The Bernstein Centenary
By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music
Leonard Bernstein was born 100 years ago this month. During the second half of the twentieth century he was the one figure that brought classical music to the general public in a way never before attempted. In the early 1950s he used the new medium of television to disseminate his passion for and knowledge of music to the widest possible audience. Indeed, a whole generation of Americans grew up with a love and understanding of great music thanks to Bernstein.
Between 1954 and 1958 eight live broadcasts introduced by Alistair Cooke encompassed a broad range of music including classical, jazz, musical comedy and the art of conducting posing such questions as â€˜What makes opera grand?â€™ The first programme on Beethovenâ€™s Fifth Symphony is especially fascinating as Bernstein reveals the composerâ€™s earlier ideas and sketches giving his own explanation for their deletion. The opening page of the score is printed large on the studio floor with members of the orchestra standing on their appropriate staves.
However, it was Bernsteinâ€™s series of 53 televised Young Peopleâ€™s Concerts that opened up the wonders of music to a whole generation. While the British Library has in the collections his later television appearances which were commercially produced (mainly by his record label at the time, Deutsche Grammophon), over previous years I have made an effort to obtain all of Bernsteinâ€™s early television material.
In 1959 the US State Department sponsored a tour of the New York Philharmonic which included 50 concerts in 17 countries. Filmed records of the visits to Moscow, where Bernstein is seen with Shostakovich and Boris Pasternak, and Venice were available on DVD in Japan and can be seen at the British Library. The tour ended on 10th October 1959 when Bernstein and his orchestra gave a concert at the Festival Hall in London, parts of which were recorded directly to tape from the live radio broadcast in excellent sound by a private individual, Dr. Schuler, whose son donated his collection to the British Library in 1999. The Times review was headed â€˜Like burnished copper â€“ New York orchestraâ€™s fine toneâ€™ and referred to Bernstein as â€˜that paragon of brilliance and versatility.â€™ Here is an excerpt from the Second Essay by Samuel Barber.
Bernstein and the New Yorkers returned to London in February 1963 and Dr Schuler recorded the Symphony No. 7 in D minor by Dvorak and Elgarâ€™s Cockaigne overture, an extract of which can be heard below.
A selection of Bernstein video materials at the British Library
Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts 1DVD0005845
Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts Volume 2 1DVD0010018
The Unanswered Question - Six talks at Harvard by Leonard Bernstein 1DVD0009993
Archive of American Television presents Leonard Bernstein Omnibus 1DVD0009994
The Love of Three Orchestras 1DVD0010180
Historic Television Specials Moscow; Venice; Berlin; The Creative Performer; Rhythm 1DVD0010176
The Joy of Sharing - The last date in Sapporo 1990 1DVD0010178
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