Bernstein Leonard: biography, personal life, family, music

Leonard Bernstein is an American conductor, composer and pianist, known for his works in the classical and popular style, expressive behavior on the stage and pedagogical gift, which appeared in the series of "Youth Concerts". He was the first conductor born in the USA to be recognized worldwide. He ran the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and wrote many compositions, including the opera Candide (1956), West Side Story musicals (1952) and The Dismissal to the City (1944), as well as film music.

Leonard Bernstein was one of the first musicians who understood the role of television in the musical enlightenment of the masses and did so with almost evangelical zeal. Teaching and teaching young conductors at Tanglewood Music Center remained his passion until his death in 1990.

Commenting on his Harvard lectures in 1973, musical poetics and tonality, he said that no matter how consistent or stochastic, or otherwise otherwise intellectualized music, it can always be qualified as poetry, because it is rooted in the ground , and that the expressive differences between new idioms ultimately depend on the dignity and passion of an individual creative voice.

short biography

Leonard Bernstein was born on 08/08/1918 in Lawrence (Massachusetts, USA), in a family of Jews who emigrated from Rovno (Ukraine). At the insistence of his grandmother, he was named Louis, but his parents liked the name Leonard more. At 15, he took it as an official. His father, Sam Bernstein, was a businessman and initially opposed the boy's passion for music. Despite this, parents often took him to concerts.

Leonard Bernstein in childhood

Leonard heard playing the piano at a very early age and immediately became interested in this instrument. He began to learn to play when Aunt Clara gave her piano to his family, moving after a divorce. Leonard attended the Harrison and Boston schools. When his father heard about piano lessons, he refused to pay for them, and Bernstein tutoring to continue his studies.


After graduating from the Boston School in 1935, Bernstein entered Harvard, where he studied music with Walter Piston and participated in the choir. After graduation, he entered the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he received the only highest mark from Fritz Reiner, who taught conducting. He also studied piano at Isabella Vengerova and Heinrich Gebhard.

Carier start

Bernstein was highly regarded as a conductor. He gave many concerts in which the world's leading orchestras participated, composed 3 symphonies, 2 operas, 5 musicals, and many other works. Most of all, however, he is known as the author of West Side Story music. Leonard Bernstein was also the pianist, teacher and music director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

In 1940, he studied at the summer Telwood Music Center with the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Sergey Kusevitsky, and after graduation he became his assistant. Later, he dedicated his 2nd symphony “Age of anxiety” to him.

Unexpected success

In November 1943, Bernstein, the newly appointed assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Bruno Walter, unexpectedly debuted on the big stage because of his illness.He achieved immediate success and immediately became famous, largely due to the fact that the concert was broadcast on national radio. The soloist on that historic day was Joseph Schuster, the cellist of the New York Philharmonic, who performed "Don Quixote" by Richard Strauss.

Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland

The success was all the more surprising since Leonard Bernstein had never conducted this musical work before — Bruno Walter managed to show him only a small fragment before the concert. This remarkable performance can be heard today thanks to the recording of the CBS radio program, which was released on CD.

International recognition

After the war, Bernstein conducted the New York Symphony Orchestra (along with Leopold Stokowski), and from that moment his career began to develop in the international arena. In 1949, he conducted Olivier Messiaen during the world premiere of the “Turangalila Symphony”.

When Sergey Kusevitsky died in 1951, Bernstein became the head of the orchestral and conductor departments of the Tanglewood Music Center, where he taught until his death in 1990.

In 1951, he conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra during the world premiere of Charles Ives’s 2nd symphony.The composer, too old and feeble to attend the concert, listened to his broadcast on the radio. He was struck by the enthusiastic reception of the symphony, written between 1897 and 1901. and never performed before. Throughout his career, Bernstein did much to popularize the music of this unique American composer.

Youth programs

Leonard Bernstein was appointed music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1957 and held this position until 1969. He gained fame in the United States thanks to a cycle of 50 teleconcerts for young people organized by the CBS channel that were broadcast in early 1950 -h

The premiere took place just a few weeks after he became the chief conductor of the New York Philharmonic. He became a celebrity not only because of his talent, but also because of the educational work that he conducted at these concerts. Some of these musical lectures were released in audio recordings, and some of them received Grammy awards. Until now, the cycle of concerts for young people remains the longest-running program on classical music ever seen on commercial television.The broadcasts were from 1958 to 1972 and are currently available in DVD format.

Bernstein at rehearsal at Tanglewood

Foreign trips

In 1947, Bernstein visited Tel Aviv for the first time and since then has been in touch with the people of Israel all his life. In 1957 he held an inaugural concert there and subsequently recorded a lot. In 1967, Bernstein stepped on Mount Scopus to commemorate the reunification of Jerusalem.

In 1959, he traveled with the orchestra of the New York Philharmonic on a tour of Europe and the Soviet Union. Part of the concerts was recorded by CBS. The main event of the tour was the performance by Bernstein of Shostakovich’s 5th symphony in the presence of the composer, who stepped on the stage to congratulate the conductor and musicians. Upon returning to the United States, this symphony was recorded by Columbia Records at the Boston Symphony Hall.

In 1960, the conductor began to make the first complete recordings of all nine completed symphonies of Gustav Mahler, with the support of the composer Alma’s widow. The success of these recordings, along with the concerts of Leonard Bernstein, greatly revived interest in Maler, who led the New York Philharmonic from 1904 to 1907.

Work in Vienna

In 1966, Bernstein made his debut in the Vienna Opera, where he conducted Verdi's Falstaff (staged by Lucino Visconti with Dietrich Fischer-Deschau as Falstaff).

In 1970he returned to take part in Beethoven’s Otto Schenk’s production of Fidelio. In 1986, Bernstein conducted the opera “Silent Place” of his own composition here. Bernstein’s final farewell to the State Opera happened by chance in 1989. After the performance of Khovanshchina by Modest Mussorgsky, he unexpectedly went on stage and hugged conductor Claudio Abbado in front of a stunned, but applauding audience.

Bernstein at work

Beginning in 1970, Bernstein ran the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, with which he re-recorded many of the works he had previously performed at the New York Philharmonic, including the complete symphonies of Beethoven, Mahler, Brahms and Schumann.

Also in 1970, he wrote and voiced the offscreen text of a 90-minute program filmed in Vienna, which featured the Vienna Philharmonic and such artists as Placido Domingo (this was his first television appearance as one of the soloists in Beethoven’s 9th symphony ). The program premiered in 1970 on Austrian and British television, and then it was broadcast on CBS on Christmas Eve 1971.

It was dedicated to the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Beethoven. The show widely used rehearsals and the performance of "Fidelio" by Otto Schenk.Initially, the program was called "Beethoven's Birthday: A Celebration in Vienna." She won an Emmy, but was broadcast only once on American television. The recording was kept on the CBS channel until it appeared shortly after the death of Bernstein under the new name Bernstein on Beethoven: The Celebration in Vienna. The record was immediately released on videotape, and in 2005 - on DVD.

Lectures at Harvard

In 1973, Bernstein was invited to take the place of Charles Eliot Norton in his alma mater - Harvard University. Here he read 6 lectures on music. Leonard Bernstein, borrowing the title from the work of Charles Quince, called the cycle "Unanswered Question." To analyze and compare musical constructions with language, he used the terminology from modern linguistics (first of all, Noam Chomsky). Lectures are preserved in book form and on DVD.

Leonard Bernstein

Further conductor's work

In 1978, the production of Otto Schenk "Fidelio", which was conducted by Bernstein (but with a different cast), was filmed by Unitel. Like the Beethoven show, it was shown on A & E after his death, and then released on videotape.

In 1979, Bernstein conducted the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for two charity concerts for the first and only time.Symphony No. 9 Mahler was broadcast on radio, after which it was released on CD. In 1980, Leonard Bernstein received the Kennedy Center Award.

In the 1980s, he was a conductor and commentator on a series of programs on the PBS channel about Beethoven's music, in which the Vienna Philharmonic played all 9 of his symphonies, several of his overtures and the Solemn Mass. The program also involved the actor Maximilian Schell, who reads the letters of Beethoven.

last years of life

On Christmas Day 1989, Bernstein conducted Beethoven’s 9th symphony in East Berlin to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall. The concert was broadcast live in 20 countries for 100 million people.

Leonard Bernstein died 5 days after the announcement of his retirement. His last performance took place in Tanglewood on August 19, 1990, when the Boston Symphony performed 4 interludes by Benjamin Britten and Beethoven's 7th symphony.

Bernstein is buried in New York's Green-Wood cemetery next to his wife.

Tomb of Leonard Bernstein

Political activism

Bernstein has been involved in left-wing movements since the 1940s. In the early 1950s, he was blacklisted by the State Department and the CBS channel, but this did not affect his career.

The active spiritual life of Leonard Bernstein included participation in the cultural revolution of the late 1960s. He angered many when he claimed that all music, except for popular, was old-fashioned. His political activities were also criticized. When in 1970 his wife raised money for the extremist African-American group Black Panthers, Bernstein was accused of anti-Semitism. Publications in the press have seriously damaged his reputation. He also opposed the Vietnam War. Ultimately, the FBI began to monitor its activities.

Authority among musicians

Bernstein as a conductor was highly appreciated by many musicians, including members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (he was his honorary member), the London Symphony (he was selected as a laureate conductor) and the Israel Philharmonic (where he was a permanent guest conductor). He achieved special perfection in the works of Mahler, Copland, Brahms, Shostakovich, Gershwin (“Rhapsody in Blue” and “American in Paris”) and, of course, his own.


From the 1950s to the 1980s, Bernstein collaborated extensively with recording studios.In addition to several early recordings for RCA Victor, he mainly worked with “Colombia”, especially during the period when he was the music director of the New York Philharmonic. Many of these speeches were digitally released and republished by Sony as part of the Bernstein Century series. When Columbia lost interest in recording American classical music, the conductor signed an exclusive contract with German studio Deutsche Grammophon, which lasted until his death.

Leonard Bernstein with his wife Felicia

Personal life

Leonard Bernstein married actress from Chile Felicia Montealegre in September 1951. This was done to dispel rumors and increase the chances of being approved for a significant conductor's position, since the leadership of the orchestra was conservative. In a letter to her husband, Felicia called him an incorrigible homosexual. This was also confirmed by friends and girlfriends of a famous conductor and composer.

But the main period of turmoil in the biography of Leonard Bernstein began in 1976, when he decided that he could no longer hide his orientation. He left his wife for the musical editor of the classical music radio station in San Francisco Tom Kotren.The following year, Felicia was diagnosed with lung cancer, and her husband returned to her until she died on 06/16/1978. He often spoke about his fault.

Most of the biographies of Leonard Bernstein say that after that his lifestyle became less moderate and his personal behavior became more rude. However, his social position and many of his close friends remained the same, and he resumed his busy schedule.

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