"THE VIGOROUS ELOQUENCE OF THE SCORE, THE SHARP BITE OF THE LYRICS": FIRST EDITION OF THE CRADLE WILL ROCK, 1938, SIGNED BY MARC BLITZSTEIN
BLITZSTEIN, Marc. The Cradle Will Rock. New York: Random House, (1938). Octavo, original red cloth, original dust jacket.
First edition, issued shortly after the Orson Welles/John Houseman production "was ordered off the stage by a Federal edict," boldly moved by them to another theater where the cast delivered their lines from the floor while Blitzstein "sat at the piano in the center of the stage, the spotlight picking him out against a blue backdrop, and played the entire score." An especially memorable copy signed on the half title by Blitzstein.
The infamous December 1937 Mercury Theatre production of Blitzstein's Cradle Will Rock, produced by Orson Welles and John Houseman, and staged by Welles, was sponsored by the Federal Theater Project. When it "was ordered off the stage by a Federal edict… Welles and Houseman, having already sold tickets and believing that they had a superb production, hired their own theater. The WPA actors remained offstage, so that technically they were not violating an Actors Equity order… and the show went on. The actors spoke their lines and sang their parts from the floor and Blitzstein (not affected by anyone's edict) sat at the piano in the center of the stage, the spotlight picking him out against a blue backdrop, and played the entire score" (New York Times). Welles and Houseman would produce "several different versions of Cradle, including a radio broadcast version, and the show continued to be popular across America once the commercial rights were released in 1938" (Smithsonian). When brought back to Broadway in 1947, critic Brooks Atkinson hailed Blitzstein's work, writing: "the extraordinary vitality of Cradle Will Rock derives from the vigorous eloquence of the score, the sharp bite of the lyrics and the graphic simplicity of the production… Having something passionate to say, Blitzstein has said it with startling directness" (New York Times).
Blitzstein's 1935 song, "Nickel under My Foot," was the inspiration for Cradle Will Rock. Described by Blitzstein as "a play in music," its controversial subject, "the attempt of 'the establishment' (business, education, religion, etc.) to silence the voice of the working class, and the workers' eventual triumph—was objectionable to the WPA, who pulled its funding on the day of the opening… Cradle's score consists of many types of songs found in musical theater works, including torch, patter and parody, and it featured many types of performance styles, such as singing, rhythmic speaking, and sprechstimme. These performance styles played an important role in his later compositions for the stage" (ANB). Blitzstein's other works include Regina (1949), an adaptation of Lillian Hellman's Little Foxes, as well as "his translation from the German of Kurt Weill's and Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera. His symphonies, The Airborne and Freedom Morning, were performed by his friend, Leonard Bernstein, and the New York City Symphony" (New York Times). At the time of his tragic death in 1964, Blitzstein left several works unfinished, including a three-act opera on Sacco and Vanzetti. First edition, first printing: with preface by Welles, dated in print, "January 10, 1938." In it, he proclaims himself—in Wellesian fashion—to be "the undisputed world authority on producing The Cradle Will Rock… the work is apparently indestructible." Foreword by Archibald MacLeish. Basis for the 1999 film by director Tim Robbins. Bookseller ticket.
Book fine; light edge-wear and a few small closed tears to attractive dust jacket.