Leonard Bernstein born today 100 years ago
Today marks the centenary year of Leonard Bernstein’s birth as he was born on 25th August 1918. Bernstein was born in Massachusetts and became interested in and inspired by the piano from an early age, moving on to study music at Harvard University, where music very quickly became the centre of Bernstein’s life. He was one of the first American born conductors to achieve worldwide recognition and those who heard Bernstein playing were so impressed by his talent and musical capabilities.
Lenny, as he affectionately became known, was remarkably talented; not only was he a great composer, but he was also a conductor, author, teacher and pianist. He was renowned for his success conducting the New York Philharmonic in 1943 where he received many accolades. Very quickly, he became highly respected and was the chief conductor for the philharmonic for many years. He was also very interested in the composer, Gustav Mahler and he brought about a modern revival of his music, conducting all of Mahler’s symphonies.
As a composer, Bernstein’s proficiency in different genres allowed him to encompass various styles, including symphonic and orchestral music, ballet, film and theatre music, choral works, opera, chamber music and pieces for the piano. His diverse style drew upon jazz and modernism, the traditions of Jewish music and the Broadway musical.
He was popular for his classical compositions including ‘Jerimiah Symphony’, ‘The Age of Anxiety’ and ‘Chichester Psalms’. His tremendously well-liked music from ‘West Side Story’ was one of his greatest achievements, as well as his broadways musicals, ‘Candide’, ‘On the Town’ and ‘Wonderful Town’.
Bernstein was also a superb teacher, famous for his series of “Young People’s Concerts”. These were regular weekly concerts in New York, where he would analyse and talk about different musical compositions to children and adolescents. Bernstein had an engaging manner with the ability to make music accessible to young people.
Bernstein died on 14 October 1990 from a heart attack, five days after he retired from his conducting career. Leonard Bernstein was musically gifted in so many different ways and of all his achievements, he is perhaps most remembered most for composing the brilliant ‘West Side Story’, in collaboration with Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents.