Leonard Bernstein

On August 25, 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a music legend was born. Leonard Bernstein was Jewish and went to school at Garrison and Boston Latin Schools while learning to play the piano. He found a love for music early on. When Leonard went to Harvard he met some great people, such as Walter Piston and A. Tillman Merritt. While at Harvard he wrote music to “The Birds” and directed and performed in “The Cradle Will Rock” by Marc Blitzstein. He then went to the Curtis Institute of Music in PA and studied piano, conducting and orchestration.

In 1940, Leonard would meet someone very important to his future, Serge Koussevitzky. They met at Tanglewood, in Boston, where Leonard studied conducting and would become Serge’s conducting assistant. In 1943, Bernstein became Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic. After substituting at Carnegie Hall, in place of Bruno Walter, Bernstien was sought after worldwide.

Bernstein would soon become Music Director of the New York City Symphony Orchestra until the death of his dear friend Koussevitzky in 1951. He then began teaching at Tanglewood in orchestra and conducting. In the same year, he would be married to the Chilean actress who also played piano, Felicia Montealegre.

In 1956, Bernstein would become involved with the New York Philharmonic and would succeed Dimitri Mitropoulos (with whom he had an affair) as Music Director in 1958. He is well known for conducting the most concerts with the orchestra than any other conductor before. He carried the title of Laureate Conductor his whole life. He enjoyed the New York Philharmonic orchestra so much that more than half of his 400 plus recordings would be played by them.

The world sought after Bernstein and he would ablidge as conductor. He conducted in London, the International Music Festival in Prague, and created a lasting relationship with Israel when he played in Tel Aviv. In 1953, he conducted the opera Cherubini’s “Medea” as the first American at Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

As an advocate of American composers, Bernstein cherished Aaron Copland (who he is said to have slept with) the most. He studied, learned, and memorized many of his works. His favorite to play and considered a trademark was Copland’s “Piano Variations”. Almost all of Copland’s works were recorded by Bernstein. He even started televising “Young People’s Concerts” dedicated to Copland.

Bernstein was an amazing conductor who could connect with his orchestra to make amazing sound and quality performances. He is best known for how well he conducted Beethoven, Haydn, Brahms, Schumann and Sibelius. He also was the best with Gustav Mahler, which started a new interest in Mahler’s music.

Bernstein began his composing career in the 1940’s. He allows his heritage and religion to play a part in his music while keeping to the American style. He created many works of music starting with his Symphony No.1: Jeremiah and a ballet piece Fancy Free. Fancy Free was such a hit, it was turned into the Broadway musical On the Town. He then wrote another ballet score for Facsimile in 1946. He continued with Prelude, Fugue and Riffs in 1949, the opera Trouble in Tahiti in 1952, the Broadway score Wonderful Town in 1953, the soundtrack for the film On the Waterfront in 1954, and another Broadway score Candide in 1956. In 1957, Bernstein would create his most popular and widely known piece West Side Story. It would later become a feature film and win an Academy Award in 1961. From 1958 to 1969, Bernstein became the director of the New York Philharmonic. He carried the orchestra though fourteen seasons on CBS with the “Young People’s Concerts” musical series. He then created another orchestra and ensemble piece Mass:A Theater Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers in 1971, his third and final ballet Dybbuk in 1975, another great and final Broadway piece 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 1976, his final opera A Quiet Place in 1983, and finally his orchestra and ensemble finale Concerto for Orchestra: Jubilee Games in 1989.

Bernstein also wrote about music. His writings were published in four books between 1959 and 1982. He gave lectures as well. There was a book and television program on his six lectures at Harvard. The show was called “The Unanswered Question”.

The world loved Bernstein. He received many medals, honors and awards in his lifetime. He received a Gold Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, MacDowell Colony, Beethoven Society, and the highest honor with the Handel Medallion. Bernstein received a Tony award and many awards from colleges and universities. He was given the keys to the cities of Oslo, Vienna, Bersheeva and the village of Bernstein, Austria. Many countries honored him. He won twenty Grammy awards and received the Kennedy Center Honors. The year Bernstein was to die, he received the Praemium Imperiale prize from the Japan Arts Association. He used the money from the prize to start the Bernstein Education Through the Arts Fund, Inc. (BETA)

I listened to Symphony No. 2 for piano and Orchestra, “The Age of Anxiety”. This piece is well laid out and full of emotion. He starts with a loud upbeat intro that leads into a solemn melody. It gives me a visual imagery of someone’s lover leaving them. The slow, calm of the music is very melancholy and depressing. It is as if the person is alone and confused as to what to do now.

uses several variations in this piece. He flows well between the orchestra and the piano solos. The piano occurs to me as a symbol of depression while the orchestra is all the other emotions causing confusion as to how the person really feels and what they should do.

When the piano has its solo and is so pianissimo, I think of the person having given up all hope and drowning in their sorrow. Just as all seems hopeless something occurs to change the person’s perspective and they begin to realize it is not the end of the world. The orchestra joins back in with the piano and gets louder and faster. A joyous moment when the person realizes the truth in their feelings and moves on. The happy ending.

This piece carries a slow tempo with some sections of increased speed. It has great tone color and transitions. Based on what we have listened to through this course, this piece sounds unstable. It is as if it goes in any direction it wants, flowing like a rapid river. Whereas earlier music had a set pattern, layout and form that was used. There is still flow to it but no exact layout. It follows its own rules and does what is pleasing to the ear of the composer.

Bernstein is a musical genius. He will be remembered and learned from for years to come. He has become one of my favorites. Thank you Bernstein.

Works Cited
“Leonard Bernstein”. NNDB. 2009. http://www.nndb.com/people/532/000031439/
“Leonard Bernstein (Conductor, Composer)”. Aryeh Oron. August 2001. http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Bernstein-Leonard.htm
“Leonard Bernstein”. The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc. 2008-2009. http://www.leonardbernstein.com/lb.htm
“Leonard Bernstein”. Myspace.com. 2009. http://www.myspace.com/leonardbernstein.com