updated 22 January 2015
© Courtesy of The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc.

Leonard Bernstein

American conductor and composer born 25 August 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts; died 14 October 1990 in New York City.

Leonard Bernstein was born in 1918 in Lawrence, Massachussetts to a family of Ukranian-Jewish immigrants. His father, Samuel, ran a hair salon in Boston, which by the end of the 1920s was prosperous enough to provide a comfortable living for the family. At the age of 8, young Leonard began studying Hebrew intensively after school. He began private piano lessons the following year, and two years later entered the New England Conservatory. In 1932, he began taking additional lessons to perfect his technique with Helen Coates, who would later become his personal secretary. Upon completing high school at Boston Public Latin School (1929-1935), he enrolled at Harvard College (1935-1939), where he studied with Walter Piston, Edward Burlingame Hill, and Arthur Tillman Merritt. In 1939, he entered the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied piano with Isabella Vengerova, conducting with Fritz Reiner, and orchestration with Randall Thomson. He considered a career as a concert pianist, but had a strong interest in conducting and composition, as well. While still at Harvard, he wrote and conducted the music for a production of Aristophane’s The Birds and mounted a production of Marc Blitztein’s The Cradle Will Rock, which he conducted from the piano.

In 1940, Bernstein attended the Tanglewood Music Center (then the Berkshire Music Center), the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home, where he studied conducting with Serge Koussevitski, for whom he would work as an assistant in the ensuing years. Bernstein then moved to Manhattan, where he earned a living playing piano as an accompanist to dancers and singers; he also transcribed jazz improvisations and composed songs. In 1943, he completed work on Symphony n°1, Jeremiah, which received the New York Music Critics’ Circle Award for best American composition. He was hired as chief assistant conductor to Arthur Rodzinski at the New York Philharmonic, for whom he gave his first performance on 14 November 1943, stepping in for guest conductor Bruno Walter. The year 1944 saw his first wide successes, with his ballet Fancy Free, which premiered at the New York Metropolitan Opera and his musical On the Town, which was performed on Broadway.

From 1945 to 1947, Bernstein served as the musical director of the New York City Symphony Orchestra. He began making a broader name for himself in the United States and abroad in 1946, when he first toured Europe, conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra at the Prague International Music Festival. In 1947, he gave a series of concerts in Tel Aviv, marking the beginning of a long musical collaboration with Israeli artists. In 1949, he completed his Symphony n°2, The Age of Anxiety, for piano and orchestra. At the death of Serge Koussevitski in 1951, Bernstein took over as head of the orchestra and conducting departments at Tanglewood, where he would teach for many years. In the early 1950s, Bernstein was also a visiting professor of music and director of the Creative Arts Festival of Brandeis University. In 1951, he married the Chilean actress Felicia Montealegre, with whom he subsequently had three children, despite his homosexuality, which he did less and less to hide beginning in the 1970s. In 1951 he composed his first opera, Trouble in Tahiti (broadcast by NBC television in 1952), to which he added a suite, A Quiet Place, in 1983. In 1953, he became the first American conductor to conduct at La Scala in Milan (Cherubini’s Médea, with Maria Callas). The following year, Bernstein presented his first musical lecture series for television on the show Omnibus. From 1958 to 1973, with the New York Philharmonic, he conducted the “Young People’s Concerts” series, which was broadcast by CBS starting in 1962. He composed the first version of his operetta of Voltaire’s Candide in 1956. In 1957, he composed West Side Story, a musical based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which was a huge public success, first on broadway and then in a film adaptation by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise in 1961. In 1958, he became the first American conductor to be named music director of the New York Philharmonic, a position he held until 1969. When he stepped down from the post, the orchestra appointed him as a “Laureate Conductor” - an honor that had never been given before. Bernstein left his position with the New York Philharmonic for an international career as a guest conductor, collaborating with many prestigious ensembles including the Vienna Philharmonic, the Israel Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Orchestre National de France. He also frequently performed concertos as a pianist. In 1959, Bernstein published The Joy of Music, followed by The Infinite Variety of Music in 1966, and Findings in 1982. In 1972-1973, he delivered the Harvard University Norton Lectures, which were published and broadcast on television with the title “The Unanswered Question.”

Bernstein also continued his prolific composing career. In 1963, he composed Symphonie n°3, Kaddish in memory of President John F. Kennedy. Two years later, in 1965, he completed Chichester Psalms. For the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, Bernstein composed Mass, a theater piece for singers, actors, and dancers, which premiered in 1971. The work, which was considered blasphemous at that time, was performed at the Vatican in 2000 at the request of Pope John-Paul II. In the following years he composed, among other pieces, Songfest, a cycle of songs for six vocalists and orchestra (1977), Divertimento for orchestra (1980), Halil, for solo flute and small orchestra (1981), Missa Brevis, for vocalists and percussion (1988), Thirteen Anniversaries for solo piano (1988), and Concerto for orchestra “Jubilee Games” (1986-1989).

Bernstein participated in the Berlin Celebration Concert in December 1989 to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall, conducting Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (“Ode to Joy”) with an orchestra composed of musicians from the four occupied zones. He modified Schiller’s poem for the occasion, replacing the word “Freude” (joy) with the word “Freiheit” (freedom). Bernstein’s health was declining rapidly by this time, requiring him to cut back on his work. In the summer of 1990, he and Michael Tilson Thomas founded the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo (Japan); he conducted his last Tanglewood concert on 19 August. He died of a heart attack caused by mesothelioma on 14 October 1990, at the age of 72. Over the course of his career, Leonard Bernstein received numerous awards and honors, making him America’s best-loved and most highly honored composer, alongside George Gershwin and Aaron Copland.

© Ircam-Centre Pompidou, 2015

Janus l’insatiable, ou les conciliations impossibles

By Max Noubel


Leonard Bernstein’s childhood unfolded in a musical universe that was highly varied and spanned from jingles, pop songs, and dance music broadcast over the radio, to Hebrew chants heard at synagogue. Be it the Hungarian Rhapsodies by Franz Liszt (which he began to play at age 13), arias from Vincenzo Bellini operas, Romani folk music, or more frivolous tunes such as Billy Rose’s “Barney Google,” which he listened to on a gramophone, the young Bernstein was drawn toward all sorts of music. His family members were little interested in classical music, but he would nonetheless attend his first symphony concert at age 14. If classical music brought him a genuine happiness, it would only increase over the years. He was no less attracted to jazz, which he played intensively in small amateur groups.

In contrast to many American composers before him, Bernstein did not feel the overriding need to perfect his musical training in Europe following his studies at Harvard University and the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. He decided rather unsentimentally not to make the pilgrimage to Paris to partake in the highly sought-after teaching of Nadia Boulanger, who played such a pivotal role for Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, and so many others in shaping their understanding of past masterworks. It was in his own country that he constructed his own musical edifice, without the feelings of inferiority before the intimidating figures of Old Europe that had driven several American composers before him. Rather, it was George Gershwin, whose Rhapsody in Blue he had discovered in piano arrangement as an adolescent, who stood out as an early inspiration. Rhapsody in Blue, which at its premiere in 1924 had caused a scandal by “corrupting” the realm of art music with the intrusion of jazz elements, would become one of Bernstein’s favorite works, alongside Maurice Ravel’s Concerto in G. The Rhapsody was one he would play and conduct from the piano on numerous occasions.

Bernstein’s meeting in autumn 1937 with Copland, whose Piano Variations he admired, further opened his musical horizons. With Gershwin having recently died, Bernstein found in Copland an ideal surrogate role model, someone who would play the role of second father, of confidant, of intimate friend, and of counselor. The two men’s careers became intimately linked. Copland would help the young Bernstein find his style in an American musical landscape marked by his own imprint, but also by that of imposing figures like Roy Harris, Roger Sessions, or Virgil Thomson. The Latin rhythms of El Salón México (which he described as the “American Boléro”) would give a particular flavor to West Side Story. The audacious rhythms of the Piano Concerto would turn up in several scores. But it was, above all, Copland’s ballets that would make the greatest impact on Bernstein, revealing his own talents for the medium. His close study of Billy the Kid, Rodeo, and Appalachian Spring motivated him to compose an art music with a truly American essence, accessible to a broad public.

Bernstein began to conceptualize his approach to American music in his master’s thesis, written between December 1938 and March 1939 and titled “The Absorption of Race Elements into American Music.” In it he showed the failure of older generations of composers to integrate indigenous sources and materials into their music. He contrasted them against the success of Gershwin and Copland, who managed to create an authentically American music by integrating elements from jazz and Latin music. But for Bernstein, the new American music could not simply find its identity in the use of folk materials, but rather in the search for an “American spirit” that the artist must be able to locate around themselves by listening to what “sounds American” and transforming it into musical terms. This subjective approach took shape in the soundscape and vitality of New York City, which the composer would celebrate in works like Fancy Free, On the Town, Wonderful Town, On the Waterfront, and, of course, West Side Story.

Bernstein’s attraction to popular music did not drive him away from more sophisticated musical art. Notably, he composed sets of melodies full of humor: I Hate Music (1943) and La Bonne Cuisine (1947), as well as a Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (1941-1942I). Despite his stated desire to transcend the divides between the popular and the learned, Bernstein was still persuaded that his place in twentieth-century music history could only be secured through the composition of “serious” music, which is to say, above all, symphonic music.

The Symphonic Universe

Bernstein was already established as a talented conductor of great promise by the time he finished his Symphony No. 1, “Jeremiah,” in 1943. In this programmatic work, which uses texts from the book of Lamentations in the Hebrew Bible, he identifies with the Jewish people and with their horrific fate in Europe under the Nazi regime. The imprint of Bernstein’s Jewish identity suffuses the entire work and most of all the third movement, “Lamentation” (with solo mezzo-soprano), which evokes the despair of the prophet Jeremiah in the face of the destruction of his beloved Jerusalem. Even as Bernstein stated that he did not use any authentic thematic materials, the melodies seem to derive from the chants practiced in synagogues. For Bernstein, this material was chosen chiefly for its emotive power and not for its purely religious significance. Already in this approach one can glimpse a constant of Bernstein’s symphonic music: the expression of a spirituality that goes beyond the strict bounds of a religion and is transported by an intense, essentially romantic, lyricism.

Composed between 1945 and 1949, the Symphony No. 2, “The Age of Anxiety,” for piano and orchestra refers to the eponymous poem by W. H. Auden, which serves as the basis not for the meaning but rather for the general form, even if the composer retrospectively identified programmatic links. This approach to using a literary model, which would reappear for other programmatic works (e.g., Serenade, from 1954, after Plato’s Symposium), testifies to a certain ambivalence within Bernstein as to whether music conveys meaning. Bernstein would often manifest his appreciation for the detached point of view of Igor Stravinsky, for whom music meant nothing other than itself, and would at the same time display a strong inclination for the Romantic vision of a music that bears a message. “The Age of Anxiety” is less a symphony than a piano concerto—a form with which Bernstein would later engage (again without using the label) in his Serenade for solo violin, strings, harp, and percussion, and Halil (1981), a “nocturne” for solo flute with piccolo, flute, viola, percussion, harp, and strings. Far less stylistically unified than “Jeremiah,” “The Age of Anxiety” draws as much inspiration from Johannes Brahms and Serge Rachmaninov (for the concertante writing), as from Paul Hindemith (fugal writing) or Benjamin Britten.

The spirituality of the “Jeremiah” Symphony — in which Bernstein, inspired initially by Jewish culture, strives for something universal — is also at the heart of Symphony No. 3, “Kaddish,” for voice, choir, and orchestra (1963). The work is akin to a requiem, even as death is never explicitly named — a Kaddish being a prayer of mourning recited at the tomb of the deceased. The symphony is a spiritual voyage in three connected movements, passing from darkness to light by way of depictions of worry and doubt, peace, and then jubilation. The music’s expressive intensity and theatricality invites comparison to Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au Bûcher.

Bernstein’s commitment to “serious” music takes its most demanding and austere shape, both spiritually and artistically, with the ballet Dybbuk, after the eponymous play by Shalom Ansky. Composed in 1974, the work uses somewhat mysterious anagrams as well as numerology as an extension of the metaphysical potential of Kabbalah. Accordingly, Bernstein broaches serialism (which he tried his hand at on various occasions, despite his scant attraction to this technique) in a novel way, translating Kabbalistic symbols into numbers that are linked to notes. Despite having a program, Dybbuk remains an abstract work, “speculative” one might say, once again bearing witness to an ambivalent conception of music’s meaning.

The amusing Concerto for Orchestra (1989), initially titled The Jubilee Game (1986), composed for the fiftieth anniversary of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, constitutes Bernstein’s final significant contribution to orchestral music. He again branches into a Kabbalistic treatment of the music, incorporating techniques that are remarkably audacious for a composer who was at times openly hostile toward experimental music. He incorporates aleatoric elements as well as improvisation, and asks musicians to shout or murmur the number 50 in Hebrew.

Treading the Boards

It was in the theater that the young Bernstein, still at Harvard, found his ideal mode of expression. In 1935 he staged a parody of Carmen and an amateur production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, and, the following year, H.M.S. Pinafore. He also composed stage music for a production of Aristophanes’ The Birds. After attending a 1938 performance of Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock — a strongly political work that appealed for trade unionism and made a profound impression on him — he decided to stage his own production of this musical. After Copland, Blitzstein was Bernstein’s most important contact during these identity-forming years. He would appropriate for his own stage works certain traits of The Cradle Will Rock: the use of an American idiom freed of any artifice and set to simple melodies; the art of parody, both stylistic and of past composers, which would go to the heart of his operetta Candide; and an attenuated boundary between popular and learned expression.

In June 1939, Bernstein settled in New York. He kept a Bohemian artistic lifestyle, seduced more by the effervescence of Greenwich Village, the nightlife of Harlem, and the exuberance of Times Square’s youth than by the more intellectual atmosphere of the Upper West Side where Copland lived. He befriended the members of The Revuers (a troupe comprising Adolph Green, Judy Holliday, and Betty Comden), whose highly successful shows at the Village Vanguard fascinated him. In 1943, he made another decisive acquaintance in Jerome Robbins, then a member of the American Ballet Theater. The close collaboration with Green, Comden, and Robbins was a determining factor in Bernstein’s exceptional success in the realms of dance and musical theater.

Ballet and Musical Theater

Fancy Free (1944), Robbins’s and Bernstein’s first collaboration, refreshed the genre of ballet not only by the originality of the plot (three sailors on a 24-hour shore leave in New York and seeking to seduce three girls), but also by the vitality of the choreography and the music. Bernstein cut loose from Copland’s model in suppressing any reference to the American West. In its place, he adopted a deliberately urban musical style in which sentimentalism is replaced by a direct expression of the joys of life and desire, conveyed not least by a particularly sharp rhythmic style. Facsimile (1946), composed two years later, took up the ingredients that had led to the exceptional success of Fancy Free, but abandoned the insouciant tone in favor of a more somber atmosphere reflecting the difficulty of relations between men and women.

The musical, dramatic, and choreographic qualities of Fancy Free are also found in the musical On the Town (1944; libretto and lyrics by Comden and Green), which explores once again the theme of three sailors on leave conceived by Robbins. The refinement of the compositional writing, the natural charm of the songs, and the dance-like character brought in by the jazz that courses through the work gave a freshness to this genre that had been on the decline. Even though On the Town was a unanimous critical success, it would be nine years until Bernstein returned to write another musical. Wonderful Town (1953; lyrics by Comden and Green) is based on Ruch McKenney’s short stories My Sister Eileen, which had previously been successfully adapted for theater; it tells of two sisters who leave their native Ohio to settle in New York and set about conquering the city. The musical balances a vernacular idiom made up of simple, elegant, and easily remembered melodies, and a more sophisticated idiom in which irregular rhythms abound.

If critic Olin Downes said that the inexhaustible beat of Wonderful Town is “characteristic of its restless time and nervous environment,”1 such a claim could just as easily apply to West Side Story (1957; libretto by Arthur Laurents, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim), Bernstein’s uncontestable masterpiece. But in this modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet imagined by Robbins — in which two rival gangs, the Puerto Rican Sharks against the white Jets, fight one another in the backstreets of New York — the rhythmic energy now expresses the tension of love–hate relationships and of a barely contained violence. In elevating the musical to the level of Shakespearean drama, Bernstein transcends the genre, giving it a previously inconceivable operatic quality. Considered an audacious work at the time of its premiere on account of both its social critique and its mixture of musical genres, West Side Story is now a classic, staged around the world in much the same way as Carmen or La Traviata.

In 1976, to celebrate in his way the bicentenary of the United States, Bernstein returned to musical theater with 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, which concerns the White House and its occupants between 1800 and 1900, viewed mainly through the lens of race relations. Without the collaborators who had assured his earlier triumphs, Bernstein did not succeed in pleasing the public and faced one of the largest failures of his career.

Opera and Operetta

Bernstein’s quest for legitimacy inevitably led him to confront the noble genre par excellence: opera. Here, too, the composer’s position was ambivalent. Trouble in Tahiti (1951), on a libretto by Bernstein himself, is a bitter and ironic drama that, in the manner of a play by August Strindberg, stages a disillusioned middle-class American couple who no longer understand one another and cannot recover their past happiness. Instead of elevating the characters to the rank of architypes, Bernstein preserves their status as ordinary people, making them speak in everyday language and placing them in a heterogenous musical universe in which the amusing lightness of Broadway counterbalances the dramatic intensity of opera. In 1983, Bernstein composed the suite A Quiet Place to a libretto by Stephen Wadsworth that would be cleverly revised in order to insert Trouble in Tahiti, in the form of a flashback, into the second act.

Derived from Voltaire’s novella, Candide (1954-1956), which Bernstein called a “comic operetta,” is in reality a highly sophisticated parody of opera. The famous aria it contains for Cunegonde, “Glitter and Be Gay,” alludes to the Jewel aria from Charles Gounod’s Faust, while the commentaries from the chorus during Pangloss’s syphilis aria, “Dear Boy,” sound like Gilbert and Sullivan. The numerous dances from Europe (gavotte, polka, waltz, ecossaise, etc.) subdue the Americanness of the work, which is marked again by the influence of Broadway. But Candide is also subversive, conceived by Bernstein and his librettist Lillian Hellman as a riposte to Dwight Eisenhower’s politics, which were perceived to be hypocritical and complaisant, and above all to the totalitarian spiral of McCarthyism. The scene of “The Inquisition: Auto-da-Fé” is clearly an allusion to the interrogations led by the anti-communist investigatory commissions that preoccupied so many American artists, particularly between 1950 and 1954.

Ecumenical Eclecticism

Since his years of study at Harvard and his pivotal meeting with Blitzstein, Bernstein was always a politically engaged artist. Beyond his denunciation of McCarthyism, he supported the civil rights movement alongside the American Left and openly defended the Black Panthers. With Mass (1970-1971), subtitled “A Theater Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers” and more a staged oratorio than a mass, he manifested his opposition to the continued war in Vietnam. The pacifist message is conveyed through an attempt at fusion, both of different religious traditions (Catholic and Jewish) and of different styles and musical genres, going from tonal classical music to rock, by way (inevitably) of Broadway. As in Symphony No. 3, “Kaddish,” of which Mass is a sort of extension, divine intervention is powerfully called into question before a final reconciliation takes place in which faith is recovered. The musical eclecticism, which Bernstein claimed as not only the marker of his own style but also a characteristic of American music, here serves as a means of toppling boundaries both geographic and cultural, in a collective communion in which contemplation and jubilatory exaltation ultimately vanquish pain and fear.

Masswas criticized at its premiere: it was blasphemous from a Catholic perspective, and too traditional for defenders of radical musical avant-gardism. But it later came to be perceived as ecumenical, both religiously and musically, all while paradoxically representing the iconoclastic artistic protests of the post-Woodstock era, alongside works likeHairandJesus Christ Superstar.

The Conductor

Everything (or nearly everything) has been said about the prodigious career of the first American conductor to take up the leadership of one of the country’s great phalanxes, the New York Philharmonic — a privilege previously reserved for prestigious figures from the Old Continent. Bernstein held tenure there from 1958 to 1969. The innumerable recordings made with the New York Philharmonic for CBS, plus the videos of concerts with the Vienna Philharmonic for Deutsche Grammophon, reflect Bernstein’s complete artistic engagement, which captivated the orchestral musicians as much as the audience. His passionate interpretations of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies (to name only one example) left their mark on the history of conducting.

As was the case for Mahler or for Pierre Boulez, the conductor was of service to the composer just as the composer was of service to the conductor. Bernstein said that when he conducted, he imagined himself composing the work he had in front of him. He rendered great service to the music of his own time, though he did not hide his tastes and gave a prominent place to American composers who shared his aesthetic choices: Copland, first and foremost, but also all major American composers who did not reject tonality. Accordingly, Blitzstein, Roy Harris, and Virgil Thomson figured often on the New York Philharmonic’s programs and were often performed on overseas tours. Bernstein also played a fundamental role in the rediscovery of the pioneers of American music, and in particular, of Charles Ives whose Symphony No. 2 he premiered in 1951. But he also programmed works by American avant-garde composers such as John Cage and Milton Babbitt. Modern European music was treated similarly. In the old artistic confrontation that pit partisans of Schoenberg against those of Stravinsky, Bernstein took the side of the Russian, whose Rite of Spring he admired. He saw to the favorable fate of composers who had influenced him, or with whom he sensed an affinity, such as Britten, Francis Poulenc, Jean Sibelius, or Dmitri Shostakovich. During his long career, he conducted a significant number of world premieres, including some of the masterpieces from the latter half of the twentieth century — among others, the Turangalîla-Symphonie by Olivier Messiaen in 1949 and the Concerto for Orchestra by Carter in 1970.

The Pedagogue

Bernstein believed that the various musical activities he simultaneously maintained each had a pedagogical significance. His interest in the transmission of musical emotions alongside musical knowledge was accompanied by a knack for communication and an exceptional charisma, which he displayed not only in orchestral rehearsals but also in his numerous television productions: seven musical shows for Omnibus (1952-1961), plus the series of 53 lecture-concerts, produced with the New York Philharmonic and other prestigious guests, titled Young People’s Concerts (1958-1972), broadcast by CBS from Lincoln Center from 1962. Thanks to these programs, which were enormously successful, Bernstein enabled millions of people not only to discover a musical repertoire previously reserved for a bourgeois public, but also to understand the aesthetics of individual composers as well as the musical currents and genres across different historical eras. His ambition to lift minds by confronting them with musical genius is shown, for example, in the episode of Omnibus titled “Bernstein Explains Beethoven’s Fifth” (14 November 1954), in which he shows the creative process in the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with reference to the composer’s sketches.

All of these televised appearances were also, for Bernstein, a platform from which to spread his own aesthetic orientations and to defend his own convictions. The question of musical meaning is broached in the first episode of the Young People’s Concerts (“What Does Music Mean?,” 18 January 1958), and that of identity in American music is broached in the following episode (“What Is American Music?,” 1 February 1958). In the Omnibus episode “The American Musical Comedy,” he builds a bridge between popular music and art music by linking musical theater to Mozartian Singspiel, with particular reference to The Magic Flute. The essential role accorded to jazz in Bernstein’s own compositions is reflected clearly in the Omnibus episode “The World of Jazz” (16 October 1955), which concludes with his Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, originally composed for Woody Herman in 1949, here performed by Benny Goodman as soloist.

The six Norton Lectures given by Bernstein at Harvard in 1973 and published with the title The Unanswered Question, were an occasion to proclaim his attachment to tonality, which possessed, in his view, an undeniable supremacy over other systems and especially over the dodecaphonic system due to its universal character and its basis in natural laws. Bernstein constructed his argument with reference to Noam Chomsky’s work in linguistics and in attempting to demonstrate the existence of a single, innate musical grammar comparable to the universal grammar that allows all human beings to use language.


Throughout his life, Bernstein fought tirelessly to reconcile contradictory desires and aspirations. While he was successful in the realm of musical entertainment, he never ceased seeking a recognition within art music that would have guaranteed him the respect of his peers. His desire to win over a large public by adhering to modes of popular expression, and his wish to respond to more elitist (and thus inevitably more marginal) demands, made Bernstein somewhat of a Janus figure. Each head faced one side of the Atlantic: one intoxicated with the frenetic rhythms of jazz and the optimistic energy of Broadway musicals, and the other enchanted by the great Romantic repertoire. Bernstein never could nor even wished to choose between his careers as conductor and as composer. With an unfailing determination, he managed to equal and even surpass Dimitri Mitropoulos and Serge Koussevitzky, his venerated teachers. With the same determination, he was able to situate himself in the lineage of Gershwin and Copland and attain their immense fame. He identified with Mahler, adulating the composer and conductor alike, and, like him, conquered adventurous New York as well as conservative Vienna.

Bernstein’s compositional career was never rectilinear, but rather sinuous, a series of about-faces, of apparently contradictory choices, of periods of intense creative activity alternating with moments when composition was put on the back-burner in favor of his career as a conductor. And yet, from his prolific oeuvre emerged an expressive authenticity and power that reached a vast public.

1. Quoted in Joan PEYSER, Leonard Bernstein, Bantam Books, 1988, p. 192.

© Ircam-Centre Pompidou, 2015

Catalog sources and details

Site de l’éditeur, http://www.boosey.com (lien vérifié en janvier 2015) ; site consacré à Leonard Bernstein, https://www.leonardbernstein.com/ (lien vérifié en janvier 2015) ; The Leonard Bernstein Letters par Leonard Bernstein, Nigel Simeone (éd.), Yale University Press, 2013.

Catalog source(s)

Site de l’éditeur, http://www.boosey.com (lien vérifié en janvier 2015) ; site consacré à Leonard Bernstein, https://www.leonardbernstein.com/ (lien vérifié en janvier 2015) ; The Leonard Bernstein Letters par Leonard Bernstein, Nigel Simeone (éd.), Yale University Press, 2013.

Liens Internet

(liens vérifiés en janvier 2015).


  • Burton BERNSTEIN, Family Matters (Sam, Jennie and The Kids), New York, Simon & Schuster, 1982.
  • Leonard BERNSTEIN, The Joy of Music, Pompton Plains, New Jersey, Amadeus Press, 2004 (1re éd. 1959).
  • Leonard BERNSTEIN, The Infinite Variety of Music, New York, Anchor Books, 1993 (1re éd. 1966).
  • Leonard BERNSTEIN, The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at Harvard, Havard University Press, 1976 (réed. 1981) ; La question sans réponse, Six conférences données à Harvard, (trad. fr), Paris, Diapason/Robert Laffont, 1982.
  • Leonard BERNSTEIN, Le partage de la musique, Entretiens avec Enrico Castiglione, Belfond, Collection Entretiens, 1993.
  • Leonard BERNSTEIN, Findings, New York, Anchor Books, 1993 (1re éd. 1982).
  • Leonard BERNSTEIN, The Leonard Bernstein Letters, Nigel Simeone (éd.), Yale University Press, 2013.
  • John BRIGGS, Leonard Bernstein, The Man, His Work and His World, Cleveland and New York: World Publishing Co., 1961.
  • Humphrey BURTON, Leonard Bernstein, New York, Doubleday, 1994.
  • Wiliam W. BURTON, Conversations about Bernstein, Oxford University Press, New York, 1995.
  • Schuyler CHAPIN, Leonard Bernstein : Notes from a Friend, New York, Walker, 1992.
  • Jonathan COTT, Dinner with Lenny : The Last Long Interview with Leonard Bernstein, Oxford University Press, 2013 ; Dîner avec Lenny : Le dernier long entretien avec Leonard Bernstein (trad. fr. Michel Marny), Paris Christian Bourgois, 2014.
  • Paul R. LAIRD, Leonard Bernstein: A Guide to Research, New York, Routledge, 2002.
  • Renaud MACHART, Leonard Bernstein, Arles, Actes Sud, 2007.
  • Carol J. OJA, Bernstein Meets Broadway : Collaborative Art in a Time of War, Oxford University Press, 2014.
  • Joan PEYSER, Leonard Bernstein, Bantam Book, Transworld Publish, 1988.
  • Meryle SECREST, Leonard Bernstein A Life, Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.
  • Steve J. SHERMAN and Robert SHERMAN, Leonard Bernstein at Work : His final Years, 1984-1990, Amadeus Press, Milwaukee, 2010.
  • Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts Revised Edition(1970), New York, Anchor Books, éd. rév.1992.


Bernstein Century (Sony)

  • Candide Overture;Symphonic Dances from West Side Story;On the Waterfront(symphonic suite) ;Fancy Free, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, direction : Leonard Bernstein, 1 Cd Sony Classics 63085, 1997.
  • Mass, Alan Titus : baryton, The Norman Scribner Choir, The Berkshire Boys Choir, Orchestra, direction : Leonard Bernstein, 2 Cds Sony Classics 63089, 1997.
  • Dybbuk, John Ostendorf : basse, David Johnson : baryton, New York City Ballet Orchestra, direction : Leonard Bernstein, 1 Cd Sony Classics 63090, 1997.
  • Jeremiah(Symphonien° 1)* ; The Age of Anxyety*(Symphonien° 2)* ; I Hate Music ; La Bonne Cuisine,* Jennie Tourel : mezzo soprano, Philippe Entremont : piano, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, direction et piano : Leonard Bernstein, 1 Cd Sony Classics 60697, 1999.
  • *Prelude Fugue and Riffs *;On The Town(Three Dance Episodes) ;Serenade After Plato’s « Symposium »;Fancy Free, Benny Goodman : clarinette, Zino Francescatti : violon, Columbia Jazz Combo, Columbia Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, direction : Leonard Bernstein, 1 Cd Sony Classics 60559, 1998.
  • Trouble in Tahiti;Facsimile, Mark Brown, Antonia Butler, Michael Clarke, Nancy Williams, Julian Patrick, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Columbia Wind Ensemble, direction : Leonard Bernstein, 1 Cd Sony Classics 60969, 1999.
  • Kaddish;Chichester Psalms, Felicia Montealegre, Jennie Tourel, John Bogart, Camerata Singers, Columbia Boychoir, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, 1 Cd Sony Classics 60595, 1998.

Leonard Bernstein conducts (Deutsche Grammophon, 2002)

  • Serenade ; Songfest, Clamma Dale, Rosalind Elias, Donald Gramm, John Reardon, Neil Rosenshein, Nancy Williams and Gidon Kremer, Washington, D. C. National Symphony, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, 1 Cd Deutsche Grammophon 447957, 2000.
  • Chichester Psalms ; Symphony n° 3 « Kaddish », 1 Cd Deutsche Grammophon 447954, 1997.
  • Jubilee Games ; Dybbuk Suites, Jos Eduardo Chama, Bruce Fifer, and Paul Sperry, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, 1 Cd Deutsche Grammophon 447956, 1997.
  • Divertimento ; Halil, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, 1 Cd Deutsche Grammophon 447955, 1997.
  • A Quiet Place, Chester Ludgin, Beverly Morgan, John Brandstetter, Peter Kazaras, Austrian Radio Symphony Orchestra, direction : Leonard Bernstein, 1 Cd Deutsche Grammophon 4197611-2.
  • Candide, June Anderson, Clive Bayley, Lindsay Benson, Nicolai Gedda, Adolph Green, Jerry Hadley, Neil Jenkins, Della Jones, Christa Ludwig, Kurt Ollmann, Richard Suart, John Treleaven, London Symphony Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra, 2 Cds Deutsche Grammophon 449656, 1997.
  • West Side Story, Stephen Bogardus, David Livingston, Kurt Ollmann, Peter Thom, Jos Carreras, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Louise Edeiken, Tatiana Troyanos, Tod Lester, Kurt Gilmann, Marty Nelson, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, 2 Cds Cd Deutsche Grammophon 15253, 1987.


  • West Side Story, film sorti en 1961, par Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins avec Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, 1 DVD MGM / United Artists, 2000.
  • Candide, Jerry Hadley : Tenor (Candide) ; June Anderson : Soprano (Cunegonde) ; Adolph Green : Singer (Dr. Pangloss/Martin) ; Christa Ludwig : Mezzo-Soprano (Old Lady) ; Nicolai Gedda : Tenor (Governor/Vanderdendur/Ragotski) ; Della Jones : Mezzo-Soprano (Paquette) ; Kurt Ollmann, LSO Chorus, Dir. Simon Joly, LSO, direction : Leonard Bernstein, 1 Dvd Deutsch Grammophon 0734205, 2006.