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Made in America

“Children must receive musical instruction naturally as food, and with as much pleasure as they derive from a ball game.” -Leonard Bernstein

Bernstein in Cleveland

Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic on tour at the Blossom Music Center, Cleveland, 1986.

Today, we celebrate the birthday of Leonard Bernstein, one of the greatest American musicians of the twentieth century. Many of us know him as the celebrated conductor of the New York Philharmonic, the composer of the highly acclaimed musical West Side Story, and a superb pianist whose recording of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue remains one of the most electrifying renditions of all time.

Equally remarkable was his lesser-talked about role as an educator, which he started at a very young age and committed himself to throughout the rest of his life. He was an enthusiastic and dynamic teacher who never tired of sharing his passion for music, especially with young students. His daughter Jamie Bernstein wrote, “Leonard Bernstein was a man of many accomplishments, but he was proudest of his own achievements as a teacher.” Listening to his insightful and engaging lectures, we can easily understand why he felt that way.

Bernstein started playing the piano at the age of ten, when his aunt brought her unwanted upright piano to the Bernstein household. His father did not want to pay for serious music lessons, so Bernstein started teaching neighborhood kids from the age 12 to pay for his own lessons.

Bernstein went onto study music theory at Harvard, but also took a deep interest in liberal arts subjects such as language and philosophy. After graduating from Harvard, he was accepted at the prestigious Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where he received regimented training in piano and conducting. During his college years, he forged essential relationships with legendary music figures such as Aaron Copland, Serge Koussevitzky and Fritz Reiner, who profoundly influenced his growth and career as a musician.

Bernstein at Tanglewood

Bernstein with his class of conducting auditors at Tanglewood, summer 1948.

In November, 1957, abandoning their long tradition of engaging European conductors, the New York Philharmonic (NYP) appointed the American born and trained Bernstein as their music director. Soon after, Bernstein started televising the orchestra’s popular Young People’s Concerts so that the program could reach a much bigger audience all over the U.S. Bernstein spent much time planning and rehearsing for these weekly concerts which were then taped live. These telecasts were syndicated in more than 40 countries and are currently available on DVD. Judging by the wide popularity of the program, it is entirely plausible that some music patrons supporting symphony orchestras and other classical concerts today may have been inspired young viewers of Bernstein’s weekly televised concerts.

In addition to these concerts, Bernstein gave countless lectures, interviews, master classes, and wrote a number of books about music. He was a captivating speaker with a gift of explaining complicated musical ideas clearly and succinctly with great perception, humor, and energy. His verbal explanations are followed by the superb musical demonstrations that reinforce his message. Bernstein enjoyed a wide variety of music, from pop and jazz to Mahler and was comfortable discussing all of them. Moreover, he was always respectful of his audience regardless of their age and believed they were capable of grasping the musical concepts no matter how complicated or strange the music was.

I am eager to recommend the Bernstein’s lectures in our collection which are all available for download on BARD. In addition, check out some of Bernstein’s books and music. If you would like to read his biography, we have that also.

  • What is Jazz? (DBM00704)
  • Leonard Bernstein discusses humor in Music (DBM00694)
  • Leonard Bernstein discusses Beethoven’s fifth symphony and the Eroica symphony, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, the music of Charles Ives (DBM00705)
  • Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony: Conductor Leonard Bernstein uses colorful, earthy language in the rehearsal of this work depicting the march of Nazi invaders into Russia (DBM00005)

Music and biography

  • La bonne cuisine: four recipes from “ La Bonne Cuisine Française by Emile Dumont translated by Leonard Bernstein and set to music for voice and piano. Includes: Plum Pudding; Queues de Boeuf (Ox Tails); Tavouk Gueunksis; Civet à Toute Vitesse (Rabbit at Top Speed) (BRM25689)
  • I hate music! : a cycle of 5 kid songs for soprano (BRM18467)
  • An album of songs for voice and piano (BRM28673)
  • Make our garden grow from Candide (BRM36112)
  • Four Anniversaries for the Piano, dedicated to four important people in Bernstein’s life including his wife, Felicia Montealegre (BRM23188)
  • Vocal selections from West Side Story (LPM00029)
  • Bernstein, a biography by Joan Peyser (LPM00582) (An audio version of this book is available through BARD as DB33000.)
  • The joy of music (LPM00322)
  • The infinite variety of music (LPM00212)
  • Candide. Selections, Lyric Opera of Chicago, 1994., commentary by Alfred Glasser (DBM01559)

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