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Bernstein, Leonard: The Composer

On this edition of Exploring Music, we focus on the works of Leonard Bernstein, the great American composer, conductor, author, music lecturer and pianist. We will enjoy his unique contributions to our American sounds; West Side Story, Candide, sonatas, symphonies, and more!

Program 1

Debatably America's best composer, Leonard Berstein was born Louis Bernstein in 1918 in Lawrence Massachusetts. At 16, he legally changed his name to Leonard. This show focuses mainly on Bernstein's work as a composer.

At age 10, Bernstein's family aquired a piano and he began to play voraciously. Later, as a student at Harvard University, he studied lots of new music and became obsessed with Aaron Copland's work. While on a trip in New York City, a friend introduced Bernstein to Copland and the two became life-long friends.

In 1942, Bernstein began to study conducting at the Curtis Institute of Music and also the Tanglewood Festival. Later, while living in New York City, Bernstein filled in for the New York Philharmonic's conductor, Bruno Walter, and he soon became a famous figure.

In 1944, Bernstein composed his first symphony, known as the Jeremiah Symphony.

Bernstein: Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano, II
Ahn Trio

Angel 57022-2
Bernstein: Piano Sonata I
Frey, p.
Koch 7426 
Bernstein: Sonata for Clarinet and Piano
Combs, cl.; Sobol, p.
Summitt 172
Bernstein: Anniversary for Serge Koussevitsky fr. Seven Anniversaries
Frey, p.
Koch 7426 
Bernstein: Symphony No. 1, I and II
New York/Phil Bernstein
Sony 60697
Bernstein: “I Can Cook” from On the Town
Kaye, s.; Blier, p.
Koch 7000
Bernstein: “Lonely Town” from On the Town
Bill Charlap Trio
Blue Note 94807
Bernstein: “I Get Carried Away” from On the Town
Kaye, s.; Sharp, bar.; Blier,p.
Koch 7000
Program 2

Bernstein's musical On the Town started as the 1944 ballet, Fancy Free. It was such a hit that Bernstein and choreographer Jerome Robbins decided to create a story line and songs with words. They teamed up with Betty Comden and Adolph Green to do so.

In 1949, Bernstein's Symphony No. 2, The Age of Anxiety, was first performed. It is based on a poem by the same written by W.H. Auden. Musically, it is a combination of piano concerto and symphony. It is based largely on the format of theme and variations.

In 1951, he married Felicia Montealegre, a pianist/actress he met by chance. He wrote an "anniversary" piece for her in 1948. These anniversary peices were a tradition he kept up throughout his lifetime.

Bernstein wrote "Music is a lot of men in tails making lots of noise like a lot of females. Music is a lot of folks in a big dark hall where they really dont want to be at all with lots of chairs and lots of airs and lots of furs and diamonds. Music is silly. I hate music but I love to sing."

Bernstein: Three Dance Interludes from On the Town
New York Phil/Bernstein
Sony 60559

Bernstein: Symphony No. 2 (excerpts)

New York Phil/Bernstein; Entremont, p.

Sony 60697

3:35, 18:46


Bernstein: Anniversary for Felicia Montealegre from Four Anniversaries

Frey, p.

Koch 7426



Bernstein: “Jupiter has Seven Moons” and “I Hate Music” from I Hate Music

Thebom, ms.

RCA 09026-68101

1:09, 1:28


Bernstein: Prelude, Fugue and Riffs

Colombia Jazz Combo/Bernstein Goodman, cl.

Sony 60559



Bernstein: “A Quiet Girl” and “Ohio” (excerpt) from Wonderful Town

Bill Charlap Trio

Blue Note 94807

1:32, 2:14

Program 3

After winning a Tony Award for his musical Wonderful Town, Bernstein shifted to opera and wrote Trouble in Tahiti. Bernstein was heavily influenced by the composer Marc Blitzstein

Next, Bernstein was invited to write a piece for the solo violin by Isaac Stern. Bernstein based this piece on one of Plato's philosophical texts where those in attendance at a party discuss love. It was first performed in 1954 in Venice.

We hear the Overture from Candide, another opera, based on the writings of Voltaire. The show ends with a medley from West Side Story.

Bernstein: Trouble in Tahiti
Columbia Wind Ensemble/Bernstein
Sony 60969

Bernstein: Serenade for Violin & Orchestra “after Plato’s Symposium”

Baltimore Symphony/Zinman; Hahn, v.

Sony 60584



Bernstein: Overture fr. Candide

New York Phil/Bernstein

Sony 63085



Bernstein: West Side Story Medley

New York Phil/Bernstein

Phil 416 360


Program 4

This program features much of Bernstein's musical arrangement of Voltaire's book Candide, originally published in 1759. Berstein wrote the music and Richard Wilbur was the primary lyricist. Many others contributed as well.

After Candide, Bernstein wrote a film score for the 1954 film On the Waterfront which won seven Academy Awards. While not much is heard in the movie, Bernstein also wrote a symphonic suite.

West Side Story, Bernstein biggest hit, was realeased in 1957. Set in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York, it integrated a lot of current popular musical styles, including jazz, bebop and many Latin styles.

Bernstein: Candide (excerpts)
London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Bernstein; Anderson, s.
DG 449656
6:34, 6:47, 5:37


Bernstein: Suite from On the Waterfront

New York Phil/Bernstein

Sony 63085



Bernstein: West Side Story (excerpts)

Israel Phil/Bernstein; Horne, ms.

DG 415 253

2:23, 1:18, :46, 3:00


Bernstein: “Cool” fr. West Side Story (excerpt)

Bill Charlap Trio

Blue Note 94807


Program 5

The Kaddish, Bernstein's third symphony, is dedicated to John F. Kennedy who was killed just a few weeks before the piece's premiere. The piece features vocalists and The Kaddish refers to the jewish prayer that is chanted at every service.

Next, Bernstein completed another choral piece, Chichester Pslams. The work was commissioned for the 1965 Southern Cathedrals Festival at Chichester Cathedral. After that, he worked on another piece based on a seemingly religious theme, Mass. This is a intended for the stage and features tape loops, guitars, keyboards, rock singers and a chorus of "street people." Bernstein paired up with Godspell's Stephen Schwartz for Mass.

Benstein worked on several pieces, including Halil and Divertimento for Orchestra in 1980, and remained active composing and conducting until his death on October 14, 1990.

Bernstein: Symphony No. 3 (excerpts)

Israel Philharmonic/Bernstein; Wagner, n.

DG 289 463

7:57, 9:52


Bernstein: Chichester Psalms, II

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Shaw; Ragin, cten.

Tel 80181



Bernstein: “A Simple Song” fr. Mass

Orchestra/Bernstein; Norman Scribner Choir & Berkshire Boy Choir; Titus, bar.

CBS 44593/Sony 630 89



Bernstein: Halil

LSO/Sedares; Dwyer, fl.

Koch 7412



Bernstein: Divertimento for Orchestra (excerpts)

Israel Phil/Bernstein

DG 427042



Bernstein: “Some Other Time” fr. On the Town

Karrin Allyson

Concord Jazz 4641



The Exploring Music streaming website is supported by Mr. & Mrs. William Gardner Brown and the Richard P. and Susan Kiphart Family.  
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