Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Dissing The Idols of Atheist Play-Lefties Is Always Instructive

Thinking about the reaction to my weekend brawl which my most OC troll brought Marc Blitzstein's only really famous work,  The Cradle Will Rock into,  I have to wonder if there has been a single production of the work which didn't reference, not the work, itself, but the notorious first performance of it.   It is a work which is entirely more well known for the attempt of the Works Progress Administration to cancel the performance* but which Blitzstein, Orson Welles and John Houseman **mounted as an impromptu private performance without sets or orchestration, originally with Blitzstein banging out the score on piano with a description of the action but which the actors started singing from the audience, resulting in a sort of semi-staged concert version.   It's the kind of story that is so beloved of theater people and lefties.  As I've pointed out recently, it's a twist on the quote by George M. Cohan, Many a bum show has been saved by the red flag, only not so many as have been saved by national flags.

I think if the WPA had let the performance go on it would probably have faded into relative obscurity, as it is, its entire performance history likely depends on that oddly ironic fable of free speech by a composer-book writer who was devoted to one of the most infamous murderers of poets and musicians and writers and people who exercised their free speech in the Soviet Union.

There are a few good numbers in the show, it is a number opera, of sorts, but none of the songs in it would seem to have developed as repertory pieces for singers.   I think Nickel Under Your Foot is the only really memorable song that has any emotional power.   Even "Joe Worker Gets Gypped" which should be the thing that people remember as the message of the show gets undercut by the falsely triumphal ending of the story, describing something which happened exactly nowhere in the American union movement.  It's interesting that a song sung by a down and out street walker takes on that pathos and that the structure of the show undercuts what is the more universal presentation of pain by the sister of a worker sacrificed to the oligarchs.   And the revolutionary denouement of the opera is a lie.  The progress that was made depended on electing progressives in elections not through revolutionary posturing and militancy.  Revolution as a means of guaranteeing justice is a lie, as can be seen in those fabled events in lefty imagination, the French and Russian Revolutions, the Revolutions of 1848 and the Paris Commune.  They don't work, even where they "succeed" they are more likely to install gangsters whose primary and then only goal is to maintain their own power.

*  Considering the responsibilities that the WPA had to the many people whose subsistence depended on the work they did across the country and the attacks on such programs by Republicans and judges, their trying to protect the agency and the jobs of those many thousands of people by canceling the performance was entirely responsible and moral.   I used to thrill to the thrilling story as told by Blitzstein, Welles, Houseman and myriad others but I wasn't someone with a responsibility that those in charge of the WPA AT THE HEIGHT OF THE DEPRESSION had to all of those people who got their living through it.  The show was the thing only to those involved with it and its audience.  For those with a responsibility for the very existence of the WPA, it was not the thing.   You have to be a play lefty to not get that.

**  The only time I ever saw a staging of Cradle was when PBS had on the staging of it with Patti Lupone, sometime in the 1980s, introduced by John Houseman telling the old, old story from 1937.  I seem to remember thinking how ironic it was for John Houseman to be pushing a bit of Stalinist agit-prop when his most recent and most known claim to fame was pushing Smith Barney by making the bizarre claim that they  got money "the old fashioned way.   They earn it."  Yeah, the investor class as hard workers as they steal the wealth created by labor.  See what a life changer the show was for him?

Update:  "a work of brazen propaganda with limited performing value in modern times"

Simps is claiming that Blitzstein's  Airborne Symphony is something like as famous as The Cradle Will Rock.  I can guarantee you more people saw it when PBS broadcast that performance of Cradle than have ever heard of the Airborne Symphony, and a lot more people have probably seen Tim Robbins' movie as well.  Even with the size of the cast of the show, if as is usually done the orchestration is replaced by one piano player as opposed to the number of people needed for a performance of the Symphony, it's obvious which one will be performed more often.  And it's a show as opposed to a concert piece.   I don't have time to look into the question more than that so here's what Simps thinks is an authoritative source, Wiki says on that count.


The New York Times reported that the audience received The Airborne Symphony with enthusiasm at its world premiere, and called the performance "remarkably sure, brilliant and dramatically eloquent." Since then, the work has been rarely performed, owing to its massive orchestral forces, topicality, and lack of standing with musicologists. The Airborne Symphony has passages of stunning musicality, but is also judged as a work of brazen propaganda with limited performing value in modern times.

Leonard Bernstein has been the symphony's best-known disciple, performing and recording the work on two different occasions (1946 and 1966).


The Airborne Symphony was recorded in 1946, with Bernstein conducting the New York City Symphony Orchestra and Robert Shaw as narrator. Its releases include Pearl's 1998 CD Marc Blitzstein: Musical Theatre Premières (GEMS 1009).

Bernstein recorded the work with the New York Philharmonic in 1966, with Welles as narrator, tenor Andrea Velis as soloist, and William Jonson conducting the Choral Art Society. It was released as an LP in 1976 by Columbia Masterworks, and on CD in 2000 by Sony Classical

Looking to see what recordings are currently available for Blitzstein's music, there is only one of the Airborne available in the places I looked, the CD reissue of the Bernstein performance from 1966.  There are surprisingly no current recordings of Cradle while there are two different recordings of Blitzstein's opera Regina, on the Lillian Hellman play, The Little Foxes.  I'd be surprised if anyone reading this can hum one of the tunes from it.  I know I can't and I have, actually, heard it.  I know of one person who will likely read this who could probably hum some of The Airborne Symphony but, again, I doubt I could though I have heard that 1966 recording of it.

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