Geeks Read Books: “Weill, Blitzstein, and Bernstein: A Study of Influence” by Dr. Rebecca Schmid

Weill, Blitzstein, and Bernstein: A Study of Influence
by Dr. Rebecca Schmid, PhD in Musicology
226 Pages
67 music exx. and 4 b/w illus.
Series: Eastman Studies in Music
Series Vol. Number: 189
Imprint: University of Rochester Press

June 2023
$105.00 / £90.00

Ebook (EPDF)
June 2023
$29.95 / £24.99

Review by Kitty Drexel

BOSTON, Mass. — Dr. Rebecca Schmid’s Weill, Blitzstein, and Bernstein: A Study of Influence examines the influence of Kurt Weill on the careers and egos of Marc Blitzstein and Leonard Bernstein (in addition to other notable artists such as Lotte Lenya, Stephen Sondheim, Igor Stravinsky, Bertolt Brecht, and even playwright and critic Dorothy Parker). It became available in June 2023 and may be purchased via the University of Rochester Press on the Boydell & Brewer website.

Weill, Blitzstein, and Bernstein: A Study of Influence is a largely successful work that will complement the library of Weill, Blitzstein, and Bernstein scholars if those scholars skip over Schmid’s first chapter “Why Influence?” Schmidt begins the chapter by quoting T.S. Eliot: “No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone… His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists.” 

Eliot is saying that all artists owe their successes to the artists who paved the way before them. This is a known truth. 

Schmid loses the plot by following T.S. Eliot up with American literary critic Harold Bloom’s half-baked “quasi-Oedipus complex” theory. According to Oxford Reference, Bloom’s theory of poetic influence and succession was outlined in “The Anxiety of Influence” (1973). In it, Bloom says that poets must confront their precursors in a quasi-Oedipal struggle in order to create an imaginative space for themselves in the world.

There is no such thing as a quasi-Oedipal struggle. And, even if there were, Bloom incorrectly compares Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of sexual desire between an opposite-sex adult parent and child aged three to five years old to his half-baked literary theory explaining the tension between teachers and students. Bloom falsely equivocates Freud’s work with his own in ways that Freud didn’t intend.

It begs the question, did Bloom even read Freud’s Oedipus Complex theory?  Bloom clearly didn’t understand it; otherwise, he wouldn’t try to relate two unrelatable things. 

Britannica defines the Oedipus Complex as “a desire for sexual involvement with the parent of the opposite sex and a concomitant sense of rivalry with the parent of the same sex; a crucial stage in the normal developmental process.” Freud named his theory after the Greek myth of the Theban hero Oedipus. Oedipus infamously and unknowingly murdered his father and then married his mother. 

A complex can’t be Oedipal without these two important factors: patricide and incestual proclivities. It can’t even be quasi-Oedipal.   

If one ignores Bloom’s careless scholarship, Schmid builds and supports worthwhile connections between Weill, Blitzstein, and Bernstein. She tackles the known antipathy (that grew into respect) between Weill and Blitzstein by referencing Blitzstein’s letters and public support for Weill’s works. Schmid traces the tutelage of Blitzstein to Bernstein and back to Weill through performance anecdotes, personal letters, and documentation by previous researchers. Schmid’s research is sound; Bloom’s is suspect. 

Chapters 2 – 7 categorically inspect the major works of each composer and the threads of invention and imagination woven between them. Die Dreigroschen Opera and its significance to the opera, opera theatre, and musical theatre genres are highlighted. Schmidt draws straight lines between Dreigroschen and The Cradle Will Rock, Candide, and even the failed project A Pray by Blecht. She does the same with Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, Street Scene, and Lady in the Dark to comparable works of Blitzstein and Bernstein.

Weill, Blitzstein, and Bernstein: A Study of Influence is a great addition to a Weill devotee’s or scholar’s library. It will also benefit researchers and fans of Blitzstein and Bernstein. Schmid supplies her works cited in her “Acknowledgments.” There is a useful bibliography for primary and secondary sources. A thorough Index completes the publication. 

Casual fans unfamiliar with Western music theory and terminology may need to skip Schmid’s examinations of the composers’ musical works. The book is full of diverting production history and insights into the lives and minds of the three composers and their close circles.    

Casual fans should note that this is an academic study. It is written in a formal academic style and may put off readers without academic pursuits. 

Schmid gathers together some delightful chestnuts from the lives and work of Weill, Blitzstein, and Bernstein into one resource. They are used in support of Schmid’s musicological research. Anecdotal amusement is a secondary bonus that made reading even more enjoyable. 

There is nothing wrong with writing or preferring an amusing tome, and Weill, Blitzstein, and Bernstein: A Study of Influence is not one. I suggest one of the many biographies written about the composers (available via the library or your local bookseller) instead. 

August 30, 2023, Update: Edits were made to correct the spelling of Bernstein and Blitzstein’s names. “A Pray by Blecht” was also misspelled. These mistakes were rectified. Our copywriter has been chastised. 

If you enjoyed this article, please consider making a donation. Every cent earned goes towards the upkeep and continuation of the New England Theatre Geek.
Become a patron at Patreon!

Comments are closed.