Leonard Bernstein

Katherine Baber

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online June 2011 | | DOI:
Leonard Bernstein

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Leonard Bernstein (b. 1918–d. 1990) was a Renaissance man of the 20th century: composer, conductor, educator, performer, and public personality in nearly equal parts, none of which he was willing to give up for the others. In 1943 he made his conducting debut with the New York Philharmonic; he was the first American-born conductor to be appointed its musical director (1958–1976). He also served as a frequent guest conductor for several European orchestras and maintained a close relationship with the Vienna Philharmonic and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. As a composer, Bernstein worked in a wide range of genres, including orchestral and vocal works (or, more frequently, combinations of the two), ballet, opera, musical theater, and chamber works. Following his Symphony no. 1: Jeremiah (1942), he turned to collaborative works with the ballet Fancy Free (1944) and the musical comedy On the Town (1944). This unfettered attitude toward genre continued throughout his career, resulting in a number of hybrid works, such as the Symphony no. 2: The Age of Anxiety (both piano concerto and symphony), the Symphony no. 3: Kaddish (a blend of symphony and oratorio), Candide (not fully an opera, operetta, or musical), and the “theater piece” Mass. In addition to blurring boundaries, Bernstein’s compositional style featured an ecumenical approach to classical and vernacular styles, often identified as eclecticism. Not only did he challenge the distinction between “high” and “low” musical styles, but he often did so within the confines of a single composition. As a music educator, Bernstein also reached across the gap between the regular audience at the symphony or opera and the general public, as well as across generations with his televised Young People’s Concerts and Omnibus programs. Bernstein remained a skilled pianist, frequently performing the piano parts for his own works and for George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. He was also an advocate for Israel and its musical culture, maintained an internationalist perspective despite his interest in American musical identity, and was a passionate activist for a variety of progressive causes, including civil rights and funding for the arts and AIDS research. Bernstein could not be confined to any one genre, style, or profession, and the single quality that distinguishes his musical life as a whole is the crossing, blurring, or disintegration of boundaries.

Article.  13061 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

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