Leonard Bernstein

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Leonard Bernstein (1971) BernsteinLeonardSignature01 mono 25p transp.png

Leonard "Lenny" Bernstein ( ˈbɜːrnstaɪn ; born Louis Bernstein on August 25, 1918 in Lawrence , Massachusetts ; died on October 14, 1990 in New York City , New York ) was an American composer , conductor and pianist .

Bernstein's most successful stage works include the musicals On the Town (1944), Candide (1956, revised 1974), and above all West Side Story (1957). The film adaptations of On the Town (with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra ) and West Side Story were world successes. He also wrote the musical Wonderful Town (1953) for Broadway .

life and work

Leonard Bernstein came from a Jewish immigrant family, his father Sam Bernstein came from Rivne (Równo) in southern Russia (now Ukraine). The father got by with auxiliary work and only came to a certain level of prosperity when he founded a cosmetics company together with his uncle. He married the Jewish-Russian emigrant Jennie. Her son became shy and withdrawn from his parents' frequent moves. For a long time he remained a weak and often ailing child with asthma and hay fever. A great joy in his childhood were his parents attending church services, as (choir) singing and organ playing could be heard in the synagogues. His zest for life grew when an aunt gave the family a used piano. Bernstein played around with it until he got his first piano lessons from a neighbor when he was eleven. From October 1932, at the age of fourteen, Helen G. Coates gave him piano lessons at the Conservatory.

His career aspiration as a pianist was therefore determined very early on. But his request was initially rejected by his father. There were violent arguments with financial consequences. However, since he had proven himself to be an above-average student, he was allowed to study music at Harvard University after graduating from school . Here he also took lectures in philosophy, aesthetics, literature and linguistics. He later found his five-year study period up to June 1939 to be "the best time of my life". During his student days, the conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos , who called him a “genius boy”, advised him to continue his studies with Fritz Reiner at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) . In this way he met the conductor Serge Koussevitzky in Tanglewood and worked there with him in the summer courses for several years.

Bernstein made his first public appearance in 1934 as a pianist with the Boston Public School Symphony Orchestra and Edward Grieg's Piano Concerto . At the age of 16 he changed his first name to Leonard , which had been his first name until then. At a dance performance in 1937, he met his lifelong mentor and friend, Aaron Copland . He gave his first concert as a conductor and composer in 1939 with The Birds at Harvard.

Leonard Bernstein at the piano (1955)

In July 1940 he made his first appearance as a symphony conductor at the newly opened Berkshire Music Center at the Tanglewood Music Festival . As early as 1943 he became Assistant Conductor (2nd conductor) of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Artur Rodziński , who had seen him in Tanglewood as Serge Koussevitzky's assistant . On November 14, 1943, Bernstein was able to prove his talent when he had to step in for the sick Bruno Walter at Carnegie Hall at short notice . The performance of Schumann's Manfred Overture and Strauss ' Don Quixote were broadcast nationwide on radio and marked a “spectacular” start to his life in the music world.

Bernstein was soon able to conduct numerous concerts with world-famous orchestras. He was the first American music director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (1958–1969) and a regular guest conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra until his death in 1990. His repertoire included both classical and avant-garde works; Gustav Mahler's work in particular attracted his attention and admiration.

Leonard Bernstein (1945)

Inspired by his Jewish heritage, Bernstein wrote his first symphony Jeremiah (1943), which he dedicated to his father. He conducted the world premiere of "Jeremiah" with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1944. For this he received the New York Music Critics' Award . His Symphony No. 2 "The Age of Anxiety" was commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation, which he dedicated to him in his honor ("For Serge Koussevitzky, in tribute"). The premiere was in 1949, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Serge Koussevitzky and Bernstein on the piano. His Symphony No. 3 "Kaddish" , which he composed in 1963, was first performed by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra . Bernstein dedicated “Kaddish” to the memory of John F. Kennedy (“To the Beloved Memory of John F. Kennedy”). This was followed by the Chichester Psalms (1965) a three-part choral work based on Hebrew psalm texts. His music theater work " Mass " (mass), a play for singers, actors and dancers - so the subtitle of the work - was premiered in Washington in 1971. It was commissioned for the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC.

Bernstein's one-act opera Trouble in Tahiti (premiered in 1952) was too short for an opera, so he incorporated it as scenes 2 and 4 in the second act of his new opera A Quiet Place . The premiere of A Quiet Place was on 17 June 1983 in the Houston Grand Opera , Houston .

He named the musical 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue after the address of the White House in Washington, where the action takes place. It was supposed to be an artistic response to the Nixon era and the Watergate affair . It was an attempt to "show America's patriotism in its bigotry, with the indication that (racial) freedom had not yet arrived everywhere". But the music drama could not convincingly portray the contrasts between the everyday life of the presidents, their first ladies and the life of their black servants for the audience at the time. Bernstein had worked on the work for four years (1972–1976) and wrote more music for it than for any other composition ( libretto : Alan Jay Lerner). The pre-screening in Philadelphia was a failure and he was also called a "racist". The performance in New York also had to be canceled after a week. The musical's only hit was “Take Care of This House,” a choir performed at President Jimmy Carter's inaugural gala in January 1977. Bernstein later put together "A White House Cantata" from various scenes from the musical. Bernstein's heirs now want to revive the musical because, in the daughter's opinion, the time was not yet ripe for it.

His Young People's Concerts television series with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra made influential contributions to musical education. Between 1958 and 1972 Bernstein conducted a total of 53 concerts (with a few interruptions). With his charisma , his great talent for languages ​​and his humor, he could captivate children and adults alike. With works of classical music he explained basic concepts such as key , melody , modes and impressionism or presented composers and works (Gustav Mahler, Beethoven's Fidelio , Sibelius ). He acted with a similar intention from 1954 to 1958 in his contributions to the American television series Omnibus , in which he also presented musical works and themes.

In New York he chaired the jury of the Dimitri Mitropoulos International Music Competition . In 1990 he initiated the Pacific Music Festival .

In 1973, at the invitation of Harvard University , Leonard Bernstein held the six-part lecture series The Unanswered Question , in which he spoke about the fundamentals of music in analogy to Noam Chomsky's linguistic research . The title was an allusion to the work of the same name by the American composer Charles Ives .


Leonard Bernstein conducted his first concert in Germany in 1948. Many American artists and musicians such as Artur Rubinstein and Isaac Stern boycotted performances in Germany since the 1938 Night of the Reichspogrom . Leonard Bernstein, however, at the invitation of General Music Director Georg Solti , was the first American conductor to lead the Bavarian State Orchestra in the Prinzregententheater in Munich after the Second World War . He conducted a symphony by Roy Harris , a symphony in C major by Schubert and, from the piano, the piano concerto by Maurice Ravel . After a short time he had won over the orchestra, which was initially biased towards him, so that Bernstein described the concert in a letter to Helen Coates as a "complete success". One day later, on May 10, 1948, the Jewish-American conductor played with 20 Holocaust survivors and 10,000 camp inmates in the audience in the Feldafing and Landsberg concentration camps .

He conducted his first concert in Berlin as part of the Berliner Festwochen in 1959. On a six-week tour of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra through 13 countries, the American conductor also conducted concerts in the Soviet Union and France at the height of the Cold War in 1959 , Norway , Italy and Germany . On October 1, 1959, Bernstein conducted for the first time in Berlin and conducted, among other things, the overture Le carnaval romain by Berlioz and the Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , which he conducted from the piano. This concert is seen as the beginning of a friendship with Berlin that will last until the end of his life.

On January 19, 1971, Bernstein agreed with the German film production company Unitel that it should record almost all of Leonard Bernstein's future conducting. Between the 1970s and 1990s, Unitel produced almost 200 music films, including symphonies by Mahler, Brahms , Beethoven and Schumann as well as compositions by Haydn and Mozart .

Leonard Bernstein (1985)
Leonard Bernstein (1987)

In 1981, Bernstein led the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and conducted Wagner's Tristan and Isolde in Munich's Herkulessaal ; Singing soloists included Hildegard Behrens and Peter Hoffmann. Bernstein considered Tristan and Isolde to be a central work in music history and added that he had spent a lot of his life reading it in German and dealing with it. The recordings of the musical drama were recorded separately as concerts in January, May and November 1981 and broadcast directly on television and later released as audio recordings by Philips. Karl Böhm , who was considered one of the most famous Wagner connoisseurs and who himself conducted Tristan and Isolde , said of Bernstein's much slower interpretation of the drama that it was played as if Wagner had conducted it.

Also in 1981, Bernstein set a text by Günter Kunert to music for an Olympic hymn on the occasion of a congress of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Baden-Baden . Bernstein's hymn opened the congress on September 23, 1981 with the Baden-Baden Youth Choir and the Symphony Orchestra of Südwestfunk Baden-Baden. The anthem was conducted by David Shallon .

In 1987 he founded the international orchestra academy (today: Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra) of the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival (SHMF) together with Justus Frantz . He wanted to give young, talented up-and-coming musicians the opportunity to learn from internationally recognized artists. This classical music festival was launched a year earlier by the German pianist Justus Frantz and takes place every year between June and August in northern Germany . Since then, Bernstein has also been involved in the general planning of the festival.

As one of his last productions, Leonard Bernstein conducted Beethoven's 9th Symphony in Berlin on December 23 and 25, 1989 at a spontaneous invitation from Justus Frantz (in the Philharmonie and in the Konzerthaus , then still called the Schauspielhaus ). The concert hall, which was almost completely destroyed in the Second World War and later extensively restored, was only a few hundred meters from the former border at Checkpoint Charlie . For this special occasion, Bernstein had musicians from West and East Germany as well as from the four occupying powers America (New York Philharmonic Orchestra), Soviet Union (Kirow Theater Orchestra from Leningrad), France (Orchester de Paris) and Great Britain (London Symphony Orchestra) together occur.

For the celebrations on the occasion of the fall of the Berlin Wall , Bernstein had freedom instead of joy sing in the fourth movement . In doing so he turned the ode to joy into an ode to freedom . “I'm sure Beethoven would agree with us,” said Bernstein. The concert was televised in over 20 countries and his biographer Humphrey Burton commented for CBS that the whole world was watching the euphoria of Berlin and that Bernstein, as an American Jew, was the heart of the celebration.


Memorial plaque at the Wiener Konzerthaus

The first performance of Leonard Bernstein's musical Candide in German took place in the large broadcasting hall of the Funkhaus Wien in April 1963 . In the radio adaptation and direction of Marcel Prawy with the orchestra and choir of the ORF under the musical direction of Samuel Krachmalnick, among others, the castle actors Blanche Aubry and Heinrich Schweiger read Voltaire's novella ; Mimi Coertse and Rudolf Christ sang .

In 1959 Leonard Bernstein appeared for the first time at the Salzburg Festival , in 1966 he made his debut at the Vienna State Opera with Falstaff , in the following years he directed performances of Der Rosenkavalier and Fidelio here . During this stay in Vienna, Bernstein also recorded an opera for Columbia Records and his first concert with the Vienna Philharmonic. He conducted Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and James King . This and other appearances by Bernstein with the Vienna Philharmonic encouraged and intensified the bond between Bernstein and the orchestra. Bernstein conducted all of Mahler's symphonies from 1967 to 1976, all of which were recorded by Unitel Classica . In 1970, on the occasion of Beethoven's 200th birthday, Bernstein had a 90-minute program shot in and around Vienna . In 1978, Bernstein returned to Vienna again to revive Otto Schenk's Fidelio production at the Vienna State Opera .

Throughout his life there was a friendly rivalry with Herbert von Karajan , so Bernstein led the memorial hour for Herbert von Karajan in the Vienna Musikverein in autumn 1989 .

Bernstein was already scheduled to conduct the New Year's Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic in 1992 , but his death preceded it.


Grave of Leonard Bernstein in Green-Wood Cemetery , Brooklyn , NYC , ( grave location )

His last major concert tour took him through Japan in 1990. However, he had to end this tour prematurely for health reasons. Already visibly ill, Bernstein conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Tanglewood on August 19, 1990 . This recording of Benjamin Britten's Four Sea Interludes and Beethoven's Seventh Symphony in A major is known as his Final Concert . This 7th symphony also contains a funeral march, which in retrospect gained almost symbolic meaning because he suffered a fit of weakness during the concert. With enormous effort he conducted the last bars and said goodbye with the words "It's over." In October he announced that he would retire from conducting due to his poor health and devote himself only to composing.

On October 14, 1990, at the age of 72, Bernstein died of acute heart failure as a result of emphysema and cancer. His friends put a baton, a piece of amber and the score of Gustav Mahler's 5th Symphony in the coffin - because he has mastered them so masterfully in his musical life. The grave is located in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn , New York City.

On the occasion of his 100th birthday, events took place worldwide. A total of 2,000 appointments were counted to honor Leonard Bernstein during these days.

Private life

Bernstein married the Chilean actress Felicia Montealegre on September 9, 1951 , and they had three children: Jamie Anne Maria (* 1952), Alexander Serge Leonard (* 1955) and Nina Maria Felicia (* 1962). Bernstein was a loving father, but also known in the music world for his promiscuity . The couple split in the mid-1970s when his wife discovered he was having homosexual relationships. After the split, Bernstein lived with Tom Cothran. After his wife was diagnosed with lung cancer, he returned to her and stayed until her death in June 1978.

At a 1979 birthday party for Aaron Copland , Bernstein said in his public greeting that he was “my first friend in New York, my master, my role model, my sage, my therapist, my guide, my advisor, my older brother, my beloved friend. “Copland was bisexual.

"Lenny Bernstein" was on friendly terms with Helmut and Loki Schmidt, among others .

Awards and honors (selection)


Leonard Bernstein at the orchestra rehearsal in the Albert Hall , 1973

Orchestral works

  • Symphonies
  • Chichester Psalms (1965) (with solos and choir)
  • Fancy Free
  • Dybbuk , suite for orchestra
  • Slava: A political overture
  • Serenade over Plato's symposium
  • Divertimento for Orchestra ( commissioned for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1980)
  • Halil (Nocturne for solo flute, string orchestra and percussion)
  • Prelude, Fugue and Riffs for solo clarinet and jazz ensemble (1949)

Stage works


Chamber music

  • Piano Trio (1937)
  • Clarinet Sonata (1941/1942)
  • Brass music (1959)

Piano music

  • Sonata (1938)
  • Touches - Chorale, Eight Variations and Coda (1983)
  • several miniatures called Anniversaries

Film music

Other works

  • Mass
  • Songs: Peter Pan
  • Song in: The Madwoman of Central Park West
  • Song cycle: I Hate Music
  • Song cycle: La bonne cuisine (sung recipes)
  • Elegy for Mippy II for solo trombone
  • Songfest


  • The Joy of Music , (Eng .: joy in music )
  • Young People's Concerts . German edition: Concert for young people. The world of music in 15 chapters. Omnibus, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-570-21827-3 .
  • The Infinite Variety of Music , 1967, 5 television manuscripts, 4 symphony analyzes (German: From the infinite variety of music , 1975)
  • The Unanswered Question , 1976, 6 Harvard Lectures, (German: Music - the open question , 1982)
  • Findings , 1982, 42 shorter texts 1935–73, (German: Findings , 1990)


- chronological -

  • Joan Peyser: Leonard Bernstein: the biography of a musical genius. Heyne, Munich 1991, ISBN 3-453-04626-9 .
  • Enrico Castiglione: A life for music. Conversations with Leonard Bernstein . Henschel Verlag, Berlin 1993, ISBN 978-3-89487-182-6 .
  • Humphrey Burton: Leonard Bernstein. Knaus, Munich 1994, ISBN 3-8135-0217-1 .
  • Meryle Secrest : Leonard Bernstein. A life. Knopf, New York 1994, ISBN 0-679-40731-6 .
  • Peter Gradenwitz : Leonard Bernstein: 1918–1990; infinite variety of a musician. Atlantis, Zurich 1995, ISBN 3-254-00174-5 .
  • Thomas R. Seiler: Leonard Bernstein. The last ten years. A photographic portrait. Edition Stemmle, Zurich 2000, ISBN 978-3-908161-97-4 .
  • Barry Seldes: Leonard Bernstein. The political life of an American musician. University of California Press, Berkeley (California) 2009, ISBN 978-0-520-25764-1 .
  • Jonathan Cott: Dinner with Lenny. The Last Long Interview with Leonard Bernstein. German translation by Susanne Röckel. Title: Leonard Bernstein. Not a day without music. C. Bertelsmann, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-570-58037-0 .
  • Alexander Niemeyer: Music and memory with Ernest Bloch and Leonard Bernstein: cultural semiotics and teaching didactic studies on the memory-cultural potential of music. Dissertation at the University of Paderborn 2014, pp. 391–663, urn : nbn: de: hbz: 466: 2-17132 .
  • Sven Oliver Müller: Leonard Bernstein. The charismatic. Reclam, Ditzingen 2018, ISBN 978-3-15-011095-9 .
  • Jamie Bernstein: Famous father girl: a memoir of growing up Bernstein , New York, NY: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, [2018], ISBN 978-0-06-264135-9
  • Paul R. Laird: Leonard Bernstein , London: Reaction Books, 2018, ISBN 978-1-78023-910-1


  • Leonard Bernstein: Reflections. Documentary, USA, 1978, 52 min., Script and director: Peter Rosen, production: Peter Rosen Productions, DVD edition: 2009, German first broadcast: March 16, 2010 on 3sat, synopsis by ARD , preview, 3:08 min. Conversation with Bernstein in his apartment on Central Park , supplemented with rehearsal and concert recordings in Carnegie Hall and in Tel Aviv.
  • Leonard Bernstein Conducts West Side Story. (Alternative title: Leonard Bernstein: The Making of “West Side Story”. ) Concert rehearsal, Great Britain, Germany, 1985, TV version: 55 min., DVD: 89 min., Production: BBC , Unitel , synopsis by ARD . Online video about Leonard Bernstein's first own recording of the West Side Story with Kiri Te Kanawa as Maria, José Carreras as Tony and Tatiana Troyanos as Anita .
  • Amber story. Documentary, Germany, 2015, 45:00 min., Script and director: Georg Wübbolt, production: Bernhard Fleischer Moving Images, 3sat , ZDF , first broadcast: October 10, 2015 on 3sat, summary of 3sat and ARD , portrait for the 25th Anniversary of Leonard Bernstein's death.

Web links

Commons : Leonard Bernstein  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ On the Town (1944). In: leonardbernstein.com , accessed on August 20, 2018.
  2. ^ West Side Story (film) 1961. In: IMDb .
  3. Video: Leonard Bernstein: Wonderful Town: Overture - Conductor: Daniel Parkinson. In: YouTube .
  4. a b c d e f g h i j Thomas Scherer: Leonard Bernstein's curriculum vitae. ( Memento from January 23, 2015 in the Internet Archive ). In: Klassika.info , May 1, 2004.
  5. a b c d A Leonard Bernstein Timeline. In: leonardbernstein.com , (English).
  6. Bernstein - Chichester Psalms - Adonai ro-i Symphony Orchestra on YouTube . Recording with the National Symphony Orchestra of the Polish Radio , the Tölzer Boys Choir in the 2nd movement and Bernstein as conductor.
  7. Bernstein's "Mass" at the OsterKlang. In: ORF , April 14, 2011.
  8. ^ Anthony Tommasini: A Family's Misery, a Composer's Moment. In: The New York Times , October 28, 2010, reviewing a 2010 performance in New York City.
  9. ^ Amber - 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. - Overture on YouTube
  10. ^ Take Care of This House - Bernstein - Manchester Choral Society on YouTube
  11. Kate Taylor: A Bernstein Musical Revived - in Part By. In: The New York Sun , March 11, 2008.
  12. Leonard Bernstein's biography. In: www.universal-music.de. August 16, 2005. Retrieved August 26, 2018 .
  13. ^ Leonard Bernstein: Omnibus. The Historic TV Broadcasts on 4 DVDs. E1 Entertainment, 2010. ISBN 1-4172-3265-X .
  14. ^ Letter from Leonard Bernstein to Helen Coates, 1948. In: Library of Congress , accessed August 20, 2018.
  15. Anette Unger: What happened today - May 9, 1948: Bernstein gives his first concert in Germany. In: BR-Klassik , May 7, 2016.
  16. ^ New York Philharmonic | Search Results. Retrieved February 1, 2018 .
  17. New York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital Archives: New York Philharmonic Program (ID: 2730), 1959 Oct 01 June 1959, accessed on February 1, 2018 (English).
  18. ^ Leonard Bernstein: Hall of Fame Tribute. In: Television Academy / emmys.com , accessed August 20, 2018.
  19. Jack Gottlieb: Leonard Bernstein: August 25, 1918 - October 14, 1990: a complete catalog of his works: celebrating his 80th birthday year, 1998–99 . [3rd ed.]. Leonard Bernstein Music Pub. Co., [New York] 1998, ISBN 0-913932-82-5 , pp. 15 .
  20. ^ Humphrey Burton: Leonard Bernstein . 1st ed. Doubleday, New York 1994, ISBN 0-385-42345-4 , pp. 462 .
  21. Olympic Hymn (1981). In: leonardbernstein.com , accessed on August 20, 2018.
  22. ^ Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra. (No longer available online.) In: Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival . Archived from the original on August 28, 2018 ; accessed on August 20, 2018 . Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.shmf.de
  23. ^ The Festival in Schleswig-Holstein - Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival. Retrieved February 1, 2018 .
  24. SHMF celebrates Leonard Bernstein's 100th birthday. Retrieved August 25, 2018 .
  25. ^ AP : Upheaval in the East: Berlin; Near the Wall, Bernstein Leads to Ode to Freedom. In: The New York Times , December 26, 1989.
  26. ^ Miquel Cabruja: Beethoven, Ludwig van - Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125. Forever connected with history. In: Klassik.com , February 13, 2010.
  27. Leonard Bernstein's 'Ode to Freedom'. In: WQXR , November 9, 2009, accessed August 20, 2018.
  28. Eva Stratmann, Music is my life. And my life is music ", concert from July and August 2018
  29. ^ Humphrey Burton: Leonard Bernstein. Knaus, Munich 1994, p. 696.
  30. Photos of the Bernstein family. In: eilatgordinlevitan.com .
  31. ^ Jesse Monteagudo: Leonard Bernstein: A Divided Life. In: gaytoday.com , 1997.
  32. Bernstein biography. In: Boosey & Hawkes , (German).
  33. Helmut Schmidt : On the 70th birthday of Leonhard Bernstein on August 25, 1988. In: Guitar & Laute , Volume 10, Issue 6, 1988, p. 35 f.
  34. Members: Leonard Bernstein. American Academy of Arts and Letters, accessed February 16, 2019 .
  35. List of all decorations awarded by the Federal President for services to the Republic of Austria from 1952. (PDF; 6.9 MB)
  36. ^ Winner of the Brahms Prize. In: Brahms Society Schleswig-Holstein , accessed on August 20, 2018.
  37. Jens Minor: Leonard Bernstein: Musical video doodle for the 100th birthday of the 'West Side Story' composer . In: GoogleWatchBlog . August 25, 2018 ( googlewatchblog.de [accessed on August 25, 2018]).
  38. ^ Prelude, Fugue and Riffs (1949). In: The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc. , accessed August 20, 2018.