbs "does not mention even one of MB's musical works." Born into a well-to-do Jewish family in Philadelphia, Blitzstein, a prodigy, studied piano with Alexander Siloti and, like Barber and Menotti, composition with Rosario Scalero, followed by advanced studies with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and Arnold Schoenberg in Berlin. In his early years, he wrote mostly songs and instrumental music, but in the 1930s, he turned primarily to the Broadway stage, taking as his model the work of Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill, and Hanns Eisler. For his stage works, which more consistently than Weill explored social issues from a Marxist perspective, he typically wrote not only the music but the texts, which showed a flair for lyrics at once sardonic and moving.

Blitzstein enjoyed only two real successes in his lifetime: his agitprop opera, The Cradle Will Rock (1936), and his English adaptation of The Threepenny Opera (1954). Lehrman notes, in fact, that Blitzstein made more money from his lyrics to "Mack the Knife" "than on everything else he ever did put together" (p. 1). But Regina (1949), his operatic adaptation of Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes, has endured, and the time seems ripe for the rehabilitation of some of his other stage works as well.

For decades now, Leonard Lehrman -- himself a composer of ten operas and six musicals -- has indefatigably championed Blitzstein, including editing his work, completing unfinished compositions (notably the opera, Sacco and Vanzetti), and playing and singing the music. This bio-bibliography represents the fulfillment of such lifelong devotion.

Lehrman's book opens with an interesting miscellany, including an exhaustive genealogy and an ample bibliography on Blitzstein's writer-wife, Eva Goldbeck. What follows is a chronological list of works by Blitzstein by genre; a chronological list of the composer's texts to music by others; a list of articles written by Blitzstein; a list of general articles about Blitzstein written both during his lifetime and after his death; a large annotated section devoted to articles and documentation organized by work; a discography and a videography including archival artifacts; and an index of names and organizations. Researchers will want to know that the microfilm reel numbers refer to material that resides at the Blitzstein Collection at the Wisconsin State Historical Society in Madison.

The section devoted to annotations by work (pp. 158-583) constitutes about two-thirds of the entire volume. The amount and variety of material gathered for each composition is imposing, including books, dissertations, articles, reviews, letters, reports, marginalia, promotional materials, interviews, and performances. The annotations themselves are similarly rich, ranging from translations of foreign-language journals to analytical comments about the music. If a document discusses more than one work, separate annotations might be found under each respective work. This naturally leads to considerable back-tracking and contributes to the book's heft, but eliminates the need for the author to index works. This unusual organization, although somewhat unwieldy, immeasurably assists studies based on individual pieces.

To help facilitate this ambitious undertaking, Lehrman resorts to elaborate abbreviations and codes; otherwise, the volume could well have been double the size. The extensive use of abbreviations poses difficulties, but given the amount of material such coding permits, the serious scholar will be glad to make the effort. So many abbreviations must have made proofreading a nightmare, and the volume, indeed, includes a lengthy list of errata, which itself contains a few typos (Lehrman maintains up-to-date revisions at http://ljlehrman.artists-in-residence.com/MBbio-bibCorrections.html) [and at http://ljlehrman.homestead.com/MBbio-bibCorrections.html]. The book has other limitations, including incomplete citations for scores of entries. But such small flaws pale besides the sheer magnitude of this accomplishment, a "life in documents" for which the term, "bio-bibliography," hardly suffices.

Review by Judith Pinnolis:
Marc Blitzstein: A Bio-Bibliography
By Leonard Lehrman
Series: Bio-Bibliographies in Music, Number 99
Don Hixon, Series Adviser
vi, 645 p. : ill.; 24 cm.
Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2005
ISBN: 0313300275 (alk. paper)
Includes bibliographical references, discography (p. [584]-589), videography (p. 589-591), and index.

Even though Marc Blitzstein: A Bio-Bibliography is large, with more than 645 pages, this review will be brief, because it's very easy to describe this book. This is Leonard Lehrman's labor of love. For years he has been a fan, promoter, musicologist, arranger, adapter, reconstructor and performer of the works of Marc Blitzstein. Blitzstein is a major figure in American music and his star continues to rise. Lehrman's devotion of years of work is clear in this major reference work. The book is extremely thorough, comprehensive and filled with extraordinary minute detail. It is a must for any music library in a college or university setting, as well as anyone who is studying or working with the music of Marc Blitzstein.

The scope is enormous. It includes a brief biography of Blitzstein, including a genealogy; chronological list of musical works with bibliographies of studies, commentaries and writings about those works; a chronological list of text to the music; an alphabetical list of works with alternate titles; general articles; and information about performances of the works. There are critical analyses of works that are well worth viewing. At the end there are comprehensive discography and videography of Blitzstein's music works. There is an index of names and organizations-- something which in itself is valuable to anyone studying this period of music history. These listings are thorough, clearly laid out on the page with a well numbered system. This is not only a bibliography-- it's an annotated bibliography, including excerpts. There are often pertinent quotes from a given item, giving this book an incredible edge on scholarly inquiry. This is quite a valuable tool.

All that being extraordinarily excellent, there is one major drawback to this work that cannot be ignored. There are way, way too many errata. Just too many publishing errors. The book came with an errata sheet that was extensive. The author has additional errata discovered since the errata sheet was published and made available. These additional errata Lehrman has listed on his website. Any library in a college, university or public library should have a student worker go systematically through all the errata and enter it into the book itself, in the right places. It will take hours, but be well worth it in the long run. Otherwise, no one can actually look up anything without referring to the errata sheet to see if there is something wrong with the entry you are viewing. There are so many of these, especially given the nature of the book as primarily a database of information, that if the errata sheet were ever lost, the book becomes significantly less reliable for the main purposes for which all that information is put together.

For the amount of errors here, I do not know whether to blame the author or an editor at Praeger. Either way, it is really a shame. There seems to have been some information that came out or was made available only after the publication date. Still, how many opportunities will we have to get this amount of information on Blitzstein made so handily available? So far in WorldCat, there are only 101 [110 as of 2/12/07] libraries that have listed this book as catalogued. It is possible that some music libraries have opted out of purchasing this book because of this high error rate. That is a shame. Not only for Leonard's years of work and dedication, but for future generations that will want to have this material handy for the study of this great American composer Marc Blitzstein.

This is the most complete, up-to-date, and in-depth look at Blitzstein work and works about Blitzstein. My recommendation is still to purchase the book for a university library, but understanding some more money will be devoted to processing than normal.

jp 11/05/06