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Leonard Bernstein: Leonard Bernstein (b. Lawrence, Mass, 25 Aug 1918).
Leonard Bernstein was able to study music privately in his early years and had piano lessons before going to Harvard University where he studied under Walter Piston and Edward Burlingame Hill and developed extraordinary musical abilities. He graduated from Harvard in 1939 and then studied at the Curtis Institute; conducting with Fritz Reiner, orchestration with Randall Thompson and the piano with Isabella Vengerova. He won scholarships which enabled him to attend courses at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood, Massachusetts in 1940 and 1941 where he studied under and became the special protege of Serge Koussevitzky. He became Koussevitzky's assistant at Tanglewood in 1942 and the following year was appointed assistant conductor to Artur Rodzinski with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. His memorable debut as an orchestral conductor came in November 1943 when he substituted at very short notice for Bruno Walter who had been taken ill. It was a sensational success and thereafter he has pursued a much acclaimed and tremendously active career as a conductor. He became musical director of the New York Philharmonic in 1958. These orchestral activities coupled with an equally accomplished career as a concert pianist have always been something of a divisive factor in the life of a man who would prefer to devote much more time to composing, quite apart from being in demand as a lecturer and writer of entertaining capacities.
Even Leonard Bernstein's career as a composer has experienced dividing loyalties between the separate fields of 'serious' and 'entertainment' music. The first composition to arouse attention was a sonata for clarinet and piano which owed some allegiance to Hindemith. This was written in 1941/2. Almost immediately he found his own vigorous style; strongly lyrical, full of jazz-slanted rhythms, technically accomplished and full of fresh ideas and an unflagging ardour that is part of his Jewish nature. In a sense he is an old-fashioned writer, more concerned with the sweeping effect of the whole than with intricate details, but his style is very much in line with a modern popular idiom. His Jeremiah symphony was completed in 1942, a highly romantic work, and the more restrained second symphony The Age of Anxiety followed in 1949.
Pre-eminently Leonard Bernstein has distinguished himself as a composer who could bridge the gap between the academic and popular worlds of music and provide material for the commercial theatre which had all the merits of experienced craftmanship. His ballet score Fancy Free (1944) has remained one of his most popular works, followed by Facsimile in 1946. At the end of 1944 the music of Fancy Free was expanded into a musical comedy, with book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, under the title On the Town, and was later made into a film musical. This opened a new career in the theatre with Wonderful Town in 1953 and the highly successful West Side Story in 1957, also equally successful as a film. He also bent these same talents towards more serious opera with the less commercially successful but delightful Candide in 1956 and an opera Trouble in Tahiti in 1952 - a strange and interesting work for which he wrote his own text. The same adventurous yet memorable vein was caught in his fine choral work Chichester Psalms in 1965; and in works as diverse as the third Kaddish symphony in 1963 and an excellent film score for On the Waterfront in 1954.
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