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The Leonard Bernstein Letters

The Leonard Bernstein Letters

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    The Leonard Bernstein Letters
    Book Description:

    Leonard Bernstein was a charismatic and versatile musician-a brilliant conductor who attained international super-star status, and a gifted composer of Broadway musicals (West Side Story), symphonies (Age of Anxiety), choral works (Chichester Psalms), film scores (On the Waterfront), and much more. Bernstein was also an enthusiastic letter writer, and this book is the first to present a wide-ranging selection of his correspondence. The letters have been selected for the insights they offer into the passions of his life-musical and personal-and the extravagant scope of his musical and extra-musical activities.

    Bernstein's letters tell much about this complex man, his collaborators, his mentors, and others close to him. His galaxy of correspondents encompassed, among others, Aaron Copland,Stephen Sondheim, Jerome Robbins, Thornton Wilder, Boris Pasternak, Bette Davis, Adolph Green, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and family members including his wife Felicia and his sister Shirley. The majority of these letters have never been published before. They have been carefully chosen to demonstrate the breadth of Bernstein's musical interests, his constant struggle to find the time to compose, his turbulent and complex sexuality, his political activities, and his endless capacity for hard work. Beyond all this, these writings provide a glimpse of the man behind the legends: his humanity, warmth, volatility, intellectual brilliance, wonderful eye for descriptive detail, and humor.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18654-3
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  5. Introduction and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    Nigel Simeone

    In early 2010, just after finishing a book aboutWest Side Story, I was in the Performing Arts Reading Room at the Library of Congress, talking to Mark Horowitz about possible future projects. Mark’s position as a Senior Music Specialist in the Music Division includes responsibility for the Leonard Bernstein Collection – so he knows this enormous archive better than anyone. In the course of one of our frequent chats, Mark made an apparently straightforward suggestion: “Why don’t you do a book of the correspondence?” Those words lodged in my mind and the idea quickly began to take root.


  6. 1 Early Years, 1932–41 (Letters 1–89)
    (pp. 1-74)

    Leonard Bernstein was born on 25 August 1918, the first child of Jennie and Samuel Bernstein, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 25 miles north of Boston. He attended the William Lloyd Garrison Elementary School in Roxbury, 35 miles from Lawrence, then, from 1929 to 1935, the prestigious Boston Latin School – founded in 1635. The oldest public school in the United States, its distinguished alumni included five Founding Fathers of the United States (among them Benjamin Franklin), the author Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the Puritan preacher Cotton Mather. The most famous musician to attend Boston Latin School before Bernstein was Arthur Fiedler...

  7. 2 First Successes: From Tanglewood to On the Town, 1941–4 (Letters 90–185)
    (pp. 75-167)

    After receiving his diploma in conducting from the Curtis Institute in May 1941, Bernstein went to Harvard to conduct his incidental music forThe Peacebefore spending the summer at Tanglewood, where his conducting was widely admired, especially a performance of William Schuman’sAmerican Festival Overture. Bernstein then fled to Key West at the southern tip of Florida, to escape a complicated romantic entanglement (with Kiki Speyer) and to compose. It was a productive stay: he started the Clarinet Sonata and an unfinished ballet calledConch Townthat was to provide a rich harvest of musical ideas for subsequent works,...

  8. 3 Conquering Europe and Israel, 1945–9 (Letters 186–294)
    (pp. 168-265)

    The post-war years saw Bernstein’s conducting career flourish, not only in the United States but also as the first American-born conductor to develop an extremely successful career in Europe. His letters home from London, Prague, Paris, and elsewhere are fascinating evocations of great cities recovering from war. These were also the years during which Bernstein composed some of his most serious orchestral scores:Facsimile– a ballet with Jerome Robbins – andThe Age of AnxietySymphony, composed for Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony. Despite the encouragement of George Abbott and Betty Comden, Bernstein did not immediately follow up...

  9. 4 Marriage, Passport Problems, and Italy, 1950–55 (Letters 295–358)
    (pp. 266-340)

    By 1950, Bernstein had decided that he needed Felicia in his life – though he seemed unable to tell her directly: two letters sent from Israel to his sister Shirley suggest that he wanted her to be a kind of intermediary – wooing her back by proxy. Strange as this may seem, it worked, and they were married (after the shortest of second engagements) in September 1951. Extended trips abroad meant that it wasn’t only his personal life that was being run by remote control. The production ofPeter Pan, for which Bernstein wrote delightful incidental music, was in rehearsal...

  10. 5 West Side Story, 1955–7 (Letters 359–409)
    (pp. 341-390)

    It was in the summer and autumn of 1955 thatWest Side Storystarted to take shape as a viable project. Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurents, and Bernstein had quietly set the idea to one side since first discussing it in 1949, but quite suddenly it was on again, thanks to the impetus of reports in the news about gang warfare. The story told in Bernstein’s 1957West Side Logis that the moment of discovery happened in Hollywood when he had a meeting with Laurents in August 1955, but a letter written to him a month earlier by Laurents suggests...

  11. 6 The New York Philharmonic Years, 1958–69 (Letters 410–544)
    (pp. 391-501)

    In 1940, Aaron Copland had joked with Bernstein about the time “forty years from now when you are conductor of the Philharmonic.” In fact it was just eighteen years later that Bernstein became Music Director of the orchestra, and over the next decade he was to take it on tour all over the world, to make hundreds of recordings, and to give a staggering number of concerts: in 1971 he conducted his 1,000th concert with the Philharmonic, and plenty more followed (his last concerts with the orchestra were in October 1988). In 1958, the press, particularly theNew York Times,...

  12. 7 Triumphs, Controversies, Catastrophe, 1970–78 (Letters 545–591)
    (pp. 502-533)

    Bernstein relinquished his post as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic in 1969, but he remained firmly in the public gaze. Two events stirred up controversy – both of them for questionable reasons. When Felicia hosted a reception (at the behest of the American Civil Liberties Union) to raise funds for the legal costs of thirteen members of the Black Panthers, this was seized upon gleefully by the press and widely misreported. Declassified files reveal that it gave the FBI yet another excuse to take an interest in Bernstein’s allegedly suspicious activities. “Radical chic,” the phrase coined by Tom...

  13. 8 Final Years, 1979–90 (Letters 592–650)
    (pp. 534-572)

    There was no lack of glory in the last decade of Bernstein’s life – nor any shortage of love – but Felicia’s furious prediction doesn’t feel too wide of the mark either. In terms of composition, the last ten years are difficult to assess: there are some fine pieces, of whichHalilfor flute and orchestra is certainly among the best. Typically for Bernstein the inveterate self-borrower, the fast section ofHalil(starting at p. 15 of the published full score) was derived from an occasional piece: the music he wrote in October 1979 for the 50th Anniversary of CBS...

  14. Appendix One: Arthur Laurents (with Leonard Bernstein): Outline for Romeo sent to Jerome Robbins
    (pp. 573-578)
  15. Appendix Two: Bernstein’s Letters and Postcards to Mildred Spiegel
    (pp. 579-583)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 584-586)
  17. Index of Compositions by Leonard Bernstein
    (pp. 587-592)
  18. General Index
    (pp. 593-606)