The June/July issue of Choral Journal is online and features an article titled “The Capitalistic Machine Against a Radical Individual” by Richard Robbins. You can read it in its entirety at acda.org/choraljournal. Following is a portion from the introduction.
American composer Marc Blitzstein (1905–1964) spent much of 1932 planning and composing The Condemned, an ambitious “choral opera” for four choirs and full orchestra, inspired by the trial and execution of the anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Almost ninety years later, the project, which Blitzstein considered his “best work” to date, has received little attention and still awaits its fi rst performance.1
The score remains unpublished, despite the enthusiasm of such supporters as Nadia Boulanger, and the composer’s own plans for performances in the Soviet Union and England failed to materialize. Even so, The Condemned occupies a unique position in Blitzstein’s output and in American choral music: it may be the most extensive socially engaged choral work written by an American composer during the Great Depression, and its themes would continue to occupy Blitzstein’s imagination through the end of his life.2
1 Marc Blitzstein (MB), letter to Josephine Blitzstein Davis
(JBD), 16 October 1932. This and all letters quoted are
from the Marc Blitzstein Papers collection, housed in the
Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, part
of the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives in Madison.
Blitzstein used bits of The Condemned as source material for
later works, but the choral opera as originally conceived
has never been performed. All Blitzstein quotations
are reprinted with the permission of the Kurt Weill
Foundation for Music, New York. All rights reserved.
2 Some European works invite comparison, although
Blitzstein’s choral opera precedes them all. Hanns Eisler
would write the Communist-themed oratorio Die Mutter
in 1935, which features substantial music for chorus, and
concern for the Jewish situation in Germany inspired
Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time (1939-1941), which
would also use choral music to great eff ect.