Bernstein in 1971Leonard Bernstein (August 25, 1918 – October
14, 1990) was an American composer, pianist and conductor. 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.
Bernstein was born
in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1918 to a Jewish family from Rovno, 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 sixteen. His father, Sam Bernstein,
was a businessman, and initially opposed Bernstein's interest in music.
Despite this, the elder Bernstein frequently took him to orchestra concerts.
One time, Bernstein heard a piano performance and was immediately captivated;
he subsequently began learning the piano at a young age. As a child,
Bernstein attended the Garrison and Boston Latin School. When his father
heard about the piano lessons, he refused to pay for them, even though
he had enough money. So Bernstein taught young kids for money, and paid
for the piano lessons.
from Boston Latin School in 1935, Bernstein attended Harvard University,
where he studied music with Walter Piston and was briefly associated
with the Harvard Glee Club, and then the Curtis Institute of Music in
Philadelphia, where he received the only grade of "A" that
Fritz Reiner ever awarded in his class on conducting. During his time
at Curtis, Bernstein also studied piano with Isabella Vengerova and
During his younger
years in New York City, Bernstein enjoyed a promiscuous sexual life,
mostly with young men (citation from Burton, Leonard Bernstein). After
a long internal struggle and a turbulent on-and-off engagement, he married
Felicia Montealegre, a Chilean actress, in 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 his sexual life and appease the
conservative BSO board.
Leonard and Felicia
had three children, Jamie, Alexander, and Nina. During most of his married
life, Bernstein tried to be as discreet as possible with his extramarital
liasons. 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. His relationship
with Cothran had deteriorated, so Bernstein moved back in with his wife
and cared for her until she died. (citations from Burton, Leonard Bernstein).
He was highly regarded
as a conductor, composer, pianist, and educator, and probably best known
to the public as long-time 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. All told, he wrote three
symphonies, two operas, five musicals, and numerous other pieces.
in 1944In November 1943, having recently been appointed assistant conductor
of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, he made his conducting debut
when Bruno Walter was ill; he was an immediate success and became instantly
famous, since the concert was nationally broadcast. In 1947 he conducted
in Tel Aviv (then in Palestine), for the first time, beginning a life-long
association with Israel. After World War II Bernstein's career on the
international stage begain to flourish. In 1949 he conducted the world
première of the Turangalîla-Symphonie by Olivier Messiaen.
In 1957, he conducted the inaugural concert of the Mann Auditorium in
Tel Aviv; he subsequently made many recordings there. In 1958, Bernstein
was named Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, a post he held
until 1969. Beginning in the late 1950's, he became a well-known figure
in the US through his series of fifty-three televised "Young People's
Concerts" for CBS. He became as famous for his teaching of music
as for his conducting. Some of his music lectures were released on records.
Several of these albums won 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
Beginning in 1970,
Bernstein conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, with which he
re-recorded many of the pieces that he had recorded with the New York
Philharmonic, including sets of the complete symphonies of Beethoven,
Mahler, Brahms and Schumann. On PBS in the 1980's , 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.
On Christmas Day,
December 25, 1989, Bernstein conducted Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 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 Ode to Joy, substituting the word "freedom"
(Freiheit) for "joy" (Freude). "I'm sure that Beethoven
would have given us his blessing", said Bernstein.
Bernstein was a
highly-regarded conductor among many musicians, in particular the members
of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra,
of which he was a regular guest conductor. He was considered especially
accomplished with the works of Gustav Mahler, Aaron Copland, Johannes
Brahms, Dmitri Shostakovich and of course his own. 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.
died just five days after retiring. He conducted his final performance
at Tanglewood, in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, on August
19, 1990. It was the Boston Symphony playing Britten's "Four Sea
Interludes" and Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. 
On the day of his
funeral procession through the streets of Manhattan, construction workers
removed their hats and waved and yelled "Goodbye Lenny."
(1918-1990) was perhaps the most influential figure in classical music
in the last half of the twentieth century. Composer, conductor, author,
lecturer and often controversial media personality, the American-born
Bernstein had a dramatic impact on the popular audience's acceptance
and appreciation of classical music. His own work as a composer, particularly
his scores for such Broadway musicals as West Side Story and On the
Town, helped forge a new relationship between classical and popular
For much of his
career, including his legendary tenure as music director of the New
York Philharmonic, Bernstein recorded exclusively for Columbia/CBS Masterworks,
which is now Sony Classical. This vast legacy of recordings, featuring
his work as both composer and conductor, is now being remastered and
collected in a comprehensive new Sony Classical series entitled Bernstein
Bernstein was born
in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He took piano lessons as a boy and attended
the Garrison and Boston Latin schools. At Harvard University he studied
with Walter Piston, Edward Burlingame-Hill and A.
among others. Before graduating in 1939, he made an unofficial conducting
debut with his own incidental music to The Birds and directed and performed
in Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock. Then, at the Curtis Institute
of Music in Philadelphia, he studied piano with Isabella Vengerova,
conducting with Fritz Reiner and orchestration with Randall Thompson.
In 1940 he studied at the Boston Symphony Orchestra's newly created
summer institute at Tanglewood with the orchestra's conductor, Serge
Koussevitsky. Bernstein later became Koussevitzky's conducting assistant.
Bernstein was appointed
to his first permanent conducting post in 1943, as assistant conductor
of the New York Philharmonic. On November 14, 1943, he substituted on
a few hours notice for the ailing Bruno Walter at a Carnegie Hall concert,
which was broadcast nationally on radio, receiving critical acclaim.
Soon orchestras worldwide sought him out as a guest conductor.
In 1945 he was appointed
music director of the New York City Symphony Orchestra, a post he held
until 1947. After Serge Koussevitzky died in 1951, Bernstein headed
the orchestral and conducting departments at Tanglewood, teaching there
for many years. In 1951 he married the Chilean actress and pianist Felicia
Montealegre. He was also visiting music professor and head of the Creative
Arts Festivals at Brandeis University in the early 1950s.
music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1958.
From then until
1969 he led more concerts with the orchestra than any previous conductor.
He subsequently held the lifetime title of laureate conductor, making
frequent guest appearances with the orchestra. More than half of Bernstein's
four-hundred-plus recordings were made with the New York Philharmonic.
the world as a conductor. Immediately after World War II, in 1946, he
conducted in London and at the International Music Festival in Prague.
In 1947 he conducted in Tel Aviv, beginning a relationship with Israel
that lasted until his death. In 1953 Bernstein was the first American
to conduct opera at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan: Cherubini's Medea
with Maria Callas.
Bernstein was a
leading advocate of American composers, particularly Aaron Copland.
The two remained close friends for life. As a young pianist Bernstein
performed Copland's Piano Variations so often he considered the composition
his trademark. Bernstein programmed and recorded nearly all of the Copland
orchestral works, many of them twice. He devoted several televised Young
People's Concerts to Copland, and gave the premiere of Copland's Connotations,
commissioned for the opening of the Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher
Hall) at Lincoln Center in 1962.
conducting repertoire encompassed the standard literature, he may be
best remembered for his performances and recordings of Haydn, Beethoven,
Brahms, Schumann, Sibelius and Mahler. Particularly notable were his
performances of the Mahler symphonies with the New York Philharmonic
in the 1960s. These now-legendary performances reintroduced Mahler's
works into the concert repertoire and initiated the restoration of Mahler's
reputation as a composer (SMK 64204).
Inspired by his
Jewish heritage, Bernstein completed his first large-scale work, Symphony
No. 1: Jeremiah (1943). The piece was first performed with the Pittsburgh
Symphony Orchestra in 1944, conducted by the composer, and received
the New York Music Critics' Award. Koussevitzky premiered Bernstein's
Symphony No. 2: The Age of Anxiety with the Boston Symphony Orchestra
and Bernstein as piano soloist. His Symphony No. 3: Kaddish, composed
in 1963, was premiered by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
Kaddish is dedicated
"To the Beloved Memory of John F. Kennedy."
Other major compositions
by Bernstein include Prelude, Fugue and Riffs for solo clarinet and
jazz ensemble (1949); Serenade for violin, strings and percussion (1954);
Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (1960); Chichester Psalms for
chorus, boy soprano and orchestra (1965); Mass: A Theatre Piece for
Singers, Players and Dancers, commissioned for the opening of the John
F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and first
produced there in 1971 (SM2K 63089); Songfest, a song cycle for six
singers and orchestra (1977); Divertimento for Orchestra (1980); Halil
for solo flute and small orchestra (1981); Touches for solo piano (1981);
Missa Brevis for singers and percussion (1988); Thirteen Anniversaries
for solo piano (1988); Concerto for Orchestra: Jubilee Games (1989);
and Arias and Barcarolles for two singers and piano duet (1988).
Bernstein also wrote
a one-act opera, Trouble in Tahiti, in 1952, and its sequel, the three-act
opera, A Quiet Place, in 1983. He collaborated with choreographer Jerome
Robbins on three major ballets, Fancy Free (1944) and Facsimile (1946)
for the American Ballet Theatre and Dybbuk (1975) for the New York City
Ballet (SMK 63090). He composed the score for the award-winning movie
On the Waterfront in 1954 (SMK 63085) and incidental music for two Broadway
plays, Peter Pan (1950) and The Lark (1955).
substantially to the Broadway musical stage. He collaborated with Betty
Comden and Adolph Green in On the Town (1944) and Wonderful Town (1953).
In collaboration with Richard Wilbur, Lillian Hellman and others, he
wrote Candide (1956). Other versions of Candide were written in association
with such collaborators as Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim. In 1957
he again collaborated with Jerome Robbins and Stephen Sondheim, as well
as Arthur Laurents, on the landmark musical West Side Story, also made
into the Academy Award-winning film (SMK 63085). In 1976 Bernstein and
Alan Jay Lerner wrote 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Festivals of Bernstein's
music have been produced throughout the world.
In 1978 the Israel
Philharmonic sponsored a festival commemorating his years of dedication
to Israel. The Israel Philharmonic also bestowed on him the lifetime
title of laureate conductor in 1988. In 1986 the London Symphony and
the Barbican Centre produced a Bernstein Festival. The London Symphony
Orchestra in 1987 named him honorary president. In 1989 the city of
Bonn presented a Beethoven/Bernstein Festival.
In 1985 the National
Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences honored Mr.
Bernstein with the
Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award. He won eleven Emmy Awards in his
career. His televised concert and lecture series started with the Omnibus
program in 1954, followed by the extraordinary Young People's Concerts
with the New York Philharmonic in 1958 that extended over fourteen seasons.
Among his many appearances on the PBS series Great Performances was
the eleven-part acclaimed Bernstein's Beethoven. In 1989, Bernstein
and others commemorated the 1939 invasion of Poland in a worldwide telecast
were published in The Joy of Music (1959), Leonard Berstein's Young
People's Concerts (1961), The Infinite Variety of Music (1966), and
Findings (1982). Each has been widely translated. He gave six lectures
at Harvard University in 1972-73 as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor
of Poetry. These lectures were subsequently published and televised
as The Unanswered Question.
rejoiced in opportunities to teach young musicians. His master classes
at Tanglewood were famous. He was instrumental in founding the Los Angeles
Philharmonic Institute in 1982. He helped create a world-class training
orchestra at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival.
He founded the Pacific
Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan. Modeled after Tanglewood, this international
festival was the first of its kind in Asia and continues to this day.
many honors. He was elected in 1981 to the American Academy of Arts
and Letters, which gave him a gold medal. The National Fellowship Award
in 1985 applauded his lifelong support of humanitarian causes. He received
the MacDowell Colony's gold medal; medals from the Beethoven Society
and the Mahler Gesellschaft; the Handel Medallion, New York City's highest
honor for the arts; a Tony Award (1969) for distinguished achievement
in the theater; and dozens of honorary degrees and awards from college
and universities. He was presented ceremonial keys to the cities of
Oslo, Vienna, Bersheeva and the village of Bernstein, Austria, among
others. National honors came from Italy, Israel, Mexico, Denmark, Germany
(the Great Merit Cross) and France (chevalier, officer and commander
of the Legion d'Honneur). He received Kennedy Center honors in 1980.
World peace was
a particular concern for Bernstein. Speaking at Johns Hopkins University
in 1980 and at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York in 1983,
he described his vision of global harmony. His Journey for Peace tour
to Athens and Hiroshima with the European Community Orchestra in 1985
commemorated the fortieth anniversary of the atom bomb.
In December 1989
Bernstein conducted the historic "Berlin Celebration Concerts"
on both sides of the Berlin Wall, as it was being dismantled.
The concerts were
unprecedented gestures of cooperation, the musicians representing the
former East Germany, West Germany and the four powers that had partitioned
Berlin after World War II.
Amnesty International from its inception. To benefit the effort in 1987,
he established the Felicia Montealegre Fund in memory of his wife, who
died in 1978.
In 1990 Bernstein
received the Praemium Imperiate, an international prize created in 1988
by the Japan Arts Association and awarded for lifetime achievement in
the arts. Bernstein used the $100,000 prize to launch the Bernstein
Education Through the Arts (BETA) Fund, Inc.
Bernstein was the
father of three children -- Jamie, Alexander and Nina -- and the grandfather
of two, Francisca and Evan.