The Legacy of Leonard Bernstein

Bernstein image here


The great Leonard Bernstein was born on August 25, 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts. During his 72 years of life he would touch the lives of countless people.  He was a gifted conductor, speaker, composer, writer, and probably the finest music educator to the masses.

Music was his life.  “I can’t live one day without hearing music, playing it, studying it, or thinking about it,” he said.  And his knowledge of it – in all its forms – was evident.  He was the long-time conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra as well as a guest conductor for orchestras around the world; he composed West Side Story, Candide, Wonderful Town, On the Town, and On the Waterfront for Broadway; and he composed three symphonies and a Mass among other works.

Most importantly, perhaps, were his Young People’s Concerts on CBS television that brought symphonic music and opera to the attention of millions of people (“young people” of all ages) who would never have been exposed to those art forms if he hadn’t existed.  He would appear on stage with a piano, while the New York Philharmonic Orchestra waited at the ready for the waving of his baton.  He captivated us with his explanations and his musical examples.  He even tried to sing occasionally, but singing, as he admitted during one of the concerts, was not one of his gifts.  He was one of those teachers who you might run across once in your life – if you were lucky – and we were blessed to hear his lectures (in the best sense of that word), and his musical examples that accompanied them, for many years.  In addition to his concerts for young people, he also appeared often on Omnibus, a TV series that was hosted by Alistair Cooke – the same Alistair Cooke who hosted Masterpiece Theatre for many years.

As we celebrate the 100th birthday of the remarkable maestro Bernstein, spend a little time delving into the legacy he bequeathed to us.  Much of his work with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra is still available. You can see bits and pieces of his Young People’s Concerts and many other examples of his life’s work on YouTube.  (Don’t miss the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s tribute to Bernstein at 100 on YouTube.  The two hour concert is hosted by noted trumpeter Wynton Marsalis who sits in with the group.)  And be sure to explore West Side Story.  It’s a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet reset in New York City.  Instead of feuding families we have feuding gangs.  Also consider listening to Candide which is a musical based on the wonderful satire by another genius – Voltaire.

He was unique.  There will never be anyone else quite like Leonard Bernstein.

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WQXR, the premier classical music station in the U.S., has an exhaustive playlist of Bernstein’s compositions.  Take time to listen to them here.

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Can you tell much about a person by looking at the books in his/her library?  WQXR gives us a peek into Bernstein’s library – and possibly into his restless mind.

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Amazon gives us a stunning listing of both books and music associated with Bernstein.

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