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Handwritten letter from eight year-old Jordan Rudess to Leonard Bernstein.
Jordan Rudess. Letter to Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein Collection, Library of Congress Music Division.

You’ve Got [Hate] Mail

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The following is a guest post by Music Reference Specialist Heather Darnell.

Haters, am I right? No matter how well you do something, there’s always someone waiting to take you down a notch. But you’re not alone! Even the greats had their fair share of detractors. For today’s post, we are taking a look at hate mail to some of the best in the business: musicians Henry Mancini, Jascha Heifetz, and Leonard Bernstein.

You might know Henry Mancini for his jazzy film and television themes, such as “Moon River” and the “Pink Panther Theme.” He won his first two Grammys for his music to the American private eye series Peter Gunn (1958-1960), with several recordings of its iconic theme reaching the Billboard Top 100.

However, he couldn’t impress one person from California:

June 15, 1959

Dear Sir:

We could hardly stand the music on “Peter Gunn” tonight. Fire Henry Mancini, he ruined the play!

What’s going on with the horrible music being used as background for several programs?

Very Truly Yours,


Handwritten postcard in ink to Henry Mancini
Postcard from Jean Verrill to Henry Mancini, June 15, 1959. Henry Mancini Papers, Box 924 Folder 2.

Explore the finding aid to the Henry Mancini Papers to find more fan mail!

Widely regarded as one of the greatest violinists of all time, Jascha Heifetz made his spectacular Carnegie debut at the age of 17. Throughout a career spanning the twentieth century, he was known for his unwavering technical precision and bold virtuosity.

Unfortunately, not even the world’s best violinist could please everybody. Take the excerpt below from “A Disgusted Heifetz Fan,” which compares his program to violin contemporary Mischa Elman’s:

“[Elman] had a Sonata by Nardini, Mendelssohn Concerto, César Franck Sonata, two movements of a Bach Sonata…Now compare your program. A sonata (that hardly anyone has ever heard of), a Spohr Concerto (and one of the driest ones in the violin literature!) and then a few stupid little show pieces…People pay $1.00 to $3.00 to hear that stupid little insignificant program.”

Front of handwritten letter to Jascha Heifetz
Front of letter from “A Disgusted Heifetz Fan” to Jascha Heifetz, February 25, 1979. Jascha Heifetz Papers, Box 274.

Back of a handwritten letter to Jascha Heifetz
Back of letter from “A Disgusted Heifetz Fan” to Jascha Heifetz, February 25, 1979. Jascha Heifetz Papers, Box 274.

That’s pretty tough criticism for composer Louis Spohr, one of the best German violinists of the 19th century (not to mention the inventor of the violin chinrest)! The sonata “hardly anyone has ever heard of” was Nikolai Medtner’s Violin Sonata No. 1, which, had the writer taken the time to listen, features furious technicality in the third movement. Neither composer had the recognition of Bach, but maybe Heifetz’s penchant for finding unique pieces was what set him apart!

Check out Music Division’s Jascha Heifetz Papers for the international violin sensation’s letters, compositions, and more!

Most know Leonard Bernstein for his compositions, such as the music to West Side Story or his time as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic. But did you know he was also a formidable pianist, performing with orchestras such as the London and Vienna Philharmonic?

Handwritten letter to Leonard Bernstein
Letter from Jordan Rudes to Leonard Bernstein, August 1965. Leonard Bernstein Collection, Box 426 Folder 3.

That being said, one child from New York would have preferred Bernstein stick to conducting. Here’s a letter from the Leonard Bernstein Collection:

Aug. 1965

Dear Mr. Bernstein,

How long do you practice? Can I have your picture? I am 8 years old. I think I play better than you. Do you want any advice?


Dear little Jordan likely caught Bernstein on one of his televised Young People’s Concerts (1958—1972), where he often used the piano to demonstrate musical concepts. Not many are brave enough to try to entertain children!

Thankfully, none of these harsh words seem to have deterred Mancini, Heifetz, or Bernstein from making great music. Seeing as that they kept the letters, perhaps they even provided some delight!

So remember as you work toward your own goals—haters are always gonna hate. Just laugh it off and do you!

Comments (6)

  1. What a wonderful post! I would love to know what has become of little Jordan Rudes and whether Bernstein replied to him or not!

  2. Love this blog, very cute!

  3. That letter from the 8 year old is beyond precious.

  4. Delightful post, reminding us of the wide range of views that can greet even the best and most thoughtful artistic efforts! Still, better than hearing no echo at all–all three writers CARED!

  5. Fun blog post that shows you can’t please everyone. I hope Jordan stumbles across it; his letter will no doubt give him a belly laugh now. The clickable artifacts and links are a nice addition to this entertaining piece.

  6. Thanks for this! Snail- or e-, people just live to sound off!

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