This New York Times article caught my attention. Marc Blitzstein was a contemporary of Nelson Eddy’s and they both studied at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Even in his earliest career, Nelson was known for singing music of upcoming new American songwriters and composers.
Although in the same league with George Gershwin and Aaron Copland, subjects of two earlier biographies by Howard Pollack, Marc Blitzstein is relatively unfamiliar for a variety of reasons, among them his leftist politics and his openly gay sexuality in an era when both were disdained. Three years after Blitzstein’s death from what was evidently a gay-bashing in Martinique in 1964, Copland said, “It is disheartening to realize how little the present generation knows who he was or what he accomplished,” and Leonard Bernstein expressed dismay in 1976 at “the rapidity with which his name’s been forgotten,” calling him “the greatest master of the setting of the American language to music.” ….
Born in 1905 and raised in a nonreligious Russian Jewish Marxist family in Philadelphia, Blitzstein was a prodigy at piano, a child with perfect pitch. By the age of 14 he had already formed the ambition to be a composer. He studied with Rosario Scalero at the Curtis Institute and Alexander Siloti in New York, and completed his education with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and Arnold Schoenberg in Berlin.
But Blitzstein’s career followed an uncertain path, as the opportunities for having his works performed were continually thwarted…. Some of his songs did manage to reach a public, including “The Dream Is Mine,” which was heard on Broadway in 1925; “Two Coon Shouts,” sung by Nelson Eddy in Philadelphia in 1928; and two of several songs with Walt Whitman texts that were performed in recitals. He gave the first performance of a one-movement piano sonata in 1928, but only after it was revived in the 1980s did it receive critical acclaim.
Here’s a quote from the book itself:
Blitzstein premiered [his piano sonata] in New York at a league of Composers concert…on February 12, 1928, his first major new York appearance…Blitzstein repeated the piece in Philadelphia on March 13, 1928, at the same concert on which he accompanies Nelson Eddy in the first performance of “Two Coon Shouts”…Audience members responded well to the Philadelphia world premieres of “Gods” and “Two Coon Shouts,” insisting that Nelson Eddy encore the second “coon shout”. Both works also elicited some positive remarks in the local press (along with some highly negative ones), one review…saying of “Two Coon Shouts,” There is elemental power and terror in them.”
The book is available at Amazon.com.