“Everything anybody writes has always been based on the sum of all the music that composer has ever heard plus a voice of his own.”
Michael Wager and Alexander Bernstein on Symphony No. 3, “Kaddish.”
From Reaching for the Note, Dir. Susan Lacy, 1998.
One of Leonard Bernstein’s great regrets was that he composed so little music. Yet considering the range of his musical endeavors—conductor, educator, pianist, global cultural ambassador—it seems miraculous that he composed as much as he did. A fair number of Bernstein’s compositions fall into the category of “serious” or “concert” music, though he consistently blurred the distinction between works for the theater and the concert hall. The Symphonic Dances from West Side Story is now a beloved staple of the concert repertoire, while Mass is a difficult-to-categorize synthesis of Broadway and the concert hall. Further blurring the distinction is Bernstein’s tendency to incorporate discarded songs from musicals into his concert works. To cite just one example, …
For all his native intelligence and astonishing mental powers, Bernstein was fundamentally a musician for whom Eros was a prime mover. Bernstein doubtless couldn’t find the erotic potential in the music of Schoenberg or Carter, and, the music leaving him cold and untouched, he could not bring himself to go near it again, not even as a collegial gesture of support for a fellow composer.
You could see Eros not only in the way his small, compact, and lithe body moved in sync with what he was conducting, but also in the very nature of his own music, which, not in the least troubled by modesty, he programmed with the Philharmonic no fewer than one hundred seventy-five times—second only to Copland among American composers. Bernstein the composer is at his best when the music is choreographic and suffused with sensuality.
Excerpted from Leonard Bernstein: American Original, by Burton Bernstein and Barbara B. Haws (HarperCollins, August 2008).
Excerpt from Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1, “Jeremiah” (III. Lamentation)
New York Philharmonic / Leonard Bernstein, Conductor; Jennie Tourel, Mezzo-Soprano. Sony Classical SK 60697.
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By Burton Bernstein— former New Yorker writer and Leonard’s brother—and the New York Philharmonic’s historian, Barbara Haws.