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Biography of Leonard Bernstein



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    Leonard Bernstein was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts on August 25, 1918. He was born to first generation Jewish parents from Russia. At the age of ten, he began learning to play the piano, at one point in his studies at Hebrew Union he thought of becoming a rabbi. Latter he was awarded an honorary degree, for he became a rabbi of sorts (Gottlieb. ) However, he went on the major in music at Harvard University. Although, his interest at college was in becoming a concert piano, but he was also introduced to orchestration.

    While in college, he conducted his own incidental music to “The Birds,” and directed and performed in Marc Blitstein’s “The Cradle Will Rock” (LB, Inc). After graduation he went to study with the Boston Symphon Orchestra’s summer institute, where he was the conducting assistant to Serge Koussevitsky. In 1943 he was placed in his first permanent conducting position with The New York Philharmonic, during his lifetime over 200 of his recordingings were made with the Philharmonic. In 1943 he was also asked to be a guest conductor at Carnegie Hall. This led to him being sought out as a guest conductor.

    He had his share of critics because of his dance-like style as a conductor. (Gottlieb) In 1945 he was named director of New York City Symphony. He held other positions from 1945 until 1969, conducting more concerts than any previous conductor. He spent a great deal of his time teaching and composing for non-classical gneres. Although it was known by family and friends a great regret was not being able to compose more music, however, the music he did compose was so invigorating and memorable. He brought jazz to the concert hall and syphonies to Broadway.

    His concert works was said to “revel the influence of many composers – Hindmith, Britten, Shostakovich, Brahms, and Rachmaninoff, to name a few – almost everyone would agree that there is a characteristic and unmistakable “Bernstein sound” rhythmic vitality, beautiful lyricism, a cosmopolitan capacity to fuse multiple musical styles” (Carnegie Hall Corporation). However, he would not follow the “rules” of the 20th Century music and did not write in 12-tone music. This caused his reputation as a composer among others in the academic community, if a composer did not use 12-tone they were not a serious composer.

    He would not set aside a good tune to make the community happy, even for the sake of respect. “A fair number of Bernstein’s compositions fall into the category of “serious” or “concert music, though he consistently blurred the distinction betweeen works for the theater and the concert hall” (Carnegie Hall Corporation). For example, while with the New York City Symphony, he composed work such as On the Waterfront, Candide and West Side Story. “On the Waterfront garnared him a Academy Award” (PBS – American Master’s Series).

    He also composed songs based on his Jewish heritage. His first work which esponded his Jewish heritiage was Jeremiah, which was dedicated to his father. In addition, works such as On the Town, Carried Away to remind listeners of the words from the 35th Psalm. Which is said to be the article of faith he lived his life and created his works. (Gottlieb) In his lifetime he created over twenty works based on Jewish themes. “Such as Symphony No 3: Kaddish and Chichester Psalms, which were written in Hebrew-Aramaic, but with a touch of his West Side Story sound” (Gottlieb).

    In his works he endevored to combine his American and Jewish hearitage. He wrote works which addressed the treatment of Jews by the Nazi’s, one such work is Halil, a flute rhaposdy. Then In 1957, he returned to the New York Philharmonic, and this is where his versatile musical contrabutions made him a success on Broadway, and classical concert halls. (PBS – American Master’s Series) Whille at the New York Philharmonic he cunducted more than nine hundred concerts and received the lifetime title of Laureate Conductor, with the New York Philharmonic.

    He concentrated on only composing in the seventies and eighties, and maintained a presence in the music world by traveling internationally as a guest conductor. He conducted orchestras in London, Prague, and Israel. He was the first American to conduct at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, in 1953. (PBS – American Master’s Series) According to Mr. Bernstein’s brother, Burton Bernstein, his favorite occupation was teaching. His passion was stimulating new thoughts, especially, young and impressionable minds. Lenny doing what he did so passionately, so brilliantly, so charmingly, or originally, so lovingly, and yes sometimes so excessively – always so full of life” (LB, Inc). In his music, life, and ways always expressing love and peace. He would take it personally when the rest of the world would not cooperate. “He maintained unflinching optimism and religious trust n the ultimate improvability of man” (LB, Inc). His son said the Hebrew phrase “Torah Lismah,” basically meaning raging thurst for knowledge, that was his father. “Bernstein may not have been traditionally observant, but he was deeply Jewish in every other way.

    In fact, he once described himself as a “chip,” not off the old block, but “off the old Tanach” (Gottlieb). He belived in being a charitable giver, a devout book learner, an ambassador for Israel, a defender of causes against the opressed, an inspired teacher, and a counselor to those who are searching. “Kaddish is dedicated “To the Beloved Memory of John F. Kennedy. ” He also wrote many other compositions for various combinations, including orchestral, choral, chamber and piano works, song cycles, operas, scores for movies, music for ballet, incidental music for plays, musicals, and more” (Oron).

    He was said to not be able to absorb enough knowledge, if it interested him, he would study it and make it his own. Not just music, which is what gave him his great ablity in theater. He loved Shakespeare, world religions, the Renaissnce, French drama, astrophysic. This was due in part because he was a ecumenical lover of the world. But also, for his thrist for knowledge drove him and he love to communicate this excitement to others. He was a very loyal friend, which came before his work. Stated in many reports when not at work he would become meloncaly.

    He was adidcted to music, his drug of choice. Yet it was this same music which would drain him and take him to the brink. Mr. Bernstein’s music he enjoyed new exciting changes in music and experimenting. Always looking for the avant-garde, his favorite was as a traditionalist. He enjoyed the simple songs, lovely tunes, and pristine sounds. Taking the old and bringing sounds not heard since the music creating his uniquely special renditions. After the listening marveling at the sheer love and passion he conducted with, he would draw out of the musicians a performance they never imagined.

    He loved to engage with the audience and sought ways for them to participate, to include singing Frere Jacques. (LB, Inc) He was also a leading advocate for American composers, like Aaron Copland, presenting his music to audiences and recording almost all his orchestral works. “Bernstein performed Copland’s Piano Variations so often he considered the composition his trademark” (Oron). Just as he loved the performance and orchestration of music, he also loved just talking about music. His son explained he wanted to try explaining what made the music good, interesting, why it would affect us in one way or another.

    Not only was his music showcased on radio, he decided to take advantage of the new era of television. His son said, “The other piece of good luck was that Leonard Bernstein and television came along at the same time, they were born for each other” (LB, Inc). This is where his teaching abilities came to the forefront. He created special shows for adults, explaining classical music. CBS convinced him to put the Young People’s Concerts on air. These specials were a huge hit for the station; many musicians came to music because of the shows.

    By expending music in this new direction, he was able to use, his greatest gift was the ability to convey his love of music, and have others responded. When he was explaining something it was more, it was as if he was sharing a deep dark secret, and it was contagious. (LB, Inc) “Leonard Bernstein was said to be a born teacher, but acutally it’s more accurate to say that he was a born student who couldn’t wait to share what he learned” (LB, Inc) Many of his writing’s were published for the edificaiton and knowledge of people around the world, as these works have been translated into many languages.

    His works include The Joy of Music (1959), Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts (1961), The infinite Variety of Music (1966) and Findings (1982). “He gave six lecutres at Harvard University as the Chales Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry. These lectures were subsequently published and televised as The Unanswered Qustion” (LB, Inc). His book The Joy of Music he explained composers music by the characters having imagenary conversations.

    Such as Bull Session In The Rockies, there are Leornard Bernstein (L. B. ), younger brother (Y. B. ), and lyric poet (L. P. ) they are discussing Beethoven. L. P. tarts the conversation by mentioning the mountains are pure Beethoven, they have a majestic quality. The conveation continues and they start talking of melody, harmony explaining how the music move in a certain intetional static, somber way and harmonic interest. L. B. says “The Fifth Symphony stream on with the old three chords chasing each other about until you wonder what more he can possibly wring from them” (Bernstein 26). His writing style is a unique blend of harmony never dull just limited. His book also show cases Seven Omnibus Television Transcripts, which are from his televison series.

    He talks of how Stravinsky changes sound by doing things like putting in a tonic root for an entire section. His book speak of jazz with as much love as the classics. Modern music and American Musical Comedy are give there own special showcase, with his enthusiasm taking front stage. In over three-hundred pages he breaks down music so the ordinary person can understand and listen with as much excitement as he demonstrate in his composistions. To enclude opera, of the gendra he say “opera is big, bigger than the spoken theater, bigger than life. And what makes it bigger? Music, sung music” (Bernstein 292).

    He was a life-long supporter of many humanitarian causes, world peace was a main concern, as was the fighting in Isreael. He was sought after by many for special speaking engagements. “Speaking at Johns Hopkins University in 1980, and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York in 1983, he described his vision of global harmony” (Oron). As the Berlin Wall was being taken down, he gave historic “Berlin Celebration Concerts,” to both the east and west side. He was an avid supporter of Amnesty International, and established the Felicia Montealegre Fund in memory of his wife.

    For his philontanphic work and achievements in the arts he was given the Praemium Imperiale, by the Japan Arts Associantion. Jack Gottlieb another famous muscian and composer said of him: When I was a music major in college, I wondered what it would have been like to have know Mendelssohn, Liszt, mahler and Gershwin. Now I know. Lenny was a bit of all of them and more. He was my mentor and I was priviledged to be in his company. ” (Gottlieb) Lenord Bernstein was a person with a special gift the ability to explain music from every gendra so the common man could understand and enjoy it as much as the most learnerd muscian.

    He was more than a conductor, he was a composer, pianist, teacher and advocate for American composers. Throughout his career he would draw an internationally blended crowd, to listen and learn, and perhaps catch his enthusiasm for music. In April of 1990 he conducted the fifieth anniversary concert commemorating himself as a conductor at Tanglewood, three months later he passed away. Until his death he brought the world closer to American classical music, and invigorated their ears. (LB, Inc)

    Works Cited

    1. Bernstein, Leonard. The Joy of Music. Pompton Plains: Amadeus Press, LLC, 1959. Print.
    2. Carnegie Hall Corporation. “The “Serious” Side of Music. ” 2001-2008.
    3. Carnegie Hall Corporation. Web. 10 June 2010. Gottlieb, Jack. “Bernstein and Faith. ” 2001-2008.
    4. Bernstein: The Best of All Possible Worlds. Web. 10 Jun 2010.
    5. LB, Inc. Leornard Bernstein. 2009-2009. Web. 14 Jun 2010.
    6. Oron, Areh. “Leonard Bernstein (Conductor, Composer). ” 12 Feb 2010.
    7. Bach Cantatas. Web. 19 Jun 2010.
    8. PBS – American Master’s Series. American Master’s Series – Leonard Bernstein – Reaching for the Note. 6 September 2006. Web. 10 June 2010.

    Biography of Leonard Bernstein. (2017, Feb 22). Retrieved from

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