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No figure in 20th century American classical music had as prominent or controversial a career -- or did more to sell classical music to the general public as something genuinely exciting, and worth getting into a sweat over -- than Leonard Bernstein. For more than 30 years, from his assumption of the post of Music Director of the New York Philharmonic in 1958 until the final concerts that he conducted in obviously failing health near the end of his life in 1990, he was the most prominent and widely recognized American-born conductor in the world, and the dominant personality in American classical music as both a conductor and, to a lesser degree, a composer. A flamboyant public figure, he burst three different times on the musical world -- twice in classical with a rush of success on Broadway in between -- in a blaze of glory, in the space of 15 years; and over a career lasting from the early '40s until the beginning of the '90s, he never lost an opportunity to advance his reputation as well as the cause of music. In the process, he opened new musical horizons to millions of listeners and thousands of would-be performers who might never have otherwise discovered them. And most who were around to see him in the years when he was at the New York Philharmonic, either as an assistant conductor or a guest conductor for such events as the Lewisohn Stadium concerts, or as Music Director, remember him as vividly as they recall Elvis Presley or the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, or hearing the Sgt. Pepper album for the first time -- in those years, like no one before or since, Bernstein made classical music exciting, even sexy; he made it sing to people who'd never appreciated it before and speak to people who'd never understood it.
Bernstein was born in Lawrence, MA, in 1918, the son of Sam Bernstein, a Russian-born Talmudic scholar-turned-fish-cleaner-turned-businessman. Bernstein seemed destined for a career in business until age ten, when he began playing the piano on his own and got good enough to give lessons to other children, earning enough money to pay for his own lessons when his father refused to indulge in such impractical activities. A Boston Pops concert that he attended also contributed mightily to Bernstein's youthful musical aspirations, and during his teens he began staging operas, composing, and playing the piano on a radio show that was sponsored by his father's cosmetics company. He had an equal aptitude with popular music and the classics, and was a formidable improviser even at this young age.
Bernstein's formal music training began astonishingly late, at age 14, by which time he was already immersed in the beginnings of a musical career. After initial study with Helen Coates, who subsequently became his mentor and personal secretary, he studied with the prominent piano teacher Heinrich Gebhard. He attended Harvard, and became very well known at the university for his prodigious musical abilities -- surprisingly, he often neglected courses in music theory in favor of classes in philosophy and language, all the while playing the piano at every opportunity and writing about music as well. If he had a role model at the time, it was the pianist/composer George Gershwin, whose work -- mixing classical and jazz influences freely -- prefigured much of what Bernstein wanted to do with music.
It appeared that Bernstein was destined for a career as a concert pianist, when a chance encounter in 1937 with the Greek-born maestro Dimitri Mitropoulos, which led to a brief homosexual relationship, changed the course of his career. Seeing the celebrated conductor at work with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Bernstein became fixated upon the art of conducting, and decided to shift his intention from a career at the keyboard to one at the podium. He later became the musical protégé of Serge Koussevitsky, the celebrated music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and also fell under the spell of composer Aaron Copland, who, like Mitropoulos, was also attracted to Bernstein on a sexual level.
Bernstein's studies were uninterrupted by World War II, the result of chronic asthma that made him unfit for military service, and he subsequently attended the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, and later studied at Tanglewood in the Berkshires. It was on the strength of a recommendation from Koussevitsky that Bernstein was hired as an assistant conductor by the New York Philharmonic. This was not a prominent or glamorous post, primarily charging Bernstein with responsibility for screening new scores, occasionally coaching the orchestra, and standing by in the event that the scheduled conductor on a given evening was unable to appear.
It was in the latter capacity that lightning first struck for Bernstein, on the afternoon of November 14, 1943, when the scheduled conductor, Bruno Walter, was suddenly taken ill, just hours before he was to conduct a program of both new and established concert works. Artur Rodzinsky, the orchestra's permanent conductor, who would normally have taken the concert in Walter's place, was stuck out of town and couldn't return in time, and recommended the unknown Bernstein. As it happened, this was also a broadcast performance, and so millions of listeners got to hear the neophyte conductor take over the performance on only hours' notice, and lead the orchestra through a flawless performance of a difficult program, which included works by Robert Schumann, Richard Strauss, Richard Wagner, and Miklos Rozsa. Instead of following the orchestra, which had already played the repertory on the prior nights' programs, Bernstein added new interpretive details, taking over control and putting his stamp on these pieces.
The next day, Bernstein and the story of the behind-the-scenes drama at the Philharmonic and the broadcast that followed were on the front page of The New York Times and other major newspapers, and not just in New York. Literally overnight, he was in demand as a conductor, sufficiently to receive invitations from various major orchestras and the offer of a recording contract with RCA Victor, then one of the three biggest record labels in the country (alongside Columbia and Decca). Additionally, Bernstein's reputation as a composer began to blossom for the first time during this period, most notably with his music for a Jerome Robbins-choreographed ballet called Fancy Free, which he later turned into the hit musical show On the Town (which, in turn, became the basis for the movie starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra).
It was as a composer, primarily for the stage, that Bernstein began emerging in the years after his New York Philharmonic debut. While his opera Trouble in Tahiti received a mixed, largely negative response, and his musical adaptation of Peter Pan never caught on with audiences or critics despite some memorable songs, Candide was a hit, and his music for Elia Kazan's movie On the Waterfront (1954) -- although he found the process of composing for films frustrating -- received an Oscar nomination, and was heard (and beloved) by millions of people who saw the movie, and is today regarded as one of the finest bodies of music ever written for a film. And his collaboration with Robbins and lyricist Stephen Sondheim on West Side Story became one of the defining works of 20th century musical theater, generating a career's worth of hit songs and melodies whose popularity extended to every corner of musical life -- not yet 40 years old, he'd moved into the rarefied ranks of successful popular and theater composers, and was following a career arc rivaling that of his one-time idol Gershwin. He also became a familiar figure on television, through his appearances on the Omnibus documentary series.
And there were some recordings -- his contract with RCA Victor limited Bernstein to recording contemporary works (including some of his own), but his stint conducting the Philharmonic in its summer concerts at Lewisohn Stadium in northern Manhattan led to a recording contract with Decca Records (for which the Philharmonic, to avoid a violation of its exclusive contract with Columbia Masterworks, was billed as the "Lewisohn Stadium Symphony Orchestra"). This gave him his first chance to record the mainstream European repertory, including works by Schumann, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky; and he ran with it, in a series of genuinely exciting and bracing interpretations that remained popular for decades. His aspirations as a conductor were thwarted, however, and his career seemed stalled. Through a series of unfortunate missteps by all parties, he was denied the chance to succeed Koussevitsky with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and any ambitions he might've had in New York were stymied by the presence of Dimitri Mitropoulos as Music Director of the Philharmonic.
Bernstein's second big break in classical music came during the mid-'50s, when rumors of the orchestra's growing unhappiness with Mitropoulos began circulating. The celebrated conductor was gradually being worn down by his constant battles with the orchestra's players, a board of directors that didn't seem to know what it wanted, a press corps that found little good to say about his work, and an indifferent public. Additionally, his health was deteriorating, and it seemed to all concerned by 1955 that Mitropoulos might not last much longer with the Philharmonic. What's more, after the debacle in Boston, the stars seemed to be aligning in Bernstein's favor, despite his youth -- the only veteran conductors on the scene, Leopold Stokowski and Bruno Walter, were both in their seventies and ruled out by their ages (Stokowski had shared the chief conductor's spot briefly in the 1940s; and Walter had been considered for the post then but ruled himself out at the time, taking instead the lesser, improvised title of "Musical Advisor" for two years, owing both to his age and also to his lack of appreciation for contemporary music, which formed an important part of the Philharmonic's mission). There were two obstacles, however, that he would have to overcome -- the first was the fact that no American-born conductor had ever held the post of chief conductor (or, as it was to be renamed, music director) of any major American orchestra; their boards tended to look at Europeans, owing to an in-bred cultural inferiority that went with classical music at the time, and the Philharmonic was the most elitist of them all. And there was also still one man ahead of him, standing in his path: Guido Cantelli.
The first choice to succeed Mitropoulos was the young Italian maestro, a protégé of octogenarian Arturo Toscanini, the Philharmonic's revered chief conductor from the 1920s and early '30s -- Cantelli had guest conducted with the Philharmonic as well as the NBC Symphony several times and had the endorsement and admiration not only of Toscanini but also of much of the New York musical establishment. His only drawback was his youth, and it was assumed by many that Bernstein might, at best, receive an interim appointment as chief conductor for three or four years, until Cantelli was ready, and then relinquish the job. Ironically, Cantelli died in a plane crash in November of 1956 while on his way to New York to take over a concert from the suddenly departed Mitropoulos -- Toscanini, who died early the following year, was never told of his death, and Cantelli's loss is still felt in the 21st century, as demonstrated by the string of releases of his surviving studio and broadcast recordings coming from labels such as Testament Records.
The tragedy left Bernstein as the leading contender for the position. His appointment was still not a foregone conclusion, however, for he was far too closely associated with Broadway for the taste of many of the orchestra's board members. It was only after he agreed to abandon his Broadway career that these doubts were settled. (It's a demonstration of how times have changed -- in the emaciated classical music marketplace of the 21st century, board members of any American orchestra would likely consider selling their souls to get a music director who could attract any portion of Broadway's clientele, and if he had an old show or two running at the time or his appointment, so much the better.)
After much behind-the-scenes politicking, and an interim appointment sharing the chief conductor's post with Mitropoulos, Bernstein was named Music Director of the New York Philharmonic in November of 1958. At the age of 40, he had succeeded to the most prominent musical post in the United States, the first American-born musician to have achieved such a position with a major orchestra.
Overnight Bernstein became a national figure. He emerged into the limelight through a recording contract with Columbia Masterworks that ensured he would get to record every major piece of classical repertory -- some more than once -- over the next 15 years, and those recordings, in turn, brought Bernstein even more exposure. He was a shockingly handsome man, with matinee idol, even movie star good looks, and was a dashing figure at the podium, and on camera he was unbelievably charismatic. Additionally, he was a natural teacher, able to reach out to audiences of any age and explain music written as much as a century or two earlier to contemporary listeners. And kids and their parents loved him, as audiences for his televised Young Peoples' Concerts were soon to discover. Those broadcasts, which went on into the mid-'60s, did almost as much for music education nationally as the budgets of all the school districts in the country.
But his success was a factor of much more than his abilities as a speaker, or even as an interpreter of music. Bernstein had been fortunate enough to arrive on the national scene at around the same time as another major cultural figure out of Massachusetts, President John F. Kennedy. The two were of virtually the same age, and both men fairly radiated elegance and sexuality, though Bernstein's was of an ambiguous nature, his homosexuality hidden behind a marriage that had produced children -- though there were still rumors and stories, all suppressed at the time.
He had not only the classical music world at his feet but, seemingly, the pop culture world as well. Bernstein was the first American-born conductor to achieve superstar status before the general public, and he had the charisma to sustain it, and they devoured it, even those that didn't know or care much about classical music. Bernstein's youthful vigor was of a piece with the times, as New York and the country were entering a newly dynamic age, after the relatively sedate and calm 1950s -- in a bold spirit with decidedly different results, the U.S. was sending men into space and troops into Southeast Asia on two peculiarly diverse "adventures," and battling poverty and busting the federal budget, all with a vigor and an abandon that would have amazed the previous generation's leaders. New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the new permanent home for the Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, and so on, built on the very slums where West Side Story was set, was opened in 1963. With two exceptions (Stokowski, who'd briefly shared the job in the 1940s, and the long-ago-replaced Sir John Barbirolli), Bernstein was the only leader of the Philharmonic, present or past, to live to see the opening, and the event only solidified the notion of a new era for the arts, with Leonard Bernstein as its most visible spokesperson. He was also lucky enough to come along just as Columbia Records and the rest of the music industry and the country were switching to stereo sound -- this ensured that he would be not only able but obliged to re-record virtually every remotely popular piece that had ever been in the Philharmonic's repertory.
His first recording for Columbia Masterworks as Music Director of the Philharmonic, of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, quickly rose to legendary status as a result of its freshness and savagery. His records included everything from warhorses such as Dukas' Sorcerer's Apprentice to the complete Mahler symphonies, which nobody had recorded in their entirety before; and it was not lost on Bernstein or the public that these performances were done with the successor to the orchestra that Mahler himself had led 50 years or so before. Strangely enough, amid all of this material -- many hundreds of recordings -- he only ever recorded two pieces by his boyhood idol George Gershwin, the Rhapsody in Blue, which he recorded with himself as piano soloist, and An American In Paris. Bernstein also championed the then neglected music of Charles Ives and made the first major orchestra recordings of contemporary pieces such as Atmospheres by Ligeti (albeit from an edited version of the score). Such was his status and stature, that when he recorded a piece, even by a relatively little-known modernist or a contemporary composer, audiences felt obliged to look into it. He was, if anything, the reverse of Toscanini in his effect on music -- where the venerated Italian maestro had limited his repertory to a narrow strip of Romantic works and a relative handful of composers (and, some say, limited the thinking about music for his hundreds of thousands of admirers in the process) from the 1920s to the 1950s, Bernstein was always challenging his listeners with new names and new pieces.
For all of his popularity, the most conservative voices in the classical critical community kept Bernstein at arm's length until his recordings of the late Haydn symphonies, works for which the Philharmonic had not been known during Mitropoulos' tenure. Unlike Mitropoulos, who was a specialist in the late Romantic repertory and modern music, Bernstein was a generalist in the extreme, conducting work from across history, from the Baroque to the contemporary.
By the mid-'60s, Bernstein commanded a huge cult of admirers, encompassing relatively casual listeners as well as dedicated classical enthusiasts, although the most conservative and tradition-minded classical aficionados still maintained their doubts until the completion of his recordings of the late Haydn symphonies, after which even they were converted. He was also a special cultural hero to American Jews, who regarded him as a representative of their success in the postwar United States -- that status, which lasted far longer than his tenure at the Philharmonic, was to provide Bernstein with a unique opportunity in Europe later in his career, for Bernstein's reputation transcended any national or religious group and spread around the world -- he became in music circles as much a symbol of the United States in the 1960s as President Kennedy was, and his guest performances sold huge numbers of tickets with every orchestra, while his records were selling in numbers comparable to those of many pop releases of the time, and selling well in countries outside the United States, as well.
The Philharmonic itself was also altered radically during his tenure. From a schedule of five months annually, he helped turn the orchestra into a year-round institution, with concerts scheduled in each season, and a commensurate increase in salary for the members. (One other factor in the incredible timing of his arrival and appointment was the retirement of Toscanini in 1954, and the final dissolution of the NBC Symphony Orchestra -- a broadcast unit created for the older conductor by the radio network that had competed with the Philharmonic for record sales, audience, and press coverage -- and its successor ensemble, the Symphony of the Air, a couple of years later, which left the Philharmonic as the only institution of its size or reputation in New York.) Additionally, the Philharmonic became a familiar and much-loved institution in New York under Bernstein, even among non-music fans, something that had never happened before; he made classical music seem friendly and accessible, rather than imposing, and audiences responded in kind. And Bernstein didn't limit himself to endorsing classical music only -- indeed, he spoke favorably of the music of the Beatles at a time when relatively few major figures in classical music did, and, in a 1966 CBS television special, introduced the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson performing the sublimely beautiful song "Surf's Up" at the piano.
After ten years at the Philharmonic, however, the responsibilities of the post, as well as its limitations, were beginning to wear on Bernstein. His record sales, although still strong, had peaked in the mid-'60s, and already by 1966 Columbia Records was becoming resistant to recording many of the works that Bernstein was interested in committing to disc -- between 1958 and 1966, he'd put a lifetime's worth of music on record, and the company saw anything too ambitious beyond that point as unnecessarily risky. Bernstein's appetite for change was whetted by his experience working with the Vienna State Opera and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra as a guest conductor, and with Decca/London Records on the resulting recordings, during the mid-'60s. He also liked the Decca/London engineers' approach to recording better than that of their counterparts at Columbia, and the label's packaging as well, which was far more exciting than much of what Columbia had done with his work. Moreover, he was eager to make operatic recordings, which Columbia Records was not -- and, in fact, had abandoned doing in the 1950s -- and he was able to do that in Vienna, with help from Decca/London and, later, Deutsche Grammophon Records.
Moreover, the Vienna Philharmonic, after some difficulty accepting Bernstein as a composer, took to him exceptionally well as a conductor and ultimately proved eager to work with him if he were willing, for reasons having everything to do with then-recent history. The Vienna Philharmonic, then as now, was one of the two most elite orchestras in the world (the other is the Berlin Philharmonic), and establishing an ongoing professional relationship with it represented both an opportunity and an honor that no conductor could pass up. And in a sense, conductor and orchestra needed each other -- the Vienna Philharmonic, with its Berlin counterpart, was one of the two finest orchestras the world, but like its counterpart it had been at a disadvantage with Jewish audiences and record buyers (especially in America), owing to events in Germany and Austria from 1933 through 1945 -- except that, in a sense, the VPO had it worse. It was an integral component of the city of Vienna and the Austrian nation, and their cultural life. But in March of 1938, Nazi Germany had forcibly annexed Austria after engineering the dissolution of the government of Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg, which opposed annexation; although most Austrians over 30 opposed the union, and Schuschnigg spent seven years in a German prison, a major part of the population under 30 welcomed the Nazis' presence, and in Vienna they reveled in the anti-Semitism that the German rule institutionalized; in Berlin, by contrast, most voters had opposed Hitler in the last election and many even as late as 1938 made no show of anti-Semitism. And for the rest of history, Austria and Vienna in particular would occupy a suspect place in the estimation of those who cared to think about it -- victim of the Nazis or willing host and ally, no one could be sure. Some Austrian and German Jews -- most notably Bruno Walter among musicians -- had reconciled with the nation and city, and the Vienna Philharmonic, but the orchestra was at a disadvantage for decades in selling its records to Jewish listeners (especially in the United States, where they made up a major part of the classical audience). The orchestra, a self-governing body with no permanent music director, saw Bernstein as the solution to their problem -- securing the alliance of the most celebrated Jewish-American conductor in the world was one way of winning that audience over, and sending out a signal that times had, indeed, changed. Conversely, Bernstein was keenly aware of the significance of a Jewish-American conductor from New York establishing an ongoing relationship with the Vienna orchestra, and what it would mean to him; not only would this be the one kind of engagement that he could accept after New York post that would be perceived as a promotion, and rid him of the chore of being a music director in the process, but it would be another way of making history, and also potentially opened up a whole new round and cycle of record sales; even those listeners who'd loyally bought his New York recordings on Columbia might well have to hear his work with the Vienna Philharmonic (whereas they might not have cared what he did with, say, the St. Louis Symphony or the Los Angeles Philharmonic), especially if those records sounded significantly better. And, no doubt, the notion of an American-Jewish conductor coming to the Vienna Philharmonic -- Gustav Mahler's orchestra 60-some years before -- as an alumnus of the New York Philharmonic (which Mahler had also led), and performing and recording Mahler's symphonies, and those of Beethoven and others that Mahler had done, appealed to him to no end, bringing a cycle of music history back to its beginning point, with himself as the focal point.
In November of 1968, Bernstein announced his resignation from the New York Philharmonic effective the following year. His departure left a huge hole in the cultural fabric of the city and the country. The CBS network tried to keep the Young Peoples' Concerts going with Michael Tilson-Thomas but by the early '70s they were history, and Bernstein's vibrant, outgoing personality at the podium was succeeded by the far more cerebral composer-conductor Pierre Boulez, who, in turn, during the late '70s, was succeeded by the flashy but less musically respected Zubin Mehta.
Bernstein's exit from the orchestra was followed several years later by his departure from Columbia Records. Although he continued to perform and record in New York occasionally, as conductor emeritus of the Philharmonic, he increasingly spent his time and his recording engagements in Vienna, London, Israel, and, near the end of his career, Berlin. For a time during the early '70s, while still holding forth in New York in his luxury duplex on Park Avenue, he emerged into political circles in an unfortunate manner, hosting a fundraising party for the Black Panthers, an underground radical political group of the late '60s and early '70s, mostly known (though there was more to them than this) for fomenting riots and shootouts with the police; that event was immortalized by author Tom Wolfe, who was inspired to coin the sardonic phrase "radical chic" and attach it to the city's liberal elites.
During most of the 1970s, despite lapses such as this, Bernstein retained much of the luster of his earlier reputation, and his concerts were well attended. Although his subsequent recordings for Deutsche Grammophon, with which he signed in the middle of the 1970s, didn't sell as well as his most successful records on the 1960s, they were generally better received by the critics, and have remained steady, perennial sellers on CD. He re-recorded the major parts of his repertory, most notably the Mahler and Beethoven symphonies, and found a new generation of listeners in the bargain. Much of his activity during these years was spent with the Vienna Philharmonic, which made Bernstein an honorary member -- a rare honor from the self-governing orchestra -- in recognition of his productive years with them. He also worked with the Israel Philharmonic, the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Berlin Philharmonic.
One of his goals in giving up the Music Director's post with the Philharmonic was to spend more time composing, but it was in the latter role that Bernstein never found as much acceptance as he did for his conducting. His first two symphonies were written and premiered long before he was an established conductor, and eventually found larger audiences -- his third, entitled Kaddish, was written upon the death of President Kennedy, and was assured a much wider hearing by virtue of its inspiration. And his Mass: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers, written for the opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., sold well also, as an LP box. But none of Bernstein's classical works ever found the mass audience that his Broadway creations did, with West Side Story eclipsing most of the rest of his output in that area. Indeed, several parts of that score -- which became even more widely known through the 1961 movie version co-directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins -- are still among the most widely known pieces of music ever to come from the theater and have worked their way thoroughly into American popular culture, including rock reinterpretations ("America") and quotations in the early comedy of Robin Williams (actually, in his first appearance as "Mork from Ork").
The 1980s saw Bernstein's reputation decline along with his health. He became increasingly erratic at the podium -- his re-recording of the Mahler Second Symphony for Deutsche Grammophon features a slow movement that is so slow that members of the orchestra's string section admit they had trouble coming up with any sound. His years of living on the edge, pushing himself too hard professionally and personally, wore heavily on him, and toward the end of the 1980s, Bernstein looked a shadow of his former self. He was still sufficiently the showman, however, so that when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, Bernstein led a Christmas Day performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 from the site of the demolished wall, featuring the combined orchestras, choirs, and soloists of the major orchestras of Berlin, London, Dresden, Paris, New York, and Leningrad, that was recorded and subsequently released by Deutsche Grammophon. Strangely enough, it was during this period of gradual decline that Bernstein admitted that many of the interpretive decisions he'd made in his days with the New York Philharmonic were little more than educated guesses, a major reason why he was eager to re-record many of the same works.
Toward the end, the performances got more uncertain, and were interspersed with a growing number of cancellations, even as he accepted ever fewer engagements. At Bernstein's final concert at Tanglewood on August 19, 1990, at a concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of the festival's founding, it was clear that Bernstein was barely able to stand up through the performance, and the orchestra was carrying him. He died exactly two months later.
Leonard Bernstein's legacy as a conductor has no peer among American musicians -- he recorded more than almost anyone -- and few among those around the world in terms of sheer breadth. He is often credited with establishing Gustav Mahler as a major composer before the concert-going public, but this somewhat overstates his importance and ignores the roles that Bruno Walter and Dimitri Mitropoulos, in particular, played in popularizing Mahler's work in America. Bernstein's early RCA recordings, done during the 1940s, are primarily of historical interest. His Columbia recordings have had an uneven history on CD -- as with most Columbia (or, later, Sony Classical) releases, the sound on the early compact disc editions was substandard, and in the early '90s Sony attempted an upgrade in connection with the so-called "Royal Edition" series, which (for reasons that no one is still clear on) tried to link Bernstein's recordings with Prince Charles of England; the sound was still problematic, however, and it wasn't until the twin advents of Sony's Super-Audio CD releases and the "Artist of the Century" series, with a further upgrade, that Bernstein's Columbia recordings became competitive again. Among his Columbia recordings, the Rite of Spring, the Haydn symphonies, the Mahler Third, Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth symphonies, the Sibelius symphonies, and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris are among the finest ever recorded, with the Gershwin works the finest renditions of these pieces ever done. Additionally, early in his recording career at Columbia, before he was even the Music Director of the Philharmonic, he did a recording of variant movements from the Beethoven Symphony No. 5, rejects of the first movement from Beethoven's sketchbooks, complete with a discussion by Bernstein, that is priceless to anyone who cares about music -- no one could lecture on music as persuasively. And in 2004, Deutsche Grammophon reissued his 1953 American Decca recordings with the Philharmonic (credited as the Lewisohn Stadium Orchestra), to rousing critical acclaim -- reappearing after decades of unavailability, they were a reminder, separate from his more mature and studied recordings, of how exciting he had made classical music seem in his early career.
Bernstein's Deutsche Grammophon recordings are generally competitive with his Columbia work, and most are superior in terms of sound as well. The notable exceptions are the Sibelius symphonies, of which the Columbia performances are superior. The Beethoven symphonies, the Mahler Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and both Ninths, with the Concertgebouw and the Berlin Philharmonic, are indispensable. In 2004, the conductor's Young Peoples' Concerts were also re-released on DVD.
Leonard Bernstein (/ˈɜraɪ/ US dict: bûrn′·stīn; August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990) was an American composer, conductor, author, music lecturer, and pianist. He was among the first conductors born and educated in the United States of America to receive worldwide acclaim. According to The New York Times, he was "one of the most prodigiously talented and successful musicians in American history." He is quite possibly the conductor whose name is best known to the public in general, especially the American public.
His fame derived from his long tenure as the music director of the New York Philharmonic, from his conducting of concerts with most of the world's leading orchestras, and from his music for West Side Story, as well as Candide, Wonderful Town, On the Town and his own Mass.
Bernstein was also the first conductor to give numerous television lectures on classical music, starting in 1954 and continuing until his death. In addition, he was a skilled pianist, often conducting piano concertos from the keyboard.
As a composer he wrote in many styles encompassing symphonic and orchestral music, ballet, film and theatre music, choral works, opera, chamber music and pieces for the piano. Many of his works are regularly performed around the world, although none has matched the tremendous popular and commercial success of West Side Story.
Early life 
He was born Louis Bernstein in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the son of Ukrainian Jewish parents Jennie (née Resnick) and Samuel Joseph Bernstein, a hair-dressing supplies wholesaler originating from Rovno (now Ukraine). He was not related to film composer Elmer Bernstein, but the two men were friends, and even shared a certain physical similarity. Within the world of professional music, they were distinguished from each other by the use of the nicknames Bernstein West (Elmer) and Bernstein East (Leonard).
His family spent their summers at their vacation home in Sharon, Massachusetts. His grandmother insisted that his first name be Louis, but his parents always called him Leonard, which they preferred. He officially changed his name to Leonard when he was fifteen, shortly after his grandmother's death. To his friends and many others he was simply known as "Lenny."
His father, Sam Bernstein, was a businessman and owner of a bookstore in downtown Lawrence; it is standing today on the corners of Amesbury and Essex Streets. Sam initially opposed young Leonard's interest in music. Despite this, the elder Bernstein took him to orchestra concerts in his teenage years and eventually supported his music education. At a very young age, Bernstein listened to a piano performance and was immediately captivated; he subsequently began learning the piano seriously when the family acquired his cousin Lillian Goldman's unwanted piano. As a child, Bernstein attended the Garrison Grammar School and Boston Latin School. As a child he was very close to his younger sister Shirley, and would often play entire operas or Beethoven symphonies with her at the piano. He had a variety of piano teachers in his youth including Helen Coates who later became his secretary.
After graduation from Boston Latin School in 1935, Bernstein attended Harvard University, where he studied music with, amongst others, Edward Burlingame Hill and Walter Piston, the author of many harmony and counterpoint textbooks. Although he majored in music with a final year thesis (1939) entitled "The Absorption of Race Elements into American Music" (reproduced in his book Findings), Bernstein's main intellectual influence at Harvard was probably the aesthetics Professor David Prall, whose multidisciplinary outlook on the arts Bernstein shared for the rest of his life. One of his friends at Harvard was philosopher Donald Davidson, with whom he played piano four hands. Bernstein wrote and conducted the musical score for the production Davidson mounted of Aristophanes' play The Birds in the original Greek. Bernstein reused some of this music in the ballet Fancy Free. During his time at Harvard he was briefly an accompanist for the Harvard Glee Club. Bernstein also mounted a student production of The Cradle Will Rock, directing its action from the piano as the composer Marc Blitzstein had done at the premiere. Blitzstein, who heard about the production, subsequently became a friend and influence (both musically and politically) on Bernstein.
Bernstein also met the conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos at the time. Although he never taught Bernstein, Mitropoulos's charisma and power as a musician was a major influence on Bernstein's eventual decision to take up conducting. Mitropoulos was not stylistically that similar to Bernstein, but he probably influenced some of Bernstein's later habits such as his conducting from the keyboard, his initial practice of conducting without a baton and perhaps his interest in Mahler. The other important influence that Bernstein first met during his Harvard years was composer Aaron Copland, whom he met at a concert and then at a party afterwards on Copland's birthday in 1938. At the party Bernstein played Copland's Piano Variations, a thorny work Bernstein loved without knowing anything about its composer until that evening. Although he was not formally Copland's student as such, Bernstein would regularly seek advice from Copland in the following years about his own compositions and would often cite him as "his only real composition teacher".
After completing his studies at Harvard in 1939 (graduating with a B.A. cum laude), he enrolled at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. During his time at Curtis, Bernstein studied conducting with Fritz Reiner (who anecdotally is said to have given Bernstein the only "A grade" he ever awarded), piano with Isabelle Vengerova, orchestration with Randall Thompson, counterpoint with Richard Stöhr, and score reading with Renée Longy Miquelle. Unlike his years at Harvard, Bernstein appears not to have greatly enjoyed the formal training environment of Curtis, although often in his later life he would mention Reiner when discussing important mentors.
After he left Curtis, Bernstein lived in New York. He shared a flat with his friend Adolph Green and often accompanied Green, Betty Comden and Judy Holliday in a comedy troupe called The Reviewers who performed in Greenwich Village. He took jobs with a music publisher, transcribing music or producing arrangements under the pseudonym Lenny Amber (the German meaning of his name in English). During this period in New York City, Bernstein enjoyed an exuberant social life that included relationships with both men and women. In 1940, Bernstein began his study at the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer institute, Tanglewood, in the conducting class of the orchestra's conductor, Serge Koussevitzky.
Bernstein's friendships with Copland (who was very close to Koussevitsky) and Mitropoulos were important in him being recommended for a place in the class. Other students in the class included Lukas Foss who also became a lifelong friend. Koussevitsky perhaps did not teach Bernstein much basic conducting technique (which he had already developed under Reiner), but instead became a sort of father figure to him, and was perhaps the major influence on Bernstein's emotional way of interpreting music. Bernstein later became Koussevitzky's conducting assistant and would later dedicate his second symphony, "The Age of Anxiety", to him.
On November 14, 1943, having recently been appointed assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, he made his major conducting debut at sudden notice—and without any rehearsal—after Bruno Walter came down with the flu. The next day, The New York Times carried the story on their front page and their editorial remarked, "It's a good American success story. The warm, friendly triumph of it filled Carnegie Hall and spread far over the air waves." He became instantly famous because the concert was nationally broadcast, and afterwards started to appear as a guest conductor with many US orchestras. The program included works by Schumann, Miklos Rozsa, Wagner and Richard Strauss's Don Quixote with soloist Joseph Schuster, solo cellist of the orchestra. Before the concert Bernstein briefly spoke to Bruno Walter, who discussed particular difficulties in the works he was to perform. It is possible to hear this concert (apart from the Wagner work) on a recording of the CBS radio broadcast that has been issued on CD by the orchestra.
From 1945 to 1947 Bernstein was the Music Director of the New York City Symphony Orchestra, which had been founded the previous year by the conductor Leopold Stokowski. The orchestra (with support from the Mayor) was aimed at a different audience with more modern programs and cheaper tickets than the New York Philharmonic.
In addition to becoming known as a conductor, Bernstein also emerged as a composer in the same period. In January 1944 he conducted the premiere of his Jeremiah Symphony in Pittsburgh. His score to the ballet Fancy Free choreographed by Jerome Robbins opened in New York in April 1944 and this was later developed into the musical On the Town with lyrics by Comden and Green that opened on Broadway in December 1944.
After World War II, Bernstein's career on the international stage began to flourish. In 1946 he made his first trip to Europe conducting various orchestras and recorded Ravel's Piano Concerto in G as soloist and conductor with the Philharmonia Orchestra. In 1946, he conducted opera for the first time, with the American première at Tanglewood of Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes, which had been a Koussevitzky commission. That same year, Arturo Toscanini invited Bernstein to guest conduct two concerts with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, one of which again featured Bernstein as soloist in the Ravel concerto.
In 1947, Bernstein conducted in Tel Aviv for the first time, beginning a lifelong association with Israel. The next year he conducted an open air concert for troops at Beersheba in the middle of the desert during the Arab-Israeli war. In 1957, he conducted the inaugural concert of the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv; he subsequently made many recordings there. In 1967, he conducted a concert on Mt. Scopus to commemorate the reunification of Jerusalem. During the 1970s, Bernstein recorded his symphonies and other works with the Israel Philharmonic for Deutsche Grammophon.
In 1949, he conducted the world première of the Turangalîla-Symphonie by Olivier Messiaen, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Part of the rehearsal for the concert was released on CD by the orchestra. When Koussevitzky died two years later, Bernstein became head of the orchestral and conducting departments at Tanglewood, holding this position for many years.
After much personal struggle and a turbulent on-off engagement, he married the Chilean actress Felicia Cohn Montealegre on September 10, 1951. One suggestion is that he chose to marry partly to dispel rumors about his private life to help secure a major conducting appointment, following advice from his mentor Dimitri Mitropoulos about the conservative nature of orchestra boards. Bernstein's sexuality has been a matter of speculation and debate. Arthur Laurents (Bernstein's collaborator in West Side Story) said that Bernstein was "a gay man who got married. He wasn't conflicted about it at all. He was just gay." Shirley Rhoades Perle, another friend of Bernstein, said that she thought "he required men sexually and women emotionally." But the early years of his marriage seem to have been happy, and no one has suggested they didn't love one another. They had three children, Jamie, Alexander, and later Nina. There are reports though that Bernstein did sometimes have brief extramarital liaisons with young men, which several family friends have said his wife knew about.
In 1951, Bernstein conducted the New York Philharmonic in the world première of the Symphony No. 2 of Charles Ives, which was written around half a century earlier but had never been previously performed. Throughout his career Bernstein often talked about the music of Ives, who died in 1954. The composer, old and frail, was unable (or some reports say "unwilling") to attend the concert, but his wife did. He reportedly listened to a radio broadcast of it on a radio in his kitchen some days later. A recording of the "premiere" was released in a 10-CD box set Bernstein LIVE by the orchestra, but the notes indicate it was a repeat performance from three days later, and this is perhaps what Ives heard. In any case, reports also differ on Ives's exact reaction, but some suggest he was thrilled and danced a little jig. Bernstein recorded the 2nd symphony with the orchestra in 1958 for Columbia and 1987 for Deutsche Grammophon. There is also a 1987 performance with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra available on DVD.
Bernstein was a visiting music professor from 1951 to 1956 at Brandeis University, and he founded the Creative Arts Festival there in 1952. He conducted various productions at the first festival including the premiere of his opera Trouble in Tahiti and Blitzstein's English version of Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera. The festival was named after him in 2005, becoming the Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Creative Arts. In 1953 he was the first US conductor to appear at La Scala in Milan, conducting Maria Callas in Cherubini's Medea. The same year he produced his score to the musical Wonderful Town at very short notice, working again with his old friends Comden and Green, who wrote the lyrics.
In 1954 Bernstein made the first of his television lectures for the CBS arts program Omnibus. The live lecture, entitled "Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony", involved Bernstein explaining the work with the aid of musicians from the former NBC Symphony Orchestra (recently renamed the "Symphony of the Air") and a giant page of the score covering the floor. Bernstein subsequently performed concerts with the orchestra and recorded his Serenade for Violin with Isaac Stern. Further Omnibus lectures followed from 1955 to 1958 (later on ABC and then NBC) covering jazz, conducting, American musical comedy, modern music, J.S. Bach, and grand opera. These programs were made available in the U.S. in a DVD set in 2010.
In late 1956, Bernstein conducted the New York Philharmonic in concerts that were to have been conducted by Guido Cantelli, who had died in an air crash in Paris. This was the first time Bernstein had conducted the orchestra in subscription concerts since 1951. Partly due to these appearances, Bernstein was named the music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1957, replacing Dimitri Mitropoulos. He began his tenure in that position in 1958, having held the post jointly with Mitropoulos from 1957 to 1958. In 1958, Bernstein and Mitropoulos took the New York Philharmonic on tour to South America. In his first season in sole charge, Bernstein included a season-long survey of American classical music. Themed programming of this sort was fairly novel at that time compared to the present day. Bernstein held the music directorship until 1969 (with a sabbatical in 1965) although he continued to conduct and make recordings with the orchestra for the rest of his life and was appointed "laureate conductor".
He became a well-known figure in the United States through his series of fifty-three televised Young People's Concerts for CBS, which grew out of his Omnibus programs. His first Young People's Concert was televised a few weeks after his tenure began as principal conductor of the New York Philharmonic. He became as famous for his educational work in those concerts as for his conducting. The Bernstein Young People's Concerts were the first and probably the most influential series of music appreciation programs ever produced on television, and they were highly acclaimed by critics. Some of Bernstein's music lectures were released on records, with at least one winning a Grammy award. The programs were shown in many countries around the world, often with Bernstein dubbed into other languages. Twenty-five of them were released on DVD by Kultur Video.
Prior to taking over the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein composed the music for two shows. The first was for the operetta Candide, which was first performed in 1956 with a libretto by Lillian Hellman based on Voltaire's novel. The second was Bernstein's collaboration with the choreographer Jerome Robbins, the writer Arthur Laurents, and the lyricist Stephen Sondheim to produce the musical West Side Story. The first three had worked on it intermittently since Robbins first suggested the idea in 1949. Finally, with the addition of Sondheim to the team and a period of concentrated effort, it received its Broadway premiere in 1957 and has since proven to be Bernstein's most popular and enduring score.
In 1959, he took the New York Philharmonic on a tour of Europe and the Soviet Union, portions of which were filmed by CBS. A highlight of the tour was Bernstein's performance of Dmitri Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, in the presence of the composer, who came on stage at the end to congratulate Bernstein and the musicians. In October, when Bernstein and the orchestra returned to the US, they recorded the symphony for Columbia. He recorded it for a second time with the orchestra on tour in Japan in 1979. Bernstein seems to have limited himself to only conducting certain Shostakovich symphonies, namely the numbers 1, 5, 6, 7, 9, and 14. He made two recordings of Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony, one with the New York Philharmonic in the 1960s and another one recorded live in 1988 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the only recording he ever made with them (including Shostakovich's Symphony No. 1).
In 1960 Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic held a Mahler Festival to mark the centenary of the composer's birth. Bernstein, Walter and Mitropoulos conducted performances. The composer's widow, Alma, attended some of Bernstein's rehearsals. In 1960 Bernstein also made his first commercial recording of a Mahler symphony (the fourth) and over the next seven years he made the first complete cycle of recordings of all nine of Mahler's completed symphonies. (All featured the New York Philharmonic except the 8th Symphony which was recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra following a concert in the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1966.) The success of these recordings, along with Bernstein's concert performances and television talks, was an important part of the revival of interest in Mahler in the 1960s, especially in the US.
Other non-US composers that Bernstein championed to some extent at the time include the Danish composer Carl Nielsen (who was perhaps then only a little known in the US) and Jean Sibelius, whose popularity had perhaps by then started to fade. Bernstein eventually recorded a complete cycle in New York of Sibelius's symphonies and three of Nielsen's symphonies (Nos. 2, 4, and 5), as well as conducting recordings of his violin, clarinet and flute concertos. He also recorded Nielsen's 3rd Symphony with the Royal Danish Orchestra after a critically acclaimed public performance in Denmark. Bernstein championed US composers, especially those that he was close to like Aaron Copland, William Schuman and David Diamond. He also started to more extensively record his own compositions for Columbia Records. This included his three symphonies, his ballets and the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story with the New York Philharmonic. He also conducted an LP of his 1944 musical On The Town, the first (almost) complete recording of the original featuring several members of the original Broadway cast, including Betty Comden and Adolph Green. (The 1949 film version only contains four of Bernstein's original numbers.) Bernstein also collaborated with the experimental jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck resulting in the recording "Bernstein Plays Brubeck Plays Bernstein" (1961).
In one oft-reported incident, in April 1962 Bernstein appeared on stage before a performance of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor with the pianist Glenn Gould. During rehearsals, Gould had argued for tempi much broader than normal, which did not reflect Bernstein's concept of the music. Bernstein gave a brief address to the audience starting with "Don't be frightened; Mr Gould is here..." and going on to "In a concerto, who is the boss (audience laughter)—the soloist or the conductor?" (Audience laughter grows louder). The answer is, of course, sometimes the one and sometimes the other, depending on the people involved." This speech was subsequently interpreted by Harold C. Schonberg, music critic for The New York Times, as abdication of personal responsibility and an attack on Gould, whose performance Schonberg went on to criticize heavily. Bernstein always denied that this had been his intent and has stated that he made these remarks with Gould's blessing. Throughout his life, he professed admiration and friendship for Gould. Schonberg was often (though not always) harshly critical of Bernstein as a conductor during his tenure as Music Director. However his views were not shared by the audiences (with many full houses) and probably not by the musicians themselves (who had greater financial security arising from Bernstein's many TV and recording activities amongst other things).
In 1962 the New York Philharmonic moved from Carnegie Hall to Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall) in the new Lincoln Center. The move was not without controversy because of acoustic problems with the new hall. Bernstein conducted the gala opening concert featuring vocal works by Mahler, Beethoven and Vaughan Williams, and the premiere of Aaron Copland's Connotations, a serial-work that was merely politely received. During the interval Bernstein kissed the cheek of the President's wife Jacqueline Kennedy, a break with protocol that was commented on at the time. In 1961 Bernstein had conducted at President John F. Kennedy's pre-inaugural gala, and he was an occasional guest in the Kennedy White House. He also conducted at the funeral mass in 1968 for the late President Kennedy's brother Robert Kennedy.
In 1964 Bernstein conducted Franco Zeffirelli's production of Verdi's Falstaff at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. In 1966 he made his debut at the Vienna State Opera conducting Luchino Visconti's production of the same opera with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Falstaff. During his time in Vienna he also recorded the opera for Columbia Records and conducted his first subscription concert with the Vienna Philharmonic (which is made up of players from the Vienna State Opera) featuring Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde with Fischer-Dieskau and James King. He returned to the State Opera in 1968 for a production of Der Rosenkavalier and in 1970 for Otto Schenk's production of Beethoven's Fidelio. Sixteen years later, at the State Opera, Bernstein conducted his sequel to Trouble in Tahiti, A Quiet Place. with the ORF orchestra. Bernstein's final farewell to the State Opera happened accidentally in 1989: following a performance of Modest Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina, he unexpectedly entered the stage and embraced conductor Claudio Abbado in front of a cheering audience.
With his commitment to the New York Philharmonic and his many other activities, Bernstein had little time for composition during the 1960s. The two major works he produced at this time were his Kaddish Symphony dedicated to the recently assassinated President John F. Kennedy and the Chichester Psalms which he produced during a sabbatical year he took from the Philharmonic in 1965 to concentrate on composition. To try to have more time for composition was probably a major factor in his decision to step down as Music Director of the Philharmonic in 1969, and to never accept such a position anywhere again.
After stepping down from the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein continued to appear with them in most years until his death, and he toured with them to Europe in 1976 and to Asia in 1979. He also strengthened his relationship with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra – he conducted all nine completed Mahler symphonies with them (plus the adagio from the 10th) in the period from 1967 to 1976. All of these were filmed for Unitel with the exception of the 1967 Mahler 2nd, which instead Bernstein filmed with the London Symphony Orchestra in Ely Cathedral in 1973. In the late 1970s Bernstein conducted a complete Beethoven symphony cycle with the Vienna Philharmonic, and cycles of Brahms and Schumann were to follow in the 1980s. Other orchestras he conducted on numerous occasions in the 1970s include the Israel Philharmonic, the Orchestre National de France, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
In 1970 Bernstein wrote and narrated a ninety-minute program filmed on location in and around Vienna as a celebration of Beethoven's 200th birthday. It featured parts of Bernstein's rehearsals and performance for the Otto Schenk production of Fidelio, Bernstein playing the 1st piano concerto and the Ninth Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic and the young Placido Domingo amongst the soloists. The program was first telecast in 1970 on Austrian and British television, and then on CBS in the US on Christmas Eve 1971. The show, originally entitled Beethoven's Birthday: A Celebration in Vienna, won an Emmy and was issued on DVD in 2005. In the summer of 1970, during the Festival of London, he conducted Verdi's Requiem Mass in St. Paul's Cathedral, with the London Symphony Orchestra.
Like many of his friends and colleagues, Bernstein had been involved in various left wing causes and organizations since the 1940s. He was blacklisted by the US State Department and CBS in the early 1950s, but unlike others his career was not greatly affected, and he was never required to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. His political life received substantial press coverage though in 1970 due to a gathering hosted at his Manhattan apartment. Bernstein and his wife held the event seeking to raise awareness and money for the defense of several members of the Black Panther Party against a variety of charges. The New York Times initially covered the gathering as a lifestyle item, but later posted an editorial harshly unfavorable to Bernstein following generally negative reaction to the widely publicized story. This reaction culminated in June 1970 with the appearance of "Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny's", an essay by satirist Tom Wolfe featured on the cover of the New York Magazine. The article contrasted the Bernsteins' comfortable lifestyle in one of the world's most expensive neighborhoods with the anti-establishment politics of the Black Panthers. It led to the popularization of "radical chic" as a critical term. Both Bernstein and his wife Felicia responded to the criticism, arguing that they were motivated not by a shallow desire to express fashionable sympathy but by their concern for civil liberties.
Bernstein's major compositions during the 1970s were probably his MASS: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers; his score for the ballet Dybbuk; his orchestral vocal work Songfest; and his US bicentenary musical 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue written with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner which was his first real theatrical flop, and last original Broadway show. The world premiere of Bernstein's MASS took place on September 8, 1971. Commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy for the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., it was partly intended as an anti-war statement. Hastily written in places, the work represented a fusion not only of different religious traditions (Latin liturgy, Hebrew prayer and plenty of contemporary English lyrics) but also of different musical styles including classical and rock music. It was originally a target of criticism from the Roman Catholic Church on the one hand, and contemporary music critics who objected to its Broadway/populist elements on the other. In the present day it is perhaps seen as less blasphemous and more a piece of its era – in 2000 it was even performed in the Vatican.
In 1972 Bernstein recorded Bizet's Carmen, with Marilyn Horne in the title role and James McCracken as Don Jose, after leading several stage performances of the opera at the Metropolitan Opera. The recording was one of the first in stereo to use the original spoken dialogue between the sung portions of the opera, rather than the musical recitatives that were composed by Ernest Guiraud after Bizet's death. The recording was Bernstein's first for Deutsche Grammophon and won a Grammy.
Bernstein was appointed in 1973 to the Charles Eliot Norton Chair as Professor of Poetry at his alma mater, Harvard University, and delivered a series of six televised lectures on music with musical examples played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. However, these lectures were not televised until 1976. Taking the title from a Charles Ives work, he called the series "The Unanswered Question"; it was a set of interdisciplinary lectures in which he borrowed terminology from contemporary linguistics to analyze and compare musical construction to language. The lectures are presently available in both book and DVD form. The DVD video was not taken directly from the lectures at Harvard, rather they were recreated again at the WGBH studios for filming. This appears to be the only surviving Norton lectures series available to the general public in video format. Noam Chomsky wrote in 2007 on the Znet forums about the linguistic aspects of the lecture: "I spent some time with Bernstein during the preparation and performance of the lectures. My feeling was that he was onto something, but I couldn't really judge how significant it was."
A major period of upheaval in Bernstein's personal life began in 1976 when he took the decision that he could no longer conceal his homosexuality and he left his wife Felicia for a period to live with the writer Tom Cothran. The next year she was diagnosed with lung cancer and eventually Bernstein moved back in with her and cared for her until she died on June 16, 1978. Cothran himself died of AIDS in 1981. Bernstein is reported to have often spoken of his terrible guilt over his wife's death. Most biographies of Bernstein describe that his lifestyle became more excessive and his personal behavior sometimes cruder after her death. However his public standing and many of his close friendships appear to have remained unaffected, and he resumed his busy schedule of musical activity.
In 1978, Bernstein returned to the Vienna State Opera to conduct a revival of the Otto Schenk production of Fidelio, now featuring Gundula Janowitz and Rene Kollo in the lead roles. At the same time, Bernstein made a studio recording of the opera for Deutsche Grammophon and the opera itself was filmed by Unitel and released on DVD by Deutsche Grammophon in late 2006. In May 1978, the Israel Philharmonic played two US concerts under his direction to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Orchestra under that name. On consecutive nights, the Orchestra, with the Choral Arts Society of Washington, performed Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Bernstein's Chichester Psalms at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and at Carnegie Hall in New York.
In 1979, Bernstein conducted the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for the first and only time, in two charity concerts for Amnesty International involving performances of Mahler's Ninth Symphony. The invitation for the concerts had come from the orchestra and not from its principal conductor Herbert von Karajan. There has been speculation about why Karajan never invited Bernstein to conduct his orchestra. (Karajan did conduct the New York Philharmonic during Bernstein's tenure.) The full reasons will probably never be known – reports suggest they were on friendly terms when they met, but sometimes practiced a little mutual one-upmanship. One of the concerts was broadcast on radio and was posthumously released on CD by Deutsche Grammophon.
Bernstein received the Kennedy Center Honors award in 1980. For the rest of the 1980s he continued to conduct, teach, compose and produce the occasional TV documentary. His most significant compositions of the decade were probably his opera A Quiet Place which he wrote with Stephen Wadsworth and which premiered (in its original version) in Houston in 1983; his Divertimento for Orchestra; his Halil for flute and orchestra, his Concerto for Orchestra "Jubilee Games"; and his song cycle Arias and Barcarolles, which was named after a comment President Dwight D. Eisenhower had made to him in 1960.
In 1982 in the US, PBS aired an 11-part series of Bernstein's late 1970s films for Unitel of the Vienna Philharmonic playing all nine Beethoven symphonies and various other Beethoven works. Bernstein gave spoken introduction and actor Maximilian Schell was also featured on the programs, reading from Beethoven's letters. The original films have since been released on DVD by Deutsche Grammophon. In addition to conducting in New York, Vienna and Israel, Bernstein was a regular guest conductor of other orchestras in the 1980s. These included the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam with whom he recorded Mahler's First, Fourth, and Ninth Symphonies amongst other works; the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Munich with whom he recorded Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, Haydn's Creation, Mozart's Requiem and Mass in C Minor; and the orchestra of Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome with whom he recorded some Debussy and Puccini's La Boheme.
In 1982, he and Ernest Fleischmann founded the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute as a summer training academy along the lines of Tanglewood. Bernstein served as Artistic Director and taught conducting there until 1984. Around the same time he performed and recorded some of his own works with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for Deutsche Grammophon. Bernstein was also at the time a committed supporter of Nuclear Disarmament. In 1985 he took the European Community Youth Orchestra in a "Journey for Peace" tour around Europe and to Japan.
In 1985, he conducted a recording of West Side Story, the first time he had conducted the entire work. The recording, featuring what some critics felt were miscast opera singers such as Kiri Te Kanawa, José Carreras, and Tatiana Troyanos in the leading roles, was nevertheless an international bestseller. A TV documentary showing the making of the recording was made at the same time and is available on DVD. Bernstein also continued to make his own TV documentaries during the 1980s including The Little Drummer Boy in which he discussed the music of Gustav Mahler, perhaps the composer he was most passionately interested in; and The Love of Three Orchestras in which he discussed his work in New York, Vienna and Israel.
In his later years, Bernstein's life and work was celebrated around the world (as it has been since his death). The Israel Philharmonic celebrated his involvement with them at Festivals in Israel and Austria in 1977. In 1986 the London Symphony Orchestra mounted a Bernstein Festival in London with one concert that Bernstein himself conducted attended by the Queen. In 1988 Bernstein's 70th birthday was celebrated by a lavish televised gala at Tanglewood featuring many performers who had worked with him over the years.
In December 1989 Bernstein conducted live performances and recorded in the studio his operetta Candide with the London Symphony Orchestra. The recording starred Jerry Hadley, June Anderson, Adolph Green and Christa Ludwig in the leading roles. The use of opera singers in some roles perhaps fitted the style of operetta better than some critics had thought was the case for West Side Story, and the recording (released posthumously in 1991) was universally praised. One of the live concerts from the Barbican Centre in London is available on DVD. Candide had had a troubled history, with many re-writes and writers involved. Bernstein's concert and recording were based on a "final" version that had been first performed by Scottish Opera in 1988. The opening night (which Bernstein attended in Glasgow) was conducted by Bernstein's former student John Mauceri.
On December 25, 1989, Bernstein conducted Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in East Berlin's Schauspielhaus (Playhouse) as part of a celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He had conducted the same work in West Berlin the previous day. 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 the Ode to Joy, substituting the word Freiheit (freedom) for Freude (joy). Bernstein, in his spoken introduction, said that they had "taken the liberty" of doing this because of a "most likely phony" story, apparently believed in some quarters, that Schiller wrote an "Ode to Freedom" that is now presumed lost. Bernstein added, "I'm sure that Beethoven would have given us his blessing."
In the summer of 1990, Bernstein and Michael Tilson Thomas founded the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan. Like his earlier activity in Los Angeles, this was a summer training school for musicians modeled on Tanglewood, and is still in existence. Bernstein was already at this time suffering from the lung disease that would lead to his death. In his opening address Bernstein said that he had decided to devote what time he had left to education. A video showing Bernstein speaking and rehearsing at the first Festival is available on DVD in Japan.
Bernstein made his final performance as a conductor at Tanglewood on August 19, 1990, with the Boston Symphony playing Benjamin Britten's "Four Sea Interludes" from Peter Grimes, and Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. He suffered a coughing fit in the middle of the Beethoven performance which almost caused the concert to break down. The concert was later issued on CD by Deutsche Grammophon.
He announced his retirement from conducting on October 9, 1990, and died of a heart attack five days later. He was 72 years old. A longtime heavy smoker, he had battled emphysema from his mid-50s. On the day of his funeral procession through the streets of Manhattan, construction workers removed their hats and waved, yelling "Goodbye, Lenny." Bernstein is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York, next to his wife and with a copy of Mahler's Fifth lying across his heart.
Social activism 
While Bernstein is very well known for his music compositions and conducting he is also known for his outspoken leftist political views and his strong desire to further social change. His first aspirations for social change were made apparent in his producing (as a student) a recently banned opera, The Cradle Will Rock, about the disparity between the working and upper class. As he went on in his career Bernstein would go on to fight for everything from the influences of "American Music" to the disarming of western nuclear weapons.
Among the many awards Bernstein earned throughout his life one allowed him to make one of his philanthropic dreams a reality. He had for a long time wanted to develop an international school to help promote the integration of arts into education. When he won the Japan Arts Association award for lifetime achievement, he used the 100 thousand dollars that came with the award to build such a school in Nashville, that would strive to teach teachers how to better integrate music, dance, and theater into the school system which was "not working". Unfortunately, the school was not able to open until shortly after Bernstein's death.
In a 1990 Rolling Stone interview Bernstein outlined his conception of a school called The Academy for the Love of Learning.
I and a musician friend named Aaron Stern have conceived of an institution called the Academy for the Love of Learning. We haven't done too much with the idea yet, but it's registered as a nonprofit corporation, and besides the obvious attempts to get music and kids together, there will be the overriding goal of teaching teachers to discover their own love of learning.
The Academy for the Love of Learning was completed in 1998 and is located in Santa Fe New Mexico where it continues to explore Bernstein's dream of integrated arts in education by offering courses in transformational learning.
Influence and characteristics as a conductor 
Bernstein was one of the major figures in orchestral conducting in the second half of the 20th century. He was held in high regard amongst many musicians, including the members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, evidenced by his honorary membership; the London Symphony Orchestra, of which he was President; and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, with which he appeared regularly as guest conductor. He was probably the main conductor from the 1960s onwards who acquired a sort of superstar status similar to that of Herbert von Karajan, although unlike Karajan he conducted relatively little opera and part of Bernstein's fame was based on his role as a composer. As the first American-born music director of the New York Philharmonic, his rise to prominence was a factor in overcoming the perception of the time that the top conductors were necessarily trained in Europe.
Bernstein's conducting was characterized by extremes of emotion with the rhythmic pulse of the music conveyed visually through his balletic podium manner. Musicians often reported that his manner in rehearsal was the same as in concert. As he got older his performances tended to be overlaid to a greater extent with a personal expressiveness which often divided critical opinion. Extreme examples of this style can be found in his Deutsche Grammophon recordings of Nimrod from Elgar's Enigma Variations (1982), the end of Mahler's 9th Symphony (1985), and the finale of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony (1986), where in each case the tempos are well below those typically chosen.
Bernstein performed a wide repertoire from the baroque era to the 20th century, although perhaps from the 1970s onwards he tended to focus more on music from the romantic era. He was considered especially accomplished with the works of Gustav Mahler and with American composers in general, including George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Charles Ives, Roy Harris, William Schuman, and of course himself. Some of his recordings of works by these composers would likely appear on many music critics' lists of recommended recordings. A list of his other well-thought-of recordings would probably include individual works from Haydn, Beethoven, Berlioz, Schumann, Liszt, Nielsen, Sibelius, Stravinsky, Hindemith, and Shostakovich, among others. His recordings of Rhapsody in Blue (full-orchestra version) and An American in Paris for Columbia Records, released in 1959, are considered definitive by many, although Bernstein cut the Rhapsody slightly, and his more 'symphonic' approach with slower tempi is quite far from Gershwin's own conception of the piece, evident from his two recordings. (Oscar Levant, Earl Wild, and others come closer to Gershwin's own style.) Bernstein never conducted Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F, or more than a few excerpts from Porgy and Bess, although he did discuss the latter in his article Why Don't You Run Upstairs and Write a Nice Gershwin Tune?, originally published in The New York Times and later reprinted in his 1959 book The Joy of Music.
In addition to being an active conductor, Bernstein was a very influential teacher of conducting. During his many years of teaching at Tanglewood and elsewhere, he directly taught or mentored many conductors who are performing now, such as Marin Alsop, Herbert Blomstedt, Edo de Waart, Alexander Frey, Paavo Järvi, John Mauceri, Eiji Oue, Seiji Ozawa (who made his US TV debut as the guest conductor on one of the Young People's Concerts), Carl St.Clair, Helmuth Rilling, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Jaap van Zweden. He also undoubtedly influenced the career choices of many US musicians who grew up watching his television programmes in the 1950s and 60s.
Bernstein recorded extensively from the mid-1940s until just a few months before his death. Aside from a those 1940's recordings, which were made for RCA Victor, Bernstein recorded primarily for Columbia Masterworks Records, especially when he was music director of the New York Philharmonic between 1958 and 1971. His typical pattern of recording at that time was to record major works in the studio immediately after they were presented in the orchestra's subscription concerts, with any spare time used to record short orchestral showpieces and similar works. Many of these performances were digitally remastered and reissued by Sony as part of their 100 Volume, 125 CDs "Royal Edition" and their later "Bernstein Century" series. In 2010 many of these recordings were repackaged in a 60 CD "Bernstein Symphony Edition".
His later recordings (starting with Bizet's Carmen in 1972) were mostly made for Deutsche Grammophon, though he would occasionally return to the Columbia Masterworks label. Notable exceptions include recordings of Gustav Mahler's Song of the Earth and Mozart's 15th piano concerto and "Linz" symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for Decca Records (1966); Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique and Harold in Italy (1976) for EMI; and Wagner's Tristan und Isolde (1981) for Philips Records, a label that like Deutsche Grammophon was part of PolyGram at that time. Unlike his studio recordings for Columbia Masterworks, most of his later Deutsche Grammophon recordings were taken from live concerts (or edited together from several concerts with additional sessions to correct errors). Many replicate repertoire that he recorded in the 1950s and 60s.
In addition to his audio recordings, many of Bernstein's concerts from the 1970s onwards were recorded on motion picture film by the German film company Unitel. This included a complete cycle of the Mahler symphonies (with the Vienna Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestra), as well as complete cycles of the Beethoven, Brahms and Schumann symphonies recorded at the same series of concerts as the audio recordings by Deutsche Grammophon. Many of these films appeared on Laserdisc and are now on DVD.
In total Bernstein was awarded 16 Grammys for his recordings in various categories including several for recordings released after his death. He was also awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1985.
Influence and characteristics as a composer 
Bernstein was an eclectic composer whose music fused elements of jazz, Jewish music, theatre music and the work of older composers like Aaron Copland, Igor Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud, George Gershwin, and Marc Blitzstein. Some of his works, especially his score for West Side Story, helped bridge the gap between classical and popular music. His music was rooted in tonality but in some works like his Kaddish Symphony and the opera A Quiet Place he mixed in 12-tone elements. Bernstein himself said his main motivation for composing was "to communicate" and that all his pieces, including his symphonies and concert works, "could in some sense be thought of as 'theatre' pieces." According to the League of American orchestras, he was the second most frequently performed American composer by US orchestras in 2008-9 behind Copland, and he was the 16th most frequently performed composer overall by US orchestras. (Some performances were probably due to the 90th anniversary of his birth in 2008.) His most popular pieces were the Overture to Candide, the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, the Serenade for Violin, Strings, Harp and Percussion and the Three Dance Episodes from On the Town. His shows West Side Story, On the Town, Wonderful Town and Candide are regularly performed, and his symphonies and concert works are programmed from time to time by orchestras around the world. Since his death many of his works have been commercially recorded by artists other than himself. The Serenade, which has been recorded more than 10 times, is probably his most recorded work not taken from an actual theatre piece.
Despite the fact that he was a popular success as a composer, Bernstein himself is reported to have been disillusioned that some of his more serious works were not rated more highly by critics, and that he himself had not been able to devote more time to composing because of his conducting and other activities. Professional criticism of Bernstein's music often involves discussing the degree to which he created something new as art versus simply skillfully borrowing and fusing together elements from others. In the late 1960s, Bernstein himself reflected that his eclecticism was in part due to his lack of lengthy periods devoted to composition, and that he was still seeking to enrich his own personal musical language in the manner of the great composers of the past, all of whom had borrowed elements from others. Perhaps the harshest criticism he received from some critics in his lifetime though was directed at works like his Kaddish Symphony, his MASS and the opera A Quiet Place, where they found the underlying message of the piece or the text as either mildly embarrassing, clichéd or offensive. Despite this, all these pieces have been performed, discussed and reconsidered since his death.
Bernstein’s works were performed several times for Pope John Paul II, including at World Youth Day in Denver in August 14, 1993 (excerpts from “MASS") and at the Papal Concert to Commemorate the Shoah on April 7, 1994 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra ("Chichester Psalms" and Symphony No. 3, “Kaddish” [excerpt]) in the Sala Nervi at the Vatican. Both performances were conducted by Gilbert Levine.
Although he taught conducting, Bernstein was not a teacher of composition as such, and he has no direct composing heirs. Perhaps the closest are composers like John Adams who from the 1970s onwards indirectly adopted elements of his eclectic, theatrical style.