Famous Modern American Conductor and Composer

Business Beginnings

Leonard was born on August 25, 1918, in Lawrence, MA to the Bernsteins, one Jewish couple out of many that had made the long journey to new horizons from Mother Russia. (Leonard has a sister, Shirley in New York, and a brother, Burton in Bridgewater, Ct.) Samuel, his father, abandoned his past career as Talmudic professor, and turned to business, and that is what they expected from young Leonard. But opportunity knocked on a different door, when his Aunt Clara, forced to move because of her divorce, left her piano with the Bernstein family. His father was not impressed with Leonard's aptitude for piano, until the ten year old lad, after learning enough from lessons paid for by hard earned saved money, and teaching himself, he then earned money himself giving lessons.

Then the parents finally gained discernment and sent the boy to the Roxbury, MA Garrison and Boston Latin grammar school. He had his first piano lessons with Frieda Karp in 1928, and he graduated from Garrison the next year. In 1932 he had private lessons with New England Conservatory of Music Susan Williams, and then two years later he had them with Helen Coates, one who would later work for him. In 1934 while at summer camp while a student at Roxbury Memorial High School he sang the title role in his version of "Carmen", even donning the dress and hairpiece. He had almost an epiphany when attending a Boston Pops concert which led the inspired teenager giving his own composed shows that were performed on his father's company, advertised Boston WBZ's radio program, "Avol presents Leonard Bernstein at the Piano.

Pahk Your Cah Pianer in Hahvahd Yahd

In 1937, Leonard now settled into Harvard University, studied piano with Heinrich Gebhard, and would eventually have Edward Burlingham-Hill, Walter Piston and A. Tillman Merrit. Bernstein if he had stayed with piano, with his ability, would have made his mark in the music world, but his energy could not be so narrowly channeled. 1937 was not only the year he gave his first recital at the Scituate Yacht Club, but it was also when he met Aaron Copland (he loved Gerswhin as well), and the next year he met maestro Dimitri Mitropoulos. These mentors who saw Bernstein's aptitude for conducting, were interested in more than just Bernstein's music talent, but had more intimate goals in mind, the latter having successfully seducing the young protege, the former becoming a lifelong friend.

First Public Composition

His last year at Harvard was highlighted by Leonard's playing his piece, Music for the Dance No. 1 and 2, Music for Two Pianos; he was helped with piano accompaniment by teacher Mildred Spiegel and Brookline. The year of his graduation he debuted conducting with his own adapted score to The Birds and played while directing, the left-leaning Blitztein number, The Cradle Will Rock. He had studied elementary harmony from Edward A. Ballantine while orchestration was mastered under Edward B. Hill. Tillman Merrit shared his knowlege of harmony and counterpoint and the latter and fugue was passed on by Walter Piston.

Graduation, But Continuing Education

Leonard graduated in 1939 cum laude in musica, receiving his B.A. from Harvard, but he went south to Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music to learn piano from Isabella Vengerova, conducting from Fritz Reiner, and Randall Thompson taught him orchestration.

Television and Recording Debuts

Still fresh out of Harvard, Leonard played piano for the NBC television broadcast of the Revuers which starred Adolph Green , Betty Comden and Judy Holiday. The next year that started the forties he did it with a bang, on the piano, that is, for his first starring role as pianist for New Music Recordings, while studying at the Boston Symphony Orchestra's Tanglewood, a summer seasonal learning center. He would eventually become the instructor conductor Serge Kouseevitzky's assistant. That spring he worked in the studio with the Revuers and their The Girl With the Two Left Feet,, and he obtained his conductor's diplomas from Philly's Curtis Institute of Music after studying under pianist Isabella Vengerova, conductor Fritz Reiner, as well as Richard Stoehr, and Renee Miquell. He conducted Wagner's Prelude to Die Meistersinger in his first major professional work with the Boston Pops in an outdoor show at Esplanade. As Lenny Amber, he worked at the New York publishers, Harms, Inc., whose company signed his first contract in 1943, a year he premiered

Sick Call, Curtain Call

In 1943 Bernstein was given full time status by Arthur Rodzinski as Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic (officially Philharmonic-Symphony Society of New York), and after subbing at Carnegie Hall for an ill Bruno Walter, and attracting positive reviews of his work broadcast nationally over the air, he got offers globally for opportunities. That year he honored his Jewishness with his first grand scope work: Symphony Number One: Jeremiah, performed the following year with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. It one him the New York Critic's Award. He also recorded that fall his own work, Sonata for Clarinet and Piano and David Oppenheim and LB on Hargail. In 1944 he did music for On the Town. In 1945 he accepted the Music Director post at the New Yor City Symphony Orchestra, which he worked in for two years, and at this time he went to London (1946), and the International Music Festival in Prague. He began his lifelong ties with Israel after a guest spot in Tel Aviv in 1947. He wrote the ballets, Fancy Free in 1944 and Facsimilie in 1946 working with Choreographer Jerome Robbins.

Prolific Philharmonics in the Fifties

In 1951 he replaced the deceased Koussevitzky at the Tanglewood project, and that year in Boston he married Felicia Montealegre Cohn a performer from Chile. (Their children are Jamie, Alexander Serge, and Nina. The marriage lasted until their 'trial separation' in the mid-1970's.) And around this time he became visiting music professor and headed Brandeis University's Creative Arts Festival for several years. In the midst of all his almost super-human energy expended everywhere, he could thrill to the birth of he and his wife's first child, daughter, Jamie Anne Maria in September of 1952, and in 1955 he got a son, Alexander Serge Leonard. He was the first American to conduct an Italian opera at Milan's Teatro allo Scala, Cherubini's Medea starring Maria Callas. The plan was for Bernstein to be an interim replacing Mitropoulos until they got Guido Cantelli for the permanent position who had the nod from top gun Arturo Toscanini. Cantelli's chances died with him in the plane that wrecked in that fall of 1956.

Big in the Big Apple

In 1958 he finally made the big-time when he was Music Director of the New York Philharmonic with whom in a decade he made most of his four hundred some-odd recordings, the most 'youthful' at any time. His tremendous energy level revive morale and luster that had started to lessen. This Lifetime Laureate Conductor guest conducted all around the world --whose friendship with Aaron Copland, one of the American composers Bernstein promoted, was enhanced with his playing Piano Variations multiple times to become his unofficial theme music. Performance seasons would be built around themes like the Romantic movement, or even the Avant-garde, and they toured overseas. Like some musical Phineas Fogg, his relentlessness was evidenced by his conducting 25 concerts once in 28 days.


Bernstein came under fire eventually for his branching off into show tunes, Broadway, movie scores, but he had made friends with other artists besides those with the starched shirts. He wrote a one act opera in 1950, Trouble in Tahiti getting some thumbs up, but some down. He had written a score for the play Peter Pan in 1950, with only a few memorable songs, Wonderful Town in 1953, in 1954 the Columbia Pictures soundtrack for On the Waterfront, (So powerful a movie with Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger) and in 1955 scored music for the play starring Julie Harris, The Lark. He did Candidein 1956, which did well, and the most famous, my favorite, West Side Story in 1957. Here he worked with genius lyricist Stephen Sondheim and dance-man Robbins. This unforgettable musical blessed audiences for the first time at Winter Garden, NYC on September 26 of 1957. It made it to Manchester Opera House in England by Fall the next year. (This innovative piece was also way ahead of its time promoting diversity and forgiveness --fitting for a career Democrat, Kennedy supporter and outspoken man for several liberal causes.) At this time he was the first American born and trained to be assigned the NYP's Music Director. In 1958 he started airing Young People's Concerts (the first being "What Does Music Mean?") for CBS television all in honor of Aaron Copeland, which continued until 1972. And, in 1958 he also started an adult classical music TV show that lasted four years, "Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, premiering with Beethoven's "Ninth." His other endeavor writing other than music was published by Simon and Schuster late in 1959, The Joy of Music.

I don't want to spend my life, as Toscanini did, studying and restudying the same fifty pieces of music. It would bore me to death. I want to conduct. I want to play the piano. I want to write for Hollywood. I want to write symphonic music. I want to keep trying to be, in the full sense of that wonderful word, a musician. I also want to teach. I want to write books and poetry. And I think I can still do justice to them all.

Sadly, painfully, he had to hide his bisexuality at this time, at a time when truly tolerant mentalities were still only in their infancy.

Success in the Sixties

1960 he did Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, but a bigger highlight was playing the "Fanfare" for the John F. Kennedy inaugural, and the birth of his girl, Nina Maria Felicka late winter of 1962. This year he also did listeners a favor by cutting back the lengthy Bach "Saint Matthew Passion" and further helped American audiences by translating the German to English. By the mid-sixties Bernstein, like the Beatles and Beach Boys, whom Leonard admired and introduced, was himself a super star. He took the stuffy out of classical music, and his recordings for Columbia, which gave new impetus and thus sales to this genre. He was seen on television on Omnibus. He was the first to record all the works of Mahler, but as much as he admired the indigenous composers he only recorded Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris. In 1968 he conducted Mahler's Adagietto for a second Kennedy funeral, this time John's brother, Robert, at St. Patrick's Cathedral. At the end of 1968 he left the Philharmonic and Columbia, and worked in Europe and Israel. He became on of the few honorary members of the Vienna Philharmonic. He dedicated the NY Lincoln Center and DC's Kennedy Center.

And in the Seventies

Jaccqueline Kennedy Onassis requested Leonard Bernstein's talents in writing a Mass for the dedication of the John F. Kennedy Center which he debuted there in 1971. His piece, Mass: A Theater Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers. uses traditional liturgical formula, but then --refreshingly, excitingly-- interposes Celebrant's and audience responses comprised of debate-like commentary. The music, as well, changes from the timeless Latin, to assorted contemporary styles including blues and rock and roll. High Fidelity magazine lauded its brave experimentation that might not have worked for anyone else.

In 1975 he wrote Dybbuk for the New York City Ballet, working with Robbins, again. In 1976 he wrote with Alan Jay Lerner a much anticipated stage production 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, which though initially only had seven nights, it is shown worldwide, now. He will have conducted over a thousand concerts, and his busy hands dipping in every pot.

Wife Felicia died in 1978, and in 1987 he established a fund for Amnesty International in honor of her.

Ailing in the Eighties....and Beyond

A highlight was conducting for the National Symphony Orchestra --at the beginning of this decade-- Copeland's Lincoln Portrait with the 80 year old birthday boy narrating. In 1983 he did the sequel to Trouble in Tahiti, A Quiet Place. Though sickly and overworked, his big contribution to this decade was playing Beethoven's Ode to Joy at the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

His next to last concert was at, so nostalgically, Tanglewood, their fiftieth anniversary --doing appropriately Copeland's Symphony Number Three with the BMCO, the last was the Koussevitzky Memorial Concert for the BSO. He retired in 1990, five days before the health problems caught up to him, his heart literally giving out in a finale, and he rode off into that final sunset with the Marlboro Man, (he smoked all his life) to that Grand Symphony. He leaves two grandchildren, Francisca and Evan, as well as the aforementioned children.

In 1995 he was inducted into the NYU Musical Theater Hall of Fame, and he has places named for him in New York, Paris, Tel Aviv and Boston.

In Respectful Retrospect

There is almost not enough room on here to put all the unique work this man has done, let alone find adequate words for the descriptions of his talent, his energy and his contributions coming from his life's work dedicated to the Muses.

(On Sony)


Bach: Keyboard Concertos Nos. 1, 4 & 5 (Glenn Gould Anniversary Edition)
American Journey


Leonard Bernstein
Classical Hits
Bernstein: West Side Story Suite


Summon the Heroes
Super Hits: Domingo
Super Hits: Aaron Copland
American Masters, Volume 2: Piston, Blitzstein, Hill
Brahms: Symphony No.4, Academic Festival Overture, Tragic Overture
Mahler: Four Songs from Ruckert-Lieder, Lieder und Gesange, Songs of a Wayfarer
Sibelius: Symphony No.2, Luonnotar, Pohjola's Daughter
The Domingo Songbook
Bernstein: Candide Overture; West Side Story Dances; On the Waterfront Suite; Fancy Free
Super Hits: Broadway, Volume 1
Super Hits: Beethoven
Super Hits: Bernstein
Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris; Grofe: Grand Canyon Suite
Mozart's Last Year
As You Like It
The Best of Broadway, Volume 1
The Best of Broadway, Volume 2
Music of Our Time
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto, Symphony No.4 "Italian", War March of the Priests, Hebrides Overture
Schubert: Symphonies No.8 "Unfinished" and No.9 "The Great"
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.4, Capriccio Italien


My First 79 Years
Mahler: Symphony No.8 "Symphony of a Thousand",
Beethoven: Symphonies Nos.2 and 7
Dvorák: Slavonic Dances Nos.1 and 3
Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos.5 and 9
Mahler: Symphony No.1 "Titan"
The Essential Bernstein
Dvorák: Symphony No.9 "From the New World"
Bizet: Symphony No.1
Mahler: Symphony No.3, Four Ruckert Songs, Kindertotenlieder
Brahms: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No.1, Dvorák: Piano Concerto
Russian Music and Revolution
Songs and Dances
Preludes, Fugues and Riffs
Franz Joseph Haydn
Mozart: Overture to the Marriage of Figaro, Symphonies Nos.39 and 41
Brahms: Symphony No.1, Serenade No.2
Handel: Ode for St. Cecilia's Day
Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique (1963 version) plus discussion
Mahler: Symphony No.4 in G major
Bernstein: Trouble in Tahiti (An Opera in Seven Scenes),
Facsimile for Orchestra
Beethoven: Symphony No.1, Symphony No.7
Debussy: La Mer, Afternoon of a Faun, Two Nocturnes, Jeux
Bach: St. Matthew Passion, plus discussion
Berlioz: Harold in Italy, Op.16
Beethoven: Violin Concerto; Bernstein: Serenade
The Great War
Great Film Music


Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker Suite
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade; Capriccio Espagnole
Mozart: Piano Concerto in B-flat major, K.450; Piano Concerto in G major, K.453
Mahler: Symphony No.1 in D major; "Adagio" from Symphony No.10
Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta
Modern Masters: Hill; Lopatnikoff; Dallapiccola; Shapero Classic Wynton
I'll Be Home for Christmas
Mahler: Symphony No.9
Grieg: Peer Gynt Suites, Sibelius: Orchestral Works
Dvorak: Symphony No.9 "From the New World"
Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D
Bernstein Plays and Conducts Mozart
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition and other works
Latin American Fiesta
Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring; The Firebird Suite
Bernstein: Prelude, Fugue and Riffs
French Masterpieces: Dukas - Honegger - Debussy - Milhaud - Ravel
Brahms: Piano Concerto No.1
West Side Story
On The Town
Debussy: The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian
Dvorák: Symphony No.7; Smetana: Music from "The Bartered Bride"; The Moldau
Bernstein: Kaddish; Chichester Psalms
Mahler: Symphony No.7
Ravel: Boléro; Alborada del gracioso; La Valse; Daphnis et Chlo éSuite
Bernstein on Jazz
American Masters
Beethoven: Symphonies Nos.6 & 8; King Stephen Overture
Bernstein: The Age of Anxiety; Foss: Serenade
Copland: The Second Hurricane; In the Beginning
He Got Game
Bach, Vivaldi: Concertos
Children's Classics
Ives: The Unanswered Question, more; Carter: Concerto for Orchestra
Handel: Messiah
Copland: Music for the Theater; Piano Concerto; more
Mahler: Symphony No.6 "Tragic"
Beethoven: Symphony No.9; Fidelio Overture
Respighi: Pini di Roma; Feste Romane
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons; Concertos
Ives: Symphonies Nos.2 & 3 "The Camp Meeting"
Bach: Easter Oratorio
Famous Rhapsodies: Liszt, Enescu, Chabrier, more


Beethoven: Symphony No.9; choral works
Mahler: Symphony No.5
Bernstein: Candide Overture; West Side Story Dances; On the Waterfront Suite; Fancy Free
Great Marches
Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris; Grofe: Grand Canyon Suite
Copland: Symphony No. 3, Symphony for Organ and Orchestra
Mahler: Symphony No.2 "Resurrection"
Beethoven: Symphonies Nos.4 & 5; Egmont Overture
Holst: The Planets
Bernstein: Dybbuk
Barber: Adagio for Strings, Violin Concerto; Schuman: In
Praise of Shahn, more
Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos.3 & 5 "Emperor"
Bizet: Carmen & L'Arlsienne Suites
Bernstein: Mass
Schumann: Symphonies Nos.3, 5 & 8
Copland: Appalachian Spring and Other Works
Foss: Time Cycle; Phorion; Song of Songs
The Joy of Christmas
Nocturne II
Bernstein: Candide; Barber: Adagio; other American masterpieces
Jan Sibleius|Sibelius]: Symphonies Nos.1 & 5; Romance for Strings
The Domingo Collection
Rachmaninoff Goes to the Movies
Tenors on Tour
Milhaud: Les Choéphores; Roussel: Symphony No.3; Honegger: Rugby, Pacific 231


Lease Breakers
Greatest Hits: Broadway
Rossini Overtures
Holst: The Planets; Walton: Facade
Greatest Hits: Cartoons


Greatest Hits: Saint-Sains
Greatest Hits: Prokofiev
Greatest Hits: Rimsky-Korsakov
Bernstein: Serenade; Dutilleux: Violin Concerto
Prokofiev: Violin Concertos; Bartok: Rhapsodies
Bartõk: Violin Concertos
Berg: Violin Concerto; Chamber Concerto
Barber, Maxwell Davies: Violin Concertos
Hindemith, Penderecki: Violin Concertos
Greatest Hits: Bizet
Greatest Hits: Mendelssohn
Greatest Hits: Liszt
Greatest Hits: Rossini
Bach: Violin Concertos; Double Concerto; more


Greatest Hits: Beethoven
Greatest Hits: Violin Greatest Hits: Movies
Greatest Hits: Trumpet
Greatest Hits: Opera
Greatest Hits: Gershwin
Greatest Hits: J. Strauss
Greatest Hits: Grieg
Greatest Hits: Schubert
Greatest Hits: Verdi
Greatest Hits: Bernstein
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concertos Nos.2 & 3


On the Twentieth Century: Hindemith, Poulenc, Bernstein, Ravel
Made in America
Wagner: Opera Selections; Wesendonck Lieder Encore!
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto; Serenade For Strings
Verdi: Requiem
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.4; Francesca da Rimini
Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos.1 "Winter Daydreams" & 2 "Little Russian"
There's No Business Like Show Business
The Party's Over
There Is Nothing Like A Dame-- Broadway's Broads
Embraceable You "Broadway In Love"
Nielsen: Symphonies Nos.2 & 4 "The Inextinguishable"
Nielsen: Symphonies Nos.3 "Sinfonia espansiva" & 5
Schumann: Symphonies Nos.1 & 2
Schumann: Symphonies Nos.3 & 4; Manfred Overture
Rossini, : Suppe Overtures
Ballet Music from Famous Operas
Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde


Concert for Planet Earth
West Side Story - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
The Stephen Sondheim Songbook
Ives: Symphonies Nos.2 & 3; Central Park in the Dark
Hindemith: Symphony in E-flat Major; Symphonic Metamorphoses; more
Sibelius: Finlandia; Valse triste; Swan of Tuonela; more
Haydn: Six Paris Symphonies Nos.82-87
Beethoven: The Five Piano Concertos
Bach: Piano Concertos
Bruckner: Symphony No.9
Bizet: Symphony No.1; Offenbach: Orpheus in the Underworld, more
Berlioz: Requiem; La Mort de Cleopatre; Romeo and Juliet (Excerpts)
Brahms: Piano Concerto No.2; Haydn Variations
Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Greatest Hits
The Green Album


Wonderful Town
Candide- A Comic Operetta Based On Voltaire's Satire
The Copland Collection: The Red Pony and other Orchestral Works (1948-1971)
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.5; Serenade for Strings
The Copland Collection: Early Orchestral Works (1923-1929)
Favorite Arias by the World's Favorite Tenors
Bernstein Favorites: Twentieth Century
Bernstein Favorites: Children's Classics
Concert of the Century: Celebrating the 85th Anniversary of Carnegie Hall
Tenors Anyone?
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990): A Tribute


Music of the Night: Pops on Broadway 1990

Carmen Without Words
Breakfast in Bed
Mozart Goes to a Party


Shostakovich: Symphony No.5; Cello Concerto Love At The Movies


Bach: Piano Concertos Nos.1, 4 & 5
Handel: Messiah (Highlights)
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.3; Choral Fantasy
The Bernstein Songbook
Grofá: Grand Canyon Suite; Mississippi Suite
Prokofiev: Violin Concertos Nos.1 & 2
A Love until the End of Time
Copland: Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo; Billy the Kid Suite
Copland: Appalachian Spring Suite; Fanfare for the Common Man; (more)
Beethoven: Concerto No.5 "Emperor"


Classic Gershwin
Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue; An American in Paris
Beethoven: Violin Concerto
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition; Night on Bald Mountain
Favorite Overtures
Barber's Adagio and other Romantic Favorites for Strings
Bach: Concertos for 1 & 2 Violins
Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos.1 & 3
Bernstein: West Side Story Dances; Candide Overture; more
Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris; Grofá: Grand Canyon Suite Berg: Chamber Concerto; Violin Concerto


Benny Goodman Collector's Edition: Composers & Collaborators
Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf; Saint-Saens: Carnival of the Animals


Save Your Nights for Me
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No.2; Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture; Marche slave; Romeo and Juliet

All Music Guide
Yahoo: Eulogy by Donal Henahan
Daedalus Music Catalog

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