By Amy Lyn Walker
Leonard Bernstein was born on August 25, 1918 in Lawrence,
Massachusetts. He’s family emigrated to the United States. They were Russian
Jews. As a young child, Leonard learned to play the piano and he attended
Harvard University. He attended courses and lectures held by Edward
Burlingham Hill, Water Piston, and Arthur Tillmann Merritt. He received his
diploma in 1939.
He studied under Isabella Vengerova, a talented piano player at the Curtis
Institute in Philadelphia, Fritz Reiner, an orchestral conductor, and Randall
Thompson for orchestration. Bernstein specialized in orchestral conducting and
went to Tanglewood from 1940-1941. He became a pupil of Sergei A.
Koussevitzky, and became his assistant in 1942. He was appointed, only one
year later, by Artur Rodzinski as the assistant director of music at the New York
Philharmonic Orchestra. After he stepped in for Bruno Walter, who became ill,
and he conducted a concert of this great orchestra. After this he worked with
the New York City Orchestra.
In 1947 he conducted the Isreal Philharmonic Orchestra, for which he was
the musical advisor until 1949. After this, he went on a long tour with
Koussevitzky. After Koussevitzky’s death, Bernstein taught orchestral conducting
at Tanglewood, and also worked at Brandeis University. In 1957, he joined the
New York Philharmonic, which he conducted alternately with Dimitri
Mitropoulos. From 1958-1969, he was the musical director of this orchestra
before he was appointed laureate conductor for life. He was the first American
conductor to be invited to the Scala, and he conducted there.
From 1969 on, Bernstein received invitations from all the major
establishments and orchestras of the world. He cooperated with the Viennese
Philharmonic, which he recorded the complete symphonies of Beethoven, and
also recorded his own three symphonies with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestral.
His best performances were with works by Gustav Mahler, George Gershwin, and
Igor Stravinsky. He was very receptive to modern music, and continued the
work of Koussevitzky, and strongly supported American composers.
Leonard’s enthusiasm quickly made him very popular. He found a new
and very successful way to present classical music on television and to win new
audiences for it. Tours, teaching and concerts were unable to crowd out two
areas which he had dedicated himself to from his youth, piano and
composition. Starting from the beginning, he wrote for the stage, not the
concert hall. He wrote the song cycles, I hate music, Good Cooking and a ballet
called Fancy free. He eventually developed Fancy free into a musica. He called
it On The Town, and made it a hit on Broadway. He wrote a mass for the
dedication of the John F. Kennedy Center in New York in 1971.
Bernstein was influenced by different styles. Some of them included: jazz,
folk music, religious choral themes, songs and ballads. He wrote a very famous
musical called West Side Story. West Side Story showed the public how easily
he could work with rhythm and melody. He wrote another musical called
Candide in 1956.
Bernstein passed away on October 14th, 1990. He may be gone now but
his achievements will forever live on.
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