Bernstein’s Peter Pan

Bernstein’s Peter Pan

And why it was a failure…

The production of Peter Pan in 1950 featured Leonard Bernstein’s music and lyrics, but was a complete disaster. The national tour of the show was cancelled half-way through, and the play was overshadowed by a 1954 production, based on the same book. Leonard Bernstein’s works are usually huge successes.

So why was Peter Pan such a disaster?

Journey to Neverland

When Bernstein was asked to contribute to Peter Pan, he was only asked to provide a few dances and incidental cues. Peter Pan was supposed to be a play, not a musical. But Bernstein found himself entranced by the show, and ended up writing seven songs with his own original lyrics.

Bernstein was in Europe during the rehearsal period for the show, and relied on Musical Coordinator True Rittman to incorporate his music.

“I am shocked by the idea of my name in lights on this show!”

– Bernstein after the opening of Peter Pan in 1950

Changes and More Changes

Bernstein’s music was drastically changed by Rittman’s decisions. Rittman incorporated dialogue and created reprises. Wendy’s final song “Dream with me” was cut, and replaced with a reprise from one of her earlier songs, “Who am I.” The show also added a death scene for Captain Hook, and two songs, “Plank Round” and “Neverland,” were combined with new lyrics to create a song for thiss cene. Most of the instrumental numbers were replaced and the songs were altered to accommodate spoken narration and new introductions. Bernstein also wrote an entirely new song, “Captain Hook’s Soliloquy,” for the national tour of the show where Lawrence Tibbett played Hook, until the tour was cancelled.

Classic Bernstein

The show is difficult to characterize as it was not recorded and is rarely put on by theater companies, as the 1954 musical version was drastically more successful.

The music Bernstein wrote for Peter Pan, however, was classic Bernstein and very similar to other music he had written. Certain songs, such as “Captain Hook’s Soliloquy,” have the same odd intervals and disjointed or bouncy quality. Overall most of the songs have a childlike quality, fitting with the topic of the play.

So why was Peter Pan such a failure for Bernstein?

Bernstein’s play was a failure–such a failure that the national tour was cancelled midway through–for several reasons. Firstly, Bernstein composed his own lyrics, something he was completely new to. As a result, they weren’t very good. His lyrics in “Captain Hook’s Soliloqy” center around Hook’s desire for fame, using odd and clunky lines such as “Oh glittering bauble!” to refer to fame. The incorporation of the music was clunky, as huge changes were made without Bernstein being there to oversee them. The original sound track was restored by Alexander Frey in 2001, but by then it was a little too late for the 1950 Broadway production. Overall, it was Bernstein’s inexperience with lyrics and poor musical incorporation that sunk the show.

Asking Musicians about Bernstein’s Compositions

Introduction

I decided  to interview four musicians about their thoughts on Leonard Bernstein as a composer. I specifically chose musicians so they would have some background knowledge about Bernstein’s work. The four musicians I interviewed are: Dan Krenz, a graduate student studying conducting and a trumpet player; Amy Clark, a violin player; Lauren Chen, a flute player; and Neal Hampton, a Brandeis music professor and conductor of the Brandeis-Wellesley Orchestra. Let’s see what they had to say!  

Questions

Question 1: What was your first experience with a Bernstein composition and what were your first impressions?

Amy  : “I heard West Side Story when I was six or seven and my brother was playing in the pit. I loved it. I was sitting in on rehearsals and learned all of the songs because I found it so cool and interesting.”

Lauren:  “I’m not entirely sure what my first experience was with a Bernstein composition (mostly because I have been attending concerts with my family since I was quite young, and I don’t remember the earliest concerts)—but the first experience that I can remember most clearly is listening to West Side Story. I loved the upbeat vibrancy, energy, and playfulness of the music—it was so unlike most of the orchestral music I had heard in the past.”

Professor Hampton: “Playing an arrangement of West Side Story in high school orchestra. It was the first time I saw such complicated rhythms.”

Dan: “First experience with a Bernstein composition: That’s a tricky one. I honestly probably do not remember exactly what my first experience was but one of my earliest memories was coming across this video of Bernstein conducting Candide. I remember just thinking how fantastic it was. It’s such great music and watching him conduct by dancing and flirting with the orchestra was very enticing.”

Question 2: What made Bernstein’s composing style so unique? 

Amy:  “I think it was how he incorporated jazz into his music. It always sounded very American to me.”

Professor Hampton: “You feel his personality in his music: his unabashed extroversion, his eclectic tastes which ranged from Mahler to Broadway to a number of contemporary American composers.”

Dan: “The thing about Bernstein’s music is that it always sounds like Bernstein. He truly did live through his music. In every piece that I have encountered of his I have found this to be the case. No one else could write the music he did, and that’s a good thing.”   

Question 3: How did Bernstein’s compositions fit into the genre of “American classical music” that he wanted to create?

Dan: “Bernstein was very interested of the idea of an “American” style of classical music. As you know he studied with Copland and was a big fan of Gershwin. His ties to both the orchestral world and Broadway made him a renaissance man who really tried to bridge the gap in this American style. Of course, a lot of his music is infused with Jazz which is a truly American idiom. I know that Bernstein was really concerned with leaving a legacy with his music. He wanted to be known for that. I would certainly say that he has achieved that right?”

Professor Hampton: “While some of the language was similar to his contemporaries he included popular dance elements (broadway/jazz) in his music.”

Question 4: Why do you think many of Bernstein’s compositions aren’t as well known as West Side Story or Candide

Amy: “Like any composers he is going to have pieces that gain more acclaim than others. On top of that they are really incredible to listen to.”

Lauren: “I suspect that West Side Story and Candide might feel more accessible to audiences that are not as familiar with what we might consider more “traditional” classical music… and so these two compositions end up being the ones that people know best among Bernstein’s works. In some ways it might actually be a self-perpetuating cycle—e.g., an orchestra might gravitate towards playing West Side Story or Candide rather than a lesser known work that might not be as well-received by an audience.”

Dan: “West Side Story was a massive hit, it’s hard to achieve higher than that. With Candide, people really only know the overture and not the story or the other music from it. Every composer has some pieces, for whatever reason, are more recognizable than others. Everyone, even non-musicians, know’s the opening to Beethoven 5. But the number drastically drops off for people that can sing the theme from the last movement. It doesn’t really bother me that Bernstein’s other work is not as well known. That’s true for everyone. There are a number of factors that can create one piece to become the most recognizable of a composer’s output.”

Professor Hampton: “West Side Story became familiar because it was a Broadway smash which was then made into a hit movie. I’m not sure about Candide.”

Question  5:  Favorite Bernstein composition?

Amy: “West Side Story. I was so excited by it when I was little it just has a place in my heart.”

Lauren: “I really like the premise behind his Anniversaries piano compositions (“Four Anniversaries,” “Five Anniversaries,” “Seven Anniversaries,” and “Thirteen Anniversaries”), where each movement of each piece is written for a specific person.”

Dan: “It’s hard to pick a favorite. Although, right now I’m working on his Serenade and the more I look into it, the more I am enjoying it.”

Professor Hampton: “Bernstein Serenade”

Question 6: Favorite Bernstein piece you’ve conducted or played? Why?  

Amy: “I had a lot of fun playing his mass.”

Lauren: “I think among his orchestral works, I’ve actually only played Candide and West Side Story (as one might have expected considering my previous answers). If I had to choose one, I might lean more towards Candide just because I played it a little bit later on and felt that I was better able to appreciate it.”

Dan: “I’ve never actually played any Bernstein and I’ve only conducted one: Candide Overture! Conducting it with the Brandeis-Wellesley Orchestra last semester was a really incredible experience for numerous reasons but that was the only piece that I have ever performed.”

Professor Hampton: “”Chichester Psalms. A beautiful piece of liturgical music. Perfect piece for the Brandeis Orchestra and Chorus.”

Conclusion

As we can see, musicians have similarities and differences when it comes to Bernstein’s compositions. It is interesting to see how different musical backgrounds can influence experiences with Bernstein compositions. It seems that  many people’s first experience with a Bernstein composition  is West Wide Story, but as people get farther into their musical careers they come into contact with some of his lesser known compositions. I think most of us can agree that Bernstein’s compositions have elements that sound uniquely Bernstein and that he was certainly a talented composer who wasn’t afraid to take risks.

3 of Bernstein’s Chamber Pieces and What They Tell Us

I have always been interested in listening to and playing chamber music and have been drawn to the dynamic of working together in a small group and amazed by the amount of incredible chamber music repertoire available. When I started taking this class I was curious if Bernstein had written any. Although Bernstein is not known primarily for his chamber works and other smaller scale pieces, the ones that he did write show a lot about his ability to take risks, experiment, and push the boundaries of classical music.

  1. Sonata for Clarinet and Piano

Bernstein’s first published work was a sonata for clarinet and piano written in 1942. Bernstein wrote it after his first few summers at Tanglewood and the piece has a few connections to Tanglewood; it was dedicated to clarinetist David Oppenheim who Bernstein met during the summers of 1940 and 1941 at Tanglewood, and the first movement “opens with a musical line reminiscent of Hindemith who was the composer-in-residence at Tanglewood in 1941”(1). The piece features walking bass lines, syncopated rhythms, and elements of jazz. Bernstein used compositional techniques that he would later use in West Side Story. (2)

The Boston premier took place at the Institute of Modern Art and featured Bernstein on piano, and the New York premier took place a year later at the New York Public library also featuring Bernstein on piano and featuring David Oppenheim on clarinet. In 1943, Oppenheim and Bernstein released the first recording of the piece. The piece is now a standard in Clarinet repertoire (3). As with many of his pieces, the dedication and the connection to Tanglewood show that this piece had a significant personal meaning for Bernstein, and the elements of jazz show us that Bernstein’s love for incorporating jazz started at an early age.

  1. Serenade for Violin solo, strings, and percussion

In 1954, Serenade for Violin solo, strings, and percussion was first performed (4). The Serenade developed into a five movement piece featuring violin, harp, string orchestra, and percussion. It is a little large to be considered a chamber piece, but does not feature the full orchestra, and thus is considered by some to be a chamber work. The piece was written for a few reasons; It was a commission from the Koussevitzky Foundation originally from 1951, and satisfied a promise Bernstein made to write a piece for his friend and famous violinist, Issac Stern. (5) Bernstein dedicated the piece to the memory of Serge Koussevitzky and his wife, Natalie.

The piece is based on Plato’s dialogue, “The Symposium”. In the dialogue, which is concerned with the nature and purpose of love, there are a series of speakers. Each speaker starts by pointing out what they agree with or disagree with from the previous speaker’s remark, and build upon what they said (6). The music is structured in a similar way, in which musical ideas from previous movements and phrases are expanded upon and refined in later on in the piece (7). Though this was not the first time someone composed a piece based on themes from classical literature, Bernstein’s concept of writing a piece so closely based on the text’s form shows a lot about his creativity and willingness to experiment with his compositions, in the same way that he experimented with incorporating Jazz and musical theatre based sounds into the classical music he wrote.

  1. Halil for flute, piano, and percussion

Bernstein’s attention was for the most part diverted away from chamber works for the next few decades, other than some short pieces. In 1981 Bernstein returned to write Halil, a sixteen-minute piece for flute, piano, and percussion (8). The piece was dedicated to a talented nineteen-year-old Israeli flutest who in 1973 was killed in his tank in Sinai. Bernstein said, “Halil (the Hebrew word for “flute”) is formally unlike any other work I have written, but is like much of my music in its struggle between tonal and non-tonal forces. In this case, I sense that struggle as involving wars and the treatment of wars, the overwhelming desire to live, and the consolations of art, love and the hope for peace.” (9) Bernstein talks about how the piece represents conflict in its tonality with an opening 12-tone row and ending with a diatonic final cadence, two contrasting sounds. Bernstein said “I never knew Yadin, but I know his spirit”(10). The piece not only teaches us that Bernstein was not afraid to do the somewhat provocative act of dedicating a piece to an Israeli, but also shows us an example of the tension Bernstein often created in his music, showing conflict between the tonal and ton-tonal forces.

 

Whether he was experimenting with form, the inclusion of jazz or theatre elements, tonality, or the use of a particularly controversial meaning to his piece, Bernstein was never afraid to push the boundaries of what it meant for a piece to be considered “classical”. This confidence bled over into his life as a conductor, performer, teacher and humanitarian, and is part of what contributed to him becoming an American icon.

 

Works Cited

  1. Revolvy, LLC. “‘Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (Bernstein)” on Revolvy.com.” Revolvy, www.revolvy.com/page/Sonata-for-Clarinet-and-Piano-%28Bernstein%29.ttps://leonardbernstein.com/works/view/34/sonata-for-clarinet-and-piano
  2. Revolvy, LLC. “‘Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (Bernstein)” ‘
  3. “1980 To 1990  | Leonard Bernstein Timeline 1918-1990  | Articles and Essays  | Leonard Bernstein  | Digital Collections  | Library of Congress.” The Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/collections/leonard-bernstein/articles-and-essays/leonard-bernstein-timeline-1918-1990/1980-to-1990/.
  4. “Leonard Bernstein at 100.” Works | Works | Leonard Bernstein, leonardbernstein.com/works/view/23/serenade-after-platos-symposium.
  5. “Leonard Bernstein at 100.” – Serenade after Plato’s Symposium
  6. “Leonard Bernstein at 100.” – Serenade after Plato’s Symposium
  7. “Leonard Bernstein at 100.” Works | Works | Leonard Bernstein, leonardbernstein.com/works/view/18/halil-nocturne.
  8. “Halil.” Boosey & Hawkes, www.boosey.com/cr/music/Leonard-Bernstein-Halil/6117.
  9. “Halil.” Boosey & Hawkes

 

Glitter and Be Bernstein

“I’m not interested in having an orchestra sound like itself. I want it to sound like the composer.” – Leonard Bernstein

Prior to my sophomore year of high school, I had not truly understood the significance and influence of the composer, conductor, educator, and humanitarian that was Leonard Bernstein. It was not until my participation in the Boston University Tanglewood Institute in 2016 that I truly began to recognize Bernstein as a composer of great importance due to his unique talent of composing for both orchestras and vocalists. In that particular summer, I sang Bernstein’s “Make Our Garden Grow” with the Young Artists Chorus and was also able to watch the Young Artists Orchestra perform various orchestral works by Bernstein. With that said, I became quite intrigued by the complexities and variation of different styles of music in Bernstein’s compositions, especially Candide.

In class, we discussed Candide as an operetta based on Voltaire’s novella with the same title and inspired story lines, yet I decided I would further analyze four of my favorite pieces in this operetta: the overture, “Best of All Possible Worlds”, “Glitter and Be Gay”, and finally, “Make Our Garden Grow.”

The Overture

The overture immediately gives the audience a taste of what to expect throughout the operetta by incorporating various tunes from other songs in the performance into the overture, including “The Best of All Possible Worlds”, “Oh, Happy We”, and “Glitter and Be Gay.” There are various nuances to the performance elements of the overture (different orchestrations exist) when dealing with a full symphony orchestration vs. a theatre-sized orchestration, especially. The instruments and usage of percussion effects in the composition changes and is evaluated depending on the orchestration, and in the case of a full symphony orchestration, instruments and percussion effects are doubled. The outcome of such is an increase in volume, thus increasing the dramatization of the piece.

While the operetta first premiered in 1956 with a libretto by Lillian Hellman, the overture was first performed in concert by the New York Philharmonic in 1957, and quickly escalated into becoming one of the most popular orchestral compositions by a 20th century American composer.

Here is a clip of Bernstein conducting the overture in a concert performance with the London Symphony Orchestra in December of 1989. Pay attention to the little dance that Bernstein does in the beginning!

The Best of All Possible Worlds

“The Best of All Possible Worlds” is sung following the vibrant overture and finally introduces the audience to the different personalities and voices of the characters that they will become invested in throughout the operetta’s duration. Dr. Pangloss, in particular, takes center stage when explaining his optimistic, yet unrealistic philosophy on life to Candide, Cunegonde, Maximilian, and Paquette. He claims that despite the current circumstances of where they are living (Westphalia, their home, will soon be part of a war), and through life’s trials and tribulations, Westphalia is a place that is “the best of all possible worlds.”

Here is a clip from a May 2004 Candide concert with the New York Philharmonic. Make sure to listen for moments of the overture!

This quite catchy piece is highly upbeat and has consistent energy, and it also showcases the individual personalities and unique qualities of each of the characters before they are explored more in depth through the remainder of the operetta. Bernstein allows for this specifically to happen through his usage of having the characters pause and think before singing their next verse, as well as respond to each other using the same rhythmic patterns and call and response techniques.

Glitter and Be Gay

 

 

 

 

 

“Glitter and Be Gay” is centered completely on Cunegonde, and she dramatically sings this aria from start to finish as she stands in the home of two wealthy men in Paris. She decries the situation she is in in front of the audience, one where she is forced to accept jewelry and appear happy, when she is really lamenting her life and the unfortunate, tiring journey she has been on up until this moment (she is seemingly killed during Westphalia’s war, but somehow turns up alive in Paris). The aria itself changes in many ways throughout its duration, with an emphasis on a variety of different tempo markings, as well as the intensity of its drastic range. Impressively, this aria includes three high E flats, two staccato, and one sustained; as well as numerous high C and D flats scattered throughout. Beyond this, the character and theatrical elements are also very demanding, as Cunegonda must sing and act with a specific satirical quality that Bernstein wanted to showcase through his music.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyDOBnUQvUI

Here is a clip from a BBC production of Candide in 2015.

Make Our Garden Grow

“Make Our Garden Grow” is the final piece of music in Candide, and it is reflective of the moment that Candide and Cunegonda exchange vows after finally being reunited following their individual journeys and adventures throughout the operetta. As each character sings individually, the chorus reunites with the two and everyone sings together and embraces one another in the community. The orchestra emphasizes the celebration, but a more powerful moment occurs at the end when the orchestra stops playing, allowing the voices of the characters and choir to take center stage and emphasize the message of coming together as one as the operetta concludes.     In response to this particular piece by her father, Jamie Bernstein has said: “The soaring chorus seems to be telling us that growing our garden is a metaphor for the flowering of mankind itself.” The greater takeaway for the audience is that while no individual or community is ever perfect, we can all work together to grow and become better, not only for ourselves, but for the people we love around us.

Here is a clip of Bernstein conducting “Make Our Garden Grow” from the same  1989 concert.

 

Works Cited:

http://www.sondheimguide.com/Candide/writings14.html

https://stageagent.com/shows/operetta/642/candide

https://digitalcommons.lsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1910&context=gradschool_dissertations

https://digitalcommons.lsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1910&context=gradschool_dissertations

Bernstein’s Kaddish and Religion

I chose to discuss Leonard Bernstein’s religious beliefs and his work, “Kaddish”. His father was rabbinical and he was always very impressionable in terms of this.

Leonard Bernstein composed “Kaddish” in 1963. His religious values were always public just like his political views. He spent time in Israel and even worked with the Israel Philharmonic in 1948. His father, Samuel, was an orthodox Eastern European Jew, but was apart of a conservative temple. Bernstein participated in services at this temple and the choir and organ are said to be important pieces to the start of his musical career. A quote from 1990 says “I used to weep just listening to the choir, cantor, and organ thundering out”.

He apparently heard his first piece of classical music at this temple as well. It is clear already, that his father’s religious values had a great effect on Bernstein’s childhood and his path to music. People came from all over on Friday nights to listen to the music played, so Bernstein was not the only one affected by the sound. “Bernstein’s third symphony, “Kaddish,” was completed in 1963 and focuses on the Jewish mourners’ prayer in Aramaic and Hebrew that affirms God with no mention of death.

 

He premiered this piece shortly after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. In it, Bernstein argues with God through powerful music and strong narration” (Rudin 2018). The piece has a full choir, a boy’s choir, a soprano soloist, and a narrator. Watching this online doesn’t do it justice, but it is creates an emotion and almost anxiety similar to the response you typically get when listening to “Age of Anxiety”.

 

Bernstein’s “The Age of Anxiety”

 

"If the charge of 'theatricality' in a symphonic work is a valid one, I am willing to plead guilty. I have a deep suspicion that every work I write, for whatever medium, is really theater music in some way" (1) - Leonard  Bernstein

Bernstein’s Second Symphony

Out of Bernstein’s three symphonic works, his second symphony, entitled “The Age of Anxiety,” is most perplexing to me.  Although none of Bernstein’s symphonies could be considered at all orthodox, his second in particular seems to be a work in contradictions.  Critics debate endlessly concerning the symphony’s connection to W.H. Auden’s written work, and despite being based upon a narrative, Bernstein’s symphony seems to be lack one.  Some critics have lambasted the improvisatory nature of the work, while others ardently praise its incorporation of jazz elements.   With this in mind, I set out to answer the following question – does Bernstein’s “The Age of Anxiety” deserve to be called one of the great symphonies of the 20th century?

W.H. Auden’s Anxiety

Bernstein’s second symphony, was heavily inspired by W.H. Auden’s famous poem, The Age of Anxiety.  Created soon after WWII in the age of McCarthyism, Auden’s poem grapples with themes of human isolation and faith.  Into The Age of Anxiety, Auden incorporated elements of popular culture, current events, and common vernacular.  Auden was able to draw upon modern science to enhance his work as well.  Each one of the four protagonists represent one of Carl Jung’s archetypes – Thought, Feeling, Sensation and Intuition (2).   The poem itself is described as a Baroque Eclogue, an ornate tribute to the bucolic, and is written in alliterative verse. The material is definitely unwieldy and has been called nebulous by some.  In a New York Times Op-ed by Daniel Smith, the poem is described as being “a difficult work — allusive, allegorical, at times surreal” (3).

Below is a recording of Bernstein’s second symphony.  The London Symphony Orchestra is playing under Bernstein’s direction.

Analysis

Bernstein’s second symphony is quite different from most symphonies.  Instead of a typical four-movement, work, Bernstein wrote his symphony for solo piano and orchestra, dividing the piece into six sections – mirroring Auden’s text.  Still, Bernstein’s unique style of composition can be heard clearly.

The symphony begins with a solemn clarinet duet.  The pure sounds of the two clarinets overlap one another while moving between consonance and dissonance.  In the next section of the symphony, Bernstein incorporates serialism – a compositional technique in which a fixed series of notes, especially the twelve notes of the chromatic scale, are used to generate the harmonic and melodic motifs.  A twelve-tone row, played by a single flute, serves as the audience’s introduction into the surreal.  Instrumentation remains sparse. The piano, which acts as the voice of the four main characters is introduced in an unaccompanied solo at the beginning of the section entitled “The Seven Ages.”  As more instruments are introduced in conjunction with the piano, the tone becomes more dissonant and at times frantic – reflecting the “anxiety” felt by the protagonists.  When the work proceeds into “The Seven Stages,” stylistic changes abound.  “The Seven Stages” are constantly in transit and seem to lack a central narrative.

The second half of the piece opens with “The Dirge,” a 12-tone theme, first introduced by the solo piano.  However, this grave moment does not last for long.  When in doubt, Bernstein always opted for a party.   Bernstein’s answer to “The Dirge” comes in the form of the upbeat “Masque.”  He takes the 12-tone row and transforms it into hip, grooving, bebop jazz (1).

Criticism

“The Age of Anxiety” includes specific details that Bernstein claimed had “written themselves”; in “The Masque,” for example, the celesta clearly sounds the hour of 4 AM as in the Auden poem.  Because the symphony seems literally dependent on the events of the poem, critics found it to lack cohesion.

Critical reviewer, Virgil Thomson, after praising the work’s “lively” rhythms and “picturesque, expressive” textures, came down hard upon its technical construction: “the work does not hold inevitably the musical attention.  Its form is improvisatory. Its melodic content casual, its harmony stiff, its contrapuntal tension weak.” Robert Ward, another critic stated that “the total significance (of the symphony) impresses very little” (4).

Conclusion

Overall, I think the symphony can be considered one of the greatest of the 20th century.  Bernstein makes a profound statement in his second symphony about the state of the postwar world, and confronts the uncertainty facing many.  Bernstein’s incorporation of serialism, jazz and classical material sets his second symphony apart from others of the time.  On the whole, the symphony is musically compelling; it truly takes the listener on a journey.

Citations

(1)“Symphony No. 2: The Age of Anxiety (1949).” Leonard Bernstein, leonardbernstein.com/works/view/16/symphony-no-2-the-age-of-anxiety.

(2)“Age of Anxiety Introduction.” Princeton University Press, assets.press.princeton.edu/chapters/i9412.pdf.

(3)Smith, Daniel. “It’s Still the ‘Age of Anxiety.’ Or Is It?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 Jan. 2012, opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/14/its-still-the-age-of-anxiety-or-is-it/.

(4)Gentry, Philip. “Leonard Bernstein’s The Age of Anxiety: A Great American Symphony during McCarthyism.” American Music, vol. 29, no. 3, 2011, pp. 308–331. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/americanmusic.29.3.0308.

 

 

Bernstein’s Kaddish : Emotional Expression

 

Backgrounds, heritage, and outside forces help people subconsciously make decisions and feel certain ways. Leonard Bernstein’s Jewish heritage had a huge and clear influence on both his compositions and thought processes. One of his earlier pieces was his  “Symphony No. 3 Kaddish”. In Jewish tradition, “Kaddish” is recited in synagogues and is part of the mourning rituals during services. Bernstein’s “Kaddish” was dedicated to the memory of John. F Kennedy who was assassinated a few weeks prior to the first performance of Bernstein’s symphony. Interestingly enough, there is no mention of the word “death” ; however, there is mention of “life” multiple times throughout the piece. 

To a certain degree, his symphony was a way in which Bernstein was able to explore his issues of his faith and connection to Judaism. Bernstein’s symphony has a very ominous tone; Kaddish begins in a minor key, modulates to a major key, and then returns to the original minor key for the ending. The final chord in this piece is a very dissonant chord, leaving the listeners filled with suspense and maybe even some agitation. Different keys and progressions all had to have been precisely decided by Bernstein in order to get his emotional point fully across. He incorporates very slashing, atonal and dramatic notes and aspects in this piece.  Music is an incredibly emotional and thought-provoking form of art. 

Bernstein uses his symphony to express his religious heritage and struggles, as well as loss and mourning. In the beginning of the symphony the speaker recites “I want to pray. I want to say Kaddish. My own Kaddish. There may be no one to say it after me. I have so little time, as You well know… Is there even time to consider the question? It could be here, while we are singing. That we may be stopped, once for all…”. (1)  In Kaddish, Bernstein argues with God through his use of narration and powerful music.

 

Bernstein was a very proud Jew and had many connections to Israel and the Israel Philharmonic.  Although we may never know how he truly felt about God and every aspect of Judaism, through viewing his life and his spiritual journey through his work, it is safe to say that Bernstein had a huge connection to Israel and to the Jewish people. 

Sources:

(1)Jack Gottlieb, “Symphony No. 3: Kaddish (1963)  https://leonardbernstein.com/works/view/48/symphony-no-3-kaddish

Leonard Bernstein: The Composer of the Century

Leonard Bernstein at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

I’ve read many articles about the famous Leonard Bernstein, but it wasn’t until recently when I came across a piece about Bernstein as a composer that I began to fume. The piece, Too Much Bernstein Leaves a Critic Fed Up with his Music was an op-ed by Anne Midgette, featured in The Washington Post this past year. (1) To say the least, Midgette has a lot of frustration about Bernstein’s music.

Anne Midgette

Anne Midgette is an American journalist and classical music critic who has spent most of this year attending concerts and events that celebrate Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday – which took place this past August. In these last few months Midgette has gotten to listen to a wide range of Bernstein’s creations from recordings of the “Complete Works”, put on by Deutsche Grammophon, to the soundtrack of West Side Story. After listening to almost every performance Midgette has unfortunately come to the conclusion that she dislikes him as both a musician and a person, “‘Hate the man, love the music’ is the favorite counsel of music-lovers in such instances (Richard Wagner comes to mind). In Bernstein’s case, I’m no longer sure that I have all that much tolerance for either.” This claim is a clear example of Midgette’s frustration as she expresses disappointment in both his character and work. I can understand where she comes from in her argument about Bernstein as a person; there is no doubt that Bernstein could be a difficult person to be around – even his daughter felt that way (Tongue kissing). (2) My question is, what specifically does Midgette not like about his unbelievable story-telling scores?

One comment that Anne Midgette makes in her op-ed is, “Most people who are familiar with Bernstein’s work have had some moment that they find toe-curling. I tend to squirm at his bickering-married-couple pieces, from “Trouble in Tahiti” through to “Arias and Barcarolles,” his final work.” (3) The use of squirming in this statement clearly has a negative connotation of irritation with his score. However, how could one be irritated with the music from “Trouble in Tahiti”?! The score is genius. Bernstein pushes boundaries to open the public’s eyes to the realities of suburban life in the 1950s. While society wanted people to believe that suburban families with the mother who stayed in the kitchen all day, the father that brought in the income, and the children that ran around and played in the street were all always happy, Bernstein reveals that no family is or was ever that perfect. Instead, through his progressive music and lyrics, Bernstein captures the daily tensions that occurred in a typical household and challenges the characters to reflect on their not so great lives. (4) The couple featured is clearly very irritated with one another and Bernstein’s music only adds to the effect.  One opportunity an artist gets is to challenge society and introduce topics that are hard to talk about because they have so many supporters and thus hold influential roles. Therefore, there is no reason to get upset at the music of “Trouble in Tahiti” because at the end of the day Bernstein was just using his platform and creativity to speak out, and even more so, he did it beautifully. 

Midgette doesn’t only have a problem with “Trouble in Tahiti” and “Arias and Barcarolles”. She continues her rant and also complains about Bernstein’s famous third symphony, “Kaddish”, “Other roll their eyes at his attempts at religious statements in “Kaddish” in which the narrator engages in a long dialogue with God”. (5) There is a clear negative attitude towards this piece, solely from the fact that she believes an acceptable response to the “Kaddish” is to roll your eyes. I firmly disagree and am uncomfortable with this. Firstly, Leonard Bernstein dedicated this symphony to the memory of former president John F. Kennedy, which was performed a few weeks after his tragic assassination. Bernstein and Kennedy were good friends and therefore he dedicated the Kaddish – a Jewish prayer for the dead – to Kennedy’s memory. (6) Thus, rolling one’s eyes is disrespectful because it offends the beautiful gesture that Bernstein was trying to make. Secondly, the “Kaddish” deals with such a universal topic in society, “what can we believe in when mankind has the desire and capability to destroy itself?” (7) When this piece was composed, the world was falling apart. People were in the midst of the Vietnam War, the struggles of the Civil Rights movement were all over the media, and the Cuban Missile Crisis had only occurred a year earlier. Thus, this idea of who or what to have faith in was very prevalent at the time. Bernstein exposed this conflict through a symphony about someone questioning and challenging a humanistic God. (8) It had to have been a relevant performance back then because the fear in the narrator’s voice had to have been recognizable and relatable. In the 1960s, people were in the midst of massive chaos and uncertain of about the country’s future. Thus, these pieces and lyrics probably sparked reflection and forced the audience to begin contemplating their own personal and societal struggles.  In conclusion,  the end of the symphony is very moving; it doesn’t finish on a happy note like most endings. Instead, sung by a full choir, the ending is filled with suspense, suggesting that all is still not right in this world. It seems that peace is still yet to come. (9) The message from this ending was not only relevant for the issues happening fifty years ago, it is still a concept that we have to accept in the today. There are still so many unfinished disputes: gender equality, anti-Semitism, racism, and Bernstein’s message is an important one, we need to start figuring out a way to obtain peace. In my eyes, this section alone should deeply and positively affect anyone and everyone.

I find Bernstein’s risk taking, activist style of composing very moving and I would be happy to talk to Anne Midgette in person any day to discuss our opinions further. Until then, while Midgette is, “looking forward to spending some time without him”, I can’t wait to continue diving into the famous composer’s life.

Work Cited List

(1) Midgette, Anne. “Too Much Bernstein Leaves a Critic Fed up with His Music.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 20 July 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/too-much-bernstein-leaves-a-critic-fed-up-with-his-music/2018/07/20/1573dfec-7ae6-11e8-93cc-6d3beccdd7a3_story.html.

(2) Midgette, Anne. “Too Much Bernstein Leaves a Critic Fed up with His Music.”

(3) Midgette, Anne. “Too Much Bernstein Leaves a Critic Fed up with His Music.”

(4) Kingston, Bob. “Trouble in Tahiti – Prelude (‘Doa–Daa–Day–Day’), Scene 1 and 2.” YouTube, YouTube, 25 Jan. 2010, www.youtube.com/watch?v=CThlbtcXLag.

(5) Midgette, Anne. “Too Much Bernstein Leaves a Critic Fed up with His Music.”

(6) Alsop, Marin. “Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Kaddish’ Symphony: A Crisis Of Faith.” NPR, NPR, 29 Sept. 2012, www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2012/09/29/161824558/leonard-bernsteins-kaddish-symphony-a-crisis-of-faith.

(7) Alsop, Marin “Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Kaddish’ Symphony: A Crisis Of Faith.”

(8) “Leonard Bernstein at 100.” Works | Works | Leonard Bernstein, leonardbernstein.com/works/view/48/symphony-no-3-kaddish.

(9) Vecordia, Gerard. “Leonard Bernstein. Symphony #3. Kaddish.” YouTube, YouTube, 11 Mar. 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=jX1exz7eORo.

 

Conducting Ain’t Easy

My first attempt at conducting was a train wreck. As a pubescent freshman in a suburban public high school in New York, I barely had control of my overgrown limbs, much less the movements they made. But that did not stop my courageous mindset, breaking barriers for disproportionately sized teens all over the world. So when my chorus teacher asked someone in the class to volunteer as tribute, I responded.

It was a day like any other, as my classmates and I made our way up to the fourth and top floor of our glorious high school, we were preparing for the usual chorus class; our teacher would start with a vocal warm up consisting of lip trills, scales, and sighs, before diving headfirst into whichever musical medley we were working on that semester and eventually make our way into the depths of a latin piece. Yet this was no usual class.

We had a guest. A scrawny man with an unkempt beard shared the room with us for the first time, introducing himself in a quiet way, observing from the corner of the room. I forget his name but for the purpose of the story I will call him “Frank”. Frank was a student at Queens College, studying to be a conductor, where our teacher was in charge of their chamber choir. Our teacher asked Frank to come to the middle of the classroom and conduct the beginning of a piece we were learning. His effortless arm waving fed into my misconception that this was an easy task, but I would soon find out that this was not the case.

After Frank had finished, our teacher asked for a volunteer to try the same entrance and rhythm. I volunteered without hesitation, wanting to impress my teacher, but suddenly became nervous while walking up to the podium. After the first try I knew I had made a mistake. I butchered the entrance to the piece several times before my teacher had to take my hand and wave it for me.

My experience was the opposite of Leonard Bernstein’s first time conducting the New York Philharmonic, yet even he, a trained conductor at the young age of twenty-five, was nervous. In an interview conducted with his brother, Burton, in 1989, Bernstein confessed he had little preparation in advance of substituting for Bruno Walter at Carnegie Hall in 1943. The beginning of the Schumann Overture was what was giving him particular trouble, as he had seen others fail at the difficult entrance. He arrived at the concert early and went down to the drugstore. The pharmacist gave him two pills, one to calm his nerves and the other to give him energy on stage. While he was backstage before the start of the show, he threw away the pills and only remembers the applause that came at intermission. The next day the New York Times published a front page article about his first time conducting the New York Philharmonic.

Front page of The New York Times, November 15, 1943

Conducting is not easy, but just like Frank from Queens College, Leonard Bernstein made it look that way. Despite the nervous energy, he was able to do so well that he caught the attention of the New York Times, while I struggled to make the entrance into one piece of music. How do you think you might fair in a trial at conducting?

The Trifecta: Bernstein, Faith, and Music

Yes, Bernstein was born Jewish and fully admitted to his Jewish roots. Even Serge Koussevitzky, his longtime mentor, urged Bernstein to change his last name because it sounded “too Jewish” but Bernstein resisted and said, “I’ll do it as ‘Bernstein’ or not at all” (1).  However, his attitude towards religion was still quite complicated and a mysterious part of his identity. Nevertheless, many of his composed works symbolized religious and Jewish elements — and the interplay of faith and humanity. Specifically, the “Kaddish” symphony magnifies his convoluted journey with religion, but the underlying tension between himself and his devout father is strongly understood as the main focus. The symphonic foundation of the piece allows for the theatrical and conversational elements to come to life: “…in a sense the symphonic form is hardly there for its own sake, but as a kind of stage set, in front of which a dramatized debate—or interior monologue—takes place” (2). However, does the “Kaddish” only illustrate an inner dialogue and intense conversation between father and son…or something else entirely?

Leonard Bernstein (L) and his father celebrating his opening night concert at Lincoln Center. (Photo by Ralph Morse/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

“Every son, at one point or other, defies his father, fights him, departs from him, only to return to him,” Bernstein expressed at the 70th birthday party for his father (3). Although Bernstein candidly spoke to the news media and interviewers about his work, his composed music expresses deeper, more intimate and raw emotions. For instance, the text of “Kaddish,” which Bernstein wrote himself, exposes Bernstein’s contested relationship with his father and dives deeper into the meaning behind his off-the-cuff quote from his father’s 70th birthday.

Ironically, the Kaddish is the traditional Jewish mourning prayer — but the prayer never mentions the term death, only “the word chayei or chayim (“life”) three times” (4). Moreover, the prayer praises God and the spirit of life, not the absence of life. This symbolic dualism runs throughout the piece; chromatic textures (twelve-tone techniques) contrasts “simple expressive diatonicism — for instance, during the Din Torah section (literally meaning judicial trial of two Jewish parties), the Speaker has an outburst of emotion “in which God is accused of a breach of faith with humanity” (5). Moreover, the dualism appears when human immortality by God’s divine power contrasts humanity’s imminent suicide by reality (6). The dualistic and contrasting undertones purposefully emphasize the lows and highs, mountains and abysses of his turbulent father-son relationship but also of American life. 

Album Cover – Bernstein – Symphony No. 3 Kaddish

The “Kaddish” is viewed as an argument with God, as the Speaker “takes him on in the prosecutorial manner of an angry Job,” but his father’s discontentment and disappointment are obvious throughout the text (7). Bernstein’s father hoped he would leave his music aspirations behind and pursue something more respectable, like carrying on the family business. Although his father eventually came around to his son’s career choice, the beginning of “Kaddish” (Part I – Invocation) emphasizes the Speaker’s despair and bitterness towards his father, as the Speaker addresses God as “angry, wrinkled old majesty,” — perhaps this is Bernstein’s disobedient voice coming alive (8). However, is the Speaker only addressing his familial pressures and rollercoaster relationship, or is he also making accusations against God and humanity? Perhaps, Man and God are dueling on the battlefield of life, amidst all the conflict, chaos, and evil of reality. Prior to Bernstein finishing the piece, JFK had just been assassinated and he was taken aback by this horrendous act; a wave of hurt and despair settled over the world, adding another powerful dimension to this already tense and passionate piece before it premiered in Israel only three weeks later (9). Bernstein’s “Kaddish” is trying to illustrate the internal struggle between ourselves and any higher power (moral, spiritual, physical) but also … the cognitive dissonance we experience every day. He wanted the audience to look within and reevaluate their interaction with reality and the politically charged environment. 

Beyond the higher power, regardless if it does or does not exist, the piece also tried to ignite a conversation around the internal struggle with oneself and all the isms: racism, sexism, socialism, capitalism, etc. It is not just Jews or religious people that need to look within and reflect, but all of humanity — the moral struggle is areligious, apolitical, and appears in all facets of life. The pure beauty of this piece is broken down into two components or takeaways: 1) faith and relationships are neither cookie cutter nor black and white, but moral behavior isn’t either and, 2) it transcends time and place, as the principle or idea does not change (i.e. morality and cognitive dissonance between our actions and beliefs) but the subject certainly does (i.e. ourselves and the world around us).

By Mollie Goldfarb

  1. “Reckoning with Leonard Bernstein’s Faith on the Centennial of His Birth,” Religion News Service (blog), August 22, 2018, https://religionnews.com/2018/08/22/reckoning-with-leonard-bernsteins-faith-on-the-centennial-of-his-birth/.
  2. Neil Levin, “Symphony No. 3,” Milken Archive of Jewish Music, accessed October 14, 2018, http://www.milkenarchive.org/music/volumes/view/symphonic-visions/work/symphony-no-3/.
  3. Anthony Tommasini, “Review: Son Confronts Father to End a Leonard Bernstein Festival,” The New York Times, November 12, 2017, sec. Arts, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/10/arts/music/review-leonard-bernstein-festival-new-york-philharmonic.html.
  4. Jack Gottlieb, “Works | Works | Leonard Bernstein,” accessed October 14, 2018, https://leonardbernstein.com/works/view/48/symphony-no-3-kaddish.
  5. Jack Gottlieb, “Works | Works | Leonard Bernstein.” 
  6. Jack Gottlieb, “Works | Works | Leonard Bernstein.” 
  7. Anthony Tommasini, “Review: Son Confronts Father to End a Leonard Bernstein Festival.”
  8. Anthony Tommasini, “Review: Son Confronts Father to End a Leonard Bernstein Festival.”
  9. Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Bernstein Symphony No. 3, “Kaddish,” accessed October 14, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRZkXMlyKzg.

Bernstein Conducts Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5

“We’re going to play it fast, but not Leonard Bernstein fast,” my conductor quipped as he described the tempo in which we would play the final movement of Dimitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5. He was referring to Bernstein’s famous 1959 recording of the fifth symphony with the New York Philharmonic in which Bernstein doubled the tempo from Shostakovich’s original tempo at the end of the piece.

It was the summer of 2013 and we were playing Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 at my music camp, Kinhaven Music School. It was an admittedly challenging piece for young high school students, however we were more than willing to put in a few more practice sessions to learn the renowned symphony.

Orchestra rehearsal at Kinhaven Music School

Fast-forward five years to 2018. Whenever I come into contact with Symphony No. 5, I immediately associate it with Bernstein’s recording of the piece. Perhaps this is because I learned about Bernstein’s recording while I was learning the symphony. However, this inherent association between the fifth symphony and Bernstein’s recording seems to be larger than just me; it seems to be a widespread phenomenon. Why does Bernstein’s recording standout as the recording of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5?

Bernstein’s Interpretation of Symphony No. 5

CD cover of Bernstein’s recording with the New York Philharmonic of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5

Bernstein was known for taking risks and breaking boundaries, and the fifth symphony is clearly no exception. Aside from all the aspects that make for a brilliant performance, Bernstein conducted the piece in a notably different way than Shostakovich wrote. At the end of the fourth movement, there is a huge buildup of sound before the orchestra transitions into the final part of the movement. Shostakovich originally wrote this final part to be played rather slowly, however Bernstein conducted this section twice as fast as marked. Bernstein’s recording of the last movement is 8 minutes and 55 seconds long whereas most recordings of the movement are around 11 to 12 minutes long!

Doubling the tempo of a piece is risky, but speaks volumes about Bernstein’s musical abilities as well as his stylistic choices. Of course there are pros and cons of changing aspects of a piece, like the tempo. Shostakovich had a message he was trying to get across in his symphony, whether it was patriotism or a jab at the Soviet Union, or a combination of the two. Changing the tempo could possibly detract or change the message Shostakovich was trying to convey, but it seems like Bernstein’s change possibly enhanced this message, or rather created a new energetic interpretation of it. Shostakovich himself thought it “worked very well.”

Bernstein in Moscow

Bernstein shaking hands with Shostakovich after a performance in Moscow, 1959

Bernstein just seemed to get it. Shostakovich’s symphony holds immense meaning, displaying his struggle as a composer trying to create art under Stalin’s oppressive regime. “Bernstein conducts the final movement with all the violence, energy and incandescence that he can bring to it. He understood well that this is not a happy ending, and he brings that across in his performance,” stated Ted Libbey.

Dimitri Shostakovich and Leonard Bernstein in Moscow, 1959

Bernstein’s deep understanding of Shostakovich and his work could be attributed to his visit to Moscow with the New York Philharmonic in August 1959, where they performed the fifth symphony and were lauded with a standing ovation. Being in Moscow and meeting Shostakovich likely helped Bernstein internalize and understand the music in its context.

Bernstein added his own personal touch to Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 and created an everlasting interpretation of the piece (also, playing with the New York Philharmonic doesn’t hurt). Whether rehearsing the symphony at Boston Symphony Hall or at a small music camp in Vermont, Bernstein’s recording remains at the forefront of musicians’ minds. It is recordings like Bernstein’s that keep such great pieces of music alive. If you haven’t listened to Bernstein’s recording, it is definitely worth having a listen!

 

Work Cited

Alsop, Marin, and Melody Joy Kramer. “Hearing History in Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony.” NPR. September 23, 2006. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6126580.

Libbey, Ted. “Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphonic ‘Coup’.” NPR. October 20, 2009. https://www.npr.org/2011/07/18/113792055/dmitri-shostakovichs-symphonic-coup.

 

Bernstein at Tanglewood: Conducting

https://www.tripsavvy.com/tanglewood-summer-music-festival-1598838
Coming up more about Bernstein’s early years in Massachusetts and his final concert at Tanglewood which his brother described as, 'Lenny coming home to die.'

Bernstein and Tanglewood; the two names are quite nearly synonymous.  Throughout Bernstein’s great and varied life work, one of the few constants was his involvement with the Tanglewood Institute.  His operas, Broadway shows, symphonies, concerts and controversies seldom stopped him from spending time at Tanglewood during Berkshire summers.  The joy that Bernstein experienced while conducting and spending time in Tanglewood was unbounded. His daughter, Jamie Bernstein, was once quoted as saying “Every time he (Bernstein) went up there (to Tanglewood) it was like he would be rejuvenated. He would turn into a kid again”(1).  Bernstein’s connection to Tanglewood could nearly be described as spiritual; the very first time he led a orchestra as a symphonic conductor was at Tanglewood. He conducted the Berkshire Music Center Orchestra in Randall Thompson’s Symphony No. 2, with the composer himself in the audience (2).  From his very first summer spent in Berkshire, under the guidance the of Koussevitzky, he was “hooked.” He described his time spent in summer study there as “the happiest and most productive of my life.” At Tanglewood, Bernstein’s conducting was truly put to the test; his extensive Tanglewood discography can account for that.  Over the rapturous summers spent in the Berkshires, he conducted Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, the American premiere of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes & many more. He held audiences spellbound and captured student musicians at the flick of his baton. In my opinion, it was only fitting that he spent the last years of his life conducting and bringing joy at Tanglewood – the place that brought him such rapture .  His final concert at Tanglewood was fittingly described by Bernstein’s brother as, “Lenny coming home to die.”

Bernstein and Koussevitzky

https://www.loc.gov/item/lbphotos.49a046/
“For your creative energy, your instinct for truth, your incredible incorporation of teacher and artist, I give humble thanks. Seeing in you my own concepts matured is a challenge to me which I hope to fulfill in your great spirit.” - Bernstein in a Letter to Koussevitzky (2)

Koussevitzky imparted great musical and conducting knowledge onto the impressionable, young Bernstein.  Not only did Koussevitzky teach Bernstein to study each piece with passion and a singularity of mind, but Koussevitzky also stressed the importance of central themes, or lines, to Bernstein.  Bernstein’s dedication to central lines would propel him as a conductor for years into the future. Koussevitzky taught his young assistant to become absorbed by each work: taking each and every individual part to heart – though not to the same extent as Fritz Reiner.  In the summer of 1942, Bernstein played the bass drum in the American premiere of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7, Leningrad during which Koussevitzky conducted the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra.  Along with knowledge of musical material, Bernstein gained invaluable experience conducting on the stand.  In these formative years, under Koussevitzky’s watchful eye, Bernstein began to funnel his passion towards conducting into a sort of performance art.  Bernstein also began to incorporate large, thematic, gestures into his conducting. From Koussevitzky, the young Bernstein learned to mark the inner beats and to bring out counter-melodies throughout the orchestra.  However, their relationship was not without creative conflict. Koussevitzky wished to tamper Bernstein’s ego and said he ought to be an “interpreter of great musical works,” discouraging Bernstein from playing his own works as a conductor.  Still, Koussevitzky predicted that Bernstein would become the greatest conductor of all time, and their time spent at Tanglewood was truly invaluable.

“It was a renaissance for me - a rehabilitation of the twisted and undefined weltanschauung with which I came to you.” -Bernstein

Conducting Analysis

For this section of the blogpost, I have chosen to observe Bernstein’s conducting in action.   After all, in the public mind, the conductor is the living embodiment of musical power – holding a dozens of musicians under perfect control and unleashing the force of the full orchestra with mere gesture. Bernstein’s conducting, at Tanglewood, is excellent enough that any number of pieces could suffice .  However, this recording of Bernstein conducting Tchaikovsky’s 5th, is something special. At the beginning of the movement, Bernstein motions with great sweeping gestures to the strings and at times drops the baton practically to his knees when low voices takes up melody.  The inner beats are alluded to; melodies and counterpoints are highlighted with the flick of a baton. The emotion Bernstein feels in concert is clearly wrought upon his face and choreographed by his body. A discourse between conductor and conducted remains constant as Bernstein encourages and cues the seated players; every player maintains eye contact with Bernstein.  The result is truly compelling. The strings and woodwinds unite as a single and smooth voice. The brass stings in the proper places, and even though Bernstein may have become more subdued in his later years, the orchestra and their conductor bring new vitality to the symphony. In this performance, the fruits of Bernstein’s long years of labor become evident. In his element at his beloved Tanglewood, he holds perfect control over the orchestra: harnessing the techniques learned from Koussevitzky many summers ago as an assistant conductor.

August 19th, 1990

http://celebratebernstein.org/bernstein-last-concert/

Bernstein led the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood, in what would be his final concert. Carl St. Clair conducted the BSO first in Bright Sheng’s orchestral transcription of Bernstein’s “Arias and Barcarolles”, and Bernstein then conducted Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes” and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.  He suffered a coughing fit during the third movement of the Beethoven symphony, but continued to conduct the piece until its conclusion, leaving the stage during a standing ovation

 

 

“Better still was the Beethoven. It was done in Mr. Bernstein's characteristic mature style, meaning slower and heavier than he used to perform the Viennese classics. That robbed the score, the last movement especially, of some excitement. But it lent the proceedings a real grandeur, and the flowing Allegretto second movement was particularly gorgeous, with touch after instrumental touch striking home with the force of revelation.” - NY TIMES August 21, 1990 (4)

 

To conclude… Bernstein Shared a Special Connection with Tanglewood, and his years there saw him grow into, reputedly, the best conductor of all time.

Work Cited

(1) “Alex and Jamie Bernstein | Here’s the Thing.” WNYC Studios, 24 Dec. 2012, www.wnycstudios.org/story/258928-alex-and-jamie-bernstein/.
(2) “Tanglewood Background.” Tanglewood | Educator | About | Leonard Bernstein, leonardbernstein.com/about/educator/tanglewood.
(3) Alsop, Marin. “Leonard Bernstein, the Conductor.” Conductor | About | Leonard Bernstein, leonardbernstein.com/about/conductor.
(4) JOHN ROCKWELL, Special to The New York Times. “Review/Music; Bernstein Leads His Annual Tanglewood Concert.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Aug. 1990, www.nytimes.com/1990/08/21/arts/review-music-bernstein-leads-his-annual-tanglewood-concert.html.
(5) Ross, Daniel. “Leonard Bernstein Explains Beautifully and Eloquently Exactly What a Conductor Does.” Classic FM, 17 May 2016, www.classicfm.com/composers/bernstein-l/guides/leonard-bernstein-explains-conducting/.