- Category : Entertain-Music-Composer/Arranger
- Type : MGP
- Profile : 2/4 - Hermit / Opportunist
- Definition : Split - Large
- Incarnation Cross : RAX The Sleeping Phoenix 3
Leonard Bernstein (IPA pronunciation: ) (August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990) was an American conductor, composer, author, music lecturer, and pianist. He was the first conductor born in the United States of America to receive world-wide acclaim, and is known for both his conducting of the New York Philharmonic, including the acclaimed Young People's Concerts series, and his multiple compositions, including West Side Story, Candide and On the Town.
He is known to baby boomers primarily as the first classical music conductor to make many television appearances, all between 1954 and 1989. Although it has not been verified, it is quite possible that Bernstein appeared on television more times than any other serious music conductor.
Bernstein was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1918 to a Jewish family from Rivne, Ukraine. His grandmother insisted his first name be Louis, but his parents always called him Leonard, as they liked the name better. He had his name changed to Leonard officially when he was fifteen.
His father, Sam Bernstein, was a businessman, and initially opposed young Leonard's interest in music. Despite this, the elder Bernstein frequently took him to orchestra concerts. At a very young age, Bernstein heard a piano performance and was immediately captivated; he subsequently began learning the piano. As a child, Bernstein attended the Garrison School and Boston Latin School.
After graduation from Boston Latin School in 1934 Bernstein attended Harvard University, where he studied music with Walter Piston and was briefly associated with the Harvard Glee Club. After completing his studies at Harvard he enrolled in the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he received the only "A" grade Fritz Reiner ever awarded in his class on conducting. During his time at Curtis, Bernstein also studied piano with Isabella Vengerova.
During his young adult years in New York City, Bernstein enjoyed an exuberant social life, mostly in the company of other gay young men. After a long internal struggle and a turbulent on-and-off engagement, he married Chilean actress Felicia Montealegre Cohn on September 9, 1951, reportedly in order to increase his chances of obtaining the chief conducting position with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Dimitri Mitropoulos, conductor of the New York Philharmonic and Bernstein's mentor, advised him that marrying would help counter the gossip about him and appease the conservative BSO board.
Leonard and Felicia had three children, Jamie, Alexander, and Nina. During his married life, Bernstein tried to be as discreet as possible with his extramarital liaisons. But as he grew older, and as the Gay Liberation movement made great strides, Bernstein became more emboldened, eventually leaving Felicia to live with companion Tom Cothran. Some time after, Bernstein learned that his wife was diagnosed with lung cancer. Bernstein moved back in with his wife and cared for her until she died.
It has been suggested that Bernstein was actually bisexual (an assertion supported by comments Bernstein himself made about not preferring any particular cuisine, musical genre, or form of sex), and it has been alleged that he was conflicted between his devotion to his family and his gay desires, but Arthur Laurents (Bernstein's collaborator in West Side Story), said that Bernstein was simply "a gay man who got married. He wasn't conflicted about it at all. He was just gay." Shelly Rhoades Perle, another friend of Bernstein’s, said that she thought "he required men sexually and women emotionally."
Bernstein was very highly regarded as a conductor, composer, and educator, and probably best known to the public as longtime music director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, for conducting concerts by many of the world's leading orchestras, and for writing the music for West Side Story. He wrote three symphonies, two operas, five musicals, and numerous other pieces.
In 1940, he began his study at the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer institute, Tanglewood, under the orchestra's conductor, Serge Koussevitzky. Bernstein later became Koussevitzky's conducting assistant. He would later dedicate his Symphony No. 2 to Koussevitzky.
On November 14, 1943, having recently been appointed assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, he made his conducting debut on last minute notification, and without any rehearsal, after Bruno Walter came down with the flu. The next day, The New York Times editorial remarked, "It's a good American success story. The warm, friendly triumph of it filled Carnegie Hall and spread far over the air waves."He was an immediate success and became instantly famous due to the fact that the concert was nationally broadcast. The soloist on that historic day was Joseph Schuster, solo cellist of the New York Philharmonic, who played Richard Strauss's Don Quixote. Since Bernstein had never conducted the work before, Bruno Walter coached him on it prior to the concert. It is possible to hear this remarkable event thanks to a transcription recording made from the CBS radio broadcast that has since been issued on CD.
After World War II Bernstein's career on the international stage began to flourish. In 1949 he conducted the world première of the Turangalîla-Symphonie by Olivier Messiaen, and when Serge Koussevitzky died two years later, Bernstein became head of the orchestral and conducting departments at Tanglewood, holding this position for many years.
In 1951, Bernstein conducted the New York Philharmonic in the world premiere of the Symphony No. 2 of Charles Ives. The composer, old and frail, was unable to attend the concert, but listened to the broadcast on the radio with his wife, Harmony. They both marveled at the enthusiastic reception of his music, which had actually been written between 1897 and 1901, but until then had never been performed. Bernstein did much to promote the music of this American composer throughout his career. Ives died in 1954.
Bernstein was named Music Director of the New York Philharmonic in 1957 and began his tenure in that position in 1958, a post he held until 1969, although he continued to conduct and make recordings with that orchestra for the rest of his life. He became a well-known figure in the US through his series of fifty-three televised Young People's Concerts for CBS, which grew out of his Omnibus programs that CBS aired in the early 1950s. His first Young People's Concert was televised only a few weeks after his tenure as principal conductor of the New York Philharmonic began. He became as famous for his educational work in those concerts as for his conducting. Some of his music lectures were released on records, with several of these albums winning Grammy awards. To this day, the Young People's Concerts series remains the longest running group of classical music programs ever shown on commercial television. They ran from 1958 to 1972. More than thirty years later, twenty-five of them were rebroadcast on the now-defunct cable channel Trio, and released on DVD.
In 1947, Bernstein conducted in Tel Aviv for the first time, beginning a life-long association with Israel. In 1957, he conducted the inaugural concert of the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv; he subsequently made many recordings there. In 1967 he conducted a concert on Mt. Scopus to commemorate the reunification of Jerusalem. During the 1970s, Bernstein recorded most of his own symphonic music with the Israel Philharmonic.
In 1959 he took the New York Philharmonic on a tour of Europe and the Soviet Union, portions of which were filmed by CBS. A major highlight of the tour was Bernstein's performance of Shostakovich's fifth symphony, in the presence of the composer, who came on stage at the end to congratulate Bernstein and the musicians. In October, when Bernstein and the orchestra returned to New York, they recorded the symphony for Columbia. He made two recordings of Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony, one with the New York Philharmonic in the 1960s, and another one in 1988 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the only recording he ever made with them (along with Shostakovich's Symphony No. 1, also recorded live in concerts at Orchestra Hall in Chicago at that time).
In 1960 Bernstein began the first complete cycle of recordings in stereo of all nine completed symphonies by Gustav Mahler, with the blessings of the composer's widow, Alma. The success of these recordings, along with Bernstein's concert performances, greatly revived interest in Mahler, who had briefly been music director of the New York Philharmonic late in his life. That same year, Bernstein conducted an LP of his own score for the 1944 musical On The Town, in stereo, the first such recording of the score ever made, for Columbia Masterworks Records. Unlike his later recordings of his own musicals, this was originally issued as a single LP rather than a 2-record set. It was later issued on CD. The recording featured several members of the original Broadway cast, including Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
During his New York Philharmonic directorship, Bernstein was also responsible for introducing the symphonies of the Danish composer Carl Nielsen to American audiences, leading to a revival of interest in this composer whose reputation had previously been mostly regional. Bernstein recorded three of Nielsen's symphonies (Nos. 2, 4 and 5) with the Philharmonic, and recorded the composer's 3rd Symphony with a Danish orchestra after a critically-acclaimed public performance there.
In 1966 he made his debut at the Vienna State Opera conducting Luchino Visconti's production of Verdi's Falstaff, with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Falstaff. In 1970 he returned to the State Opera for Otto Schenk's production of Beethoven's Fidelio. Sixteen years later, at the State Opera, Bernstein conducted his sequel to Trouble in Tahiti, A Quiet Place. Bernstein's final farewell to the State Opera happened accidentally in 1989: Following a performance of Modest Mussorgsky's Khovanchina he unexpectedly entered the stage and embraced conductor Claudio Abbado in front of a stunned, but cheering audience.
Beginning in 1970, Bernstein conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, with which he re-recorded many of the pieces that he had previously taped with the New York Philharmonic, including sets of the complete symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms and Schumann. Some of the Mahler symphony recordings from Bernstein's second cycle for Deutsche Grammophon were also made with the Vienna Philharmonic.
Later that year, Bernstein wrote and narrated a ninety-minute program filmed on location in and around Vienna, featuring the Vienna Philharmonic with such artists as Placido Domingo, who in his first television appearance performed as the tenor soloist in Beethoven's Ninth. The program, first telecast in 1970 on Austrian and British television, and then on CBS on Christmas Eve 1971, was intended as a celebration of Ludwig van Beethoven's 200th birthday. The show made extensive use of the rehearsals and finished performance of the Otto Schenk production of Fidelio. Originally entitled Beethoven's Birthday: A Celebration in Vienna, the show, which won an Emmy, was telecast only once on U.S. commercial television, and remained in CBS's vaults, until it resurfaced on A&E shortly after Bernstein's death - under the new title Bernstein on Beethoven: A Celebration in Vienna. It was immediately issued on VHS under that title, and in 2005 was issued on DVD.
Bernstein was invited in 1973 to the Charles Eliot Norton Chair as Professor of Poetry at his alma mater, Harvard University, to deliver a series of 6 lectures on music. Borrowing the title from a Charles Ives' work, he called the series "The Unanswered Question"; it is a set of interdisciplinary lectures in which he borrows terminology from contemporary linguistics to analyze and compare musical construction to language. Three years later, in 1976, the entire series of videotaped lectures was telecast on PBS. The lectures survive both in book and DVD form today.
In 1978, the Otto Schenk Fidelio, with Bernstein still conducting, but featuring a different cast, was filmed by Unitel. Like the program, Bernstein on Beethoven, it also was shown on A&E after his death and subsequently issued on VHS. Although the video has since long been out-of-print, it was released for the first time on DVD by Deutsche Grammophon in late 2006.
In 1979 Bernstein conducted the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for the first and only time, in two charity concerts. The performance, of Mahler's Ninth Symphony, was broadcast on radio, and posthumously released on CD.
He received the Kennedy Center Honors award in 1980.
On PBS in the 1980s, he was the conductor and commentator for a special series on Beethoven's music, which featured the Vienna Philharmonic playing all nine Beethoven symphonies, several of his overtures, and the Missa Solemnis. Actor Maximilian Schell was also featured on the program, reading from Beethoven's letters.
In 1985, he conducted a complete recording of his score for West Side Story for the first and only time. The recording, much criticized for featuring what critics felt were miscast opera singers such as Kiri te Kanawa, Jose Carreras, and Tatiana Troyanos in the leading roles, was nevertheless a national bestseller.
In 1989, Bernstein again conducted and recorded another complete performance of one of his musicals, again featuring opera singers rather than Broadway stars. This time it was Candide, and due to the fact that the show was always intended to be an operetta, the recording made from it was much more warmly received. The performance was released posthumously on CD (in 1991). It starred Jerry Hadley, June Anderson, Adolph Green, and Christa Ludwig in the leading roles. The Candide recording, unlike the West Side Story one, also included previously discarded numbers from the show.
A TV documentary of the West Side Story recording sessions was made in 1985, and the Candide recording was made live, in concert. This concert was eventually telecast posthumously.
On Christmas Day, 25 December 1989, Bernstein conducted the Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 in East Berlin's Schauspielhaus (Playhouse) as part of a celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The concert was broadcast live in more than twenty countries to an estimated audience of 100 million people. For the occasion, Bernstein reworded Friedrich Schiller's text of the Ode to Joy, substituting the word Freiheit (freedom) for Freude (joy). Bernstein, in the introduction to the program, said that they had "taken the liberty" of doing this because of a "most likely phony" story, apparently believed in some quarters, that Schiller wrote an "Ode to Freedom" that is now presumed lost. Bernstein's comment was, 'I'm sure that Beethoven would have given us his blessing."
Bernstein was highly-regarded as a conductor among many musicians, including the members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, evidenced by his honorary membership, the London Symphony Orchestra, of which he was President, and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom he appeared regularly as guest conductor. He was considered especially accomplished with the works of Gustav Mahler, Aaron Copland, Johannes Brahms, Dmitri Shostakovich, George Gershwin (especially the Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris), and of course with the performances of his own works. Unfortunately, Bernstein never conducted a performance of Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F, nor did he ever conduct Porgy and Bess. However, he did discuss Porgy in his article, Why Don't You Run Upstairs and Write a Nice Gershwin Tune?, originally published in the New York Times and later reprinted in his 1959 book The Joy of Music.
He had a gift for rehearsing an entire Mahler symphony by acting out every phrase for the orchestra to convey the precise meaning, and of emitting a vocal manifestation of the effect required, with a subtly professional ear that missed nothing.
Bernstein influenced many conductors who are performing now, such as John Mauceri, Seiji Ozawa, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Carl St. Clair. Ozawa made his first network television debut as guest conductor on one of the Young People's Concerts.
Bernstein conducted his final performance at Tanglewood on August 19, 1990, with the Boston Symphony playing Benjamin Britten's "Four Sea Interludes" and Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. He suffered a coughing fit in the middle of the Beethoven performance which almost caused the concert to break down. The concert was later issued on CD by Deutsche Grammophon.
He died of pneumonia and a pleural tumor just five days after retiring. A longtime heavy smoker, he had battled emphysema from his mid-20s. Bernstein is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.
Bernstein recorded extensively from the 1950s through the 1980s. Aside from a few early recordings in the mid-1940's for RCA Victor, Bernstein recorded primarily for Columbia Masterworks Records, especially when he was music director of the New York Philharmonic. Many of these performances have been digitally remastered and reissued by Sony as part of the "Royal Edition" and "Bernstein Century" series. His later recordings (1976 onwards) were mostly made for Deutsche Grammophon, though he would occasionally return to the Columbia Masterworks label. Notable exceptions include recordings of Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique (1976) for EMI and Wagner's Tristan und Isolde (1981) for Philips Records, a label joint with Deutsche Grammophon as PolyGram at that time.
Awards and recognitions
Further information: List of Grammy and Tony Awards for Leonard Bernstein
Ditson Conductor's Award, 1958
Sonning Award (1965; Denmark)
George Peabody Medal - Johns Hopkins University
Grammy Award for Best Album for Children
Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance
Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance
Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording
Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Performance
Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist(s) Performance
Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition
Grammy Award for Best Classical Album
Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award
Tony Award for Best Musical
Special Tony Award
Fancy Free (ballet), 1944
On the Town (Musical), 1944
Facsimile (ballet), 1946
Peter Pan (songs, incidental music), 1950
Trouble in Tahiti (opera in one act), 1952
Wonderful Town (musical), 1953
On the Waterfront (film score), 1954
The Lark (incidental music), 1955
Candide (operetta), 1956 (new libretto in 1973, operetta revised in 1989)
West Side Story (musical), 1957
The Firstborn (incidental music), 1958
Mass (theatre piece for singers, players and dancers), 1971
Dybbuk (ballet), 1974
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, 1976
The Madwoman of Central Park West (songs), 1979
A Quiet Place (opera in two acts), 1983
The Race to Urga (musical), 1987
Symphony No. 1, Jeremiah, 1942
Fancy Free and Three Dance Variations from "Fancy Free,", concert premiere 1946
Three Dance Episodes from "On the Town," concert premiere 1947
Symphony No. 2, The Age of Anxiety, (after W. H. Auden) for Piano and Orchestra, 1949 (revised in 1965)
Serenade (after Plato's "Symposium") for Solo Violin, Strings, Harp and Percussion, 1954
Prelude, Fugue and Riffs for Solo Clarinet and Jazz Ensemble, 1949
Symphonic Suite from "On the Waterfront", 1955
Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story", 1961
Symphony No. 3, Kaddish, for Orchestra, Mixed Chorus, Boys' Choir, Speaker and Soprano Solo, 1963 (revised in 1977)
Dybbuk, Suites No. 1 and 2 for Orchestra, concert premieres 1975
Songfest: A Cycle of American Poems for Six Singers and Orchestra, 1977
Three Meditations from "Mass" for Violoncello and Orchestra, 1977
Slava!: A Political Overture for Orchestra, 1977
Divertimento for Orchestra, 1980
Halil, nocturne for Solo Flute, Piccolo, Alto Flute, Percussion, Harp and Strings, 1981
Concerto for Orchestra, 1989 (Originally Jubilee Games from 1986, revised in 1989)
Hashkiveinu for Solo Tenor, Mixed Chorus and Organ, 1945
Missa Brevis for Mixed Chorus and Countertenor Solo, with Percussion, 1988
Chichester Psalms for Boy Soprano (or Countertenor), Mixed Chorus, Organ, Harp and Percussion, 1965
Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, 1939
Brass Music, 1959
Dance Suite, 1988
I Hate Music: A cycle of Five Kids Songs for Soprano and Piano, 1943
La Bonne Cuisine: Four Recipes for Voice and Piano, 1948
Arias and Barcarolles for Mezzo-Soprano, Baritone and Piano four-hands, 1988
A Song Album, 1988
Various piano pieces
Other occasional works, written as gifts and other forms of memorial and tribute
"The Skin of Our Teeth": An aborted work from which Bernstein took material to use in his "Chichester Psalms"
Bernstein, Leonard (1993). Findings. New York: Anchor Books. ISBN 038542437X.
Bernstein, Leonard (1993). The Infinite Variety of Music. New York: Anchor Books. ISBN 0385424388.
Bernstein, Leonard (2004). The Joy of Music. Pompton Plains, New Jersey: Amadeus Press. ISBN 1574671049.
Bernstein, Leonard (1976). The Unanswered Question. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674920007.
Bernstein, Leonard (2006). Young People's Concerts. Milwaukee; Cambridge: Amadeus Press. ISBN 1574671022.
Burton, Humphrey (1994). Leonard Bernstein. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0385423454.
Gottlieb, Jack (ed.) (1992). Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts, (revised), New York: Anchor Books. ISBN 0385424353.
The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at Harvard. West Long Branch, NJ: Kultur Video. VHS ISBN 1561275700. DVD ISBN 0769715702. (film of the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures given at Harvard in 1973.)
Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts with the New York Philharmonic. West Long Branch, NJ: Kultur Video. DVD ISBN 0769715036.
In popular culture
The Seinfeld character Maestro often refers to ideas that he learned from Leonard Bernstein.
The film The Assassination of Richard Nixon depicts the character Sam Bicke, who idolizes the person and music of Leonard Bernstein, and mails Bernstein tapes explaining his disappointment in America and his justification for his planned destruction of the White House: "Mr Bernstein: I have the utmost respect for you. Your music is both pure and honest and that is why I have chosen you to present the truth about me to the world."
In the song "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" by R.E.M., "Leonard Bernstein" is shouted when everyone stops during the last verse.
Tom Wolfe's essay "Radical Chic", published in the book "Radical Chic" and "Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers", deals with a meeting Bernstein held in his apartment to raise money for the Black Panther Party, and the subsequent public response.
To composer Ned Rorem:
“ The trouble with you and me, Ned, is that we want everyone in the world to personally love us, and of course that's impossible: you just don't meet everyone in the world ”
— Leonard Bernstein