Spotlight on Great Classical Composers: Bernstein

It’s time for our fourth post for Spotlight on Great Classical Composers ~! 

Spotlight on Great Classical Composers focuses on sharing about some of the greatest classical music composers, so we can all hear of their life journeys beyond their works. 

Over the past months, we have peeked into the lives of Bach, Beethoven and Bartók. This week, we will be looking at Leonard Bernstein (1918 – 1990), an American conductor, composer, pianist and educator who is best recognised for his flamboyant conducting style and his pedagogic flair.

Born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Bernstein first came in contact with a piano when he received the instrument from his aunt.  However, his father did not have much care for music and the arts, and was unsupportive of him picking up the instrument.  Young Bernstein then had to raise his own money for piano lessons.  When asked about this decades later, his father declared ‘how would I have known he would become Leonard Bernstein ?’ 😀

Growing up, Bernstein was very bright.  He attended the Garrison and Boston Latin Schools before entering Harvard University, where he took courses in music theory, literature and philosophy.  Before graduating in 1939, Bernstein made an unofficial conducting debut with his own incidental music to “The Birds,” and directed and performed in Marc Blitzstein’s “The Cradle Will Rock”. 

Upon graduating from Harvard, Bernstein continued to pursue his studies in conducting at Curtis Institute of Music and Berkshire Music Center.  In 1943, he was appointed assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic (read our blog post featuring NY Phil here ~!), and his first resounding applause came from his last-minute stand-in for conductor Bruno Walter in a concert held at Carnegie Hall.  Broadcast nationwide on radio, Bernstein became instantaneously famous, receiving critical acclaim and a front page mention on the New York Times.  

Following this success, Bernstein subsequently conducted the New York City Center orchestra and appeared as guest conductor all over the United States and abroad in Canada, Israel, Czech Republic, London and Italy.  And at the age of 40, he became the first American-born music director of New York Philharmonic.

Beyond appearances as a conductor and pianist, Bernstein’s popularity continued to soar as he took over television screens as a commentator and entertainer.  From an initial lecture series introducing Beethoven, jazz music, musical comedy and more, Bernstein was able to further develop a series of 53 televised Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic.  This series was extremely well-received, and translated for audiences worldwide. 

Throughout his life, Bernstein remained passionate about sharing music with young people.  He wrote about half a dozen of books, and recorded a set of lectures for Harvard, which were subsequently published and televised as The Unanswered Question.

As a composer, Bernstein made use of diverse elements from different genres of music, ranging from biblical themes to jazz rhythms, from Jewish lithurgy to broadway music.  He left behind many renowned compositions, including the four great musical works On the Town, Wonderful Town, Candide and West Side Story, as well as music for the film On the Waterfront, for which he received an Academy Award nomination.

Over his lifetime, Bernstein was awarded 16 Grammys for his recordings, as well as multiple honours such as New York City’s highest honour for the arts and the Tony award for Distinguished Achievement in the Theater.  He was also the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1985. 

A wildly popular personality, Bernstein was a celebrated conductor and composer who dedicated his life to music and the arts.  To find out more about him, as well as the award-winning musical West Side Story, join The Glasshouse with your children now ~!  You’ll be greeted by more snippets within easy-to-follow stories, brought to life by illustrations and animations !  

October 2020 collections for #origins dedicated to children ages 0 to 6 and 6 to 12 ~ are now available (!) within our creative virtual sphere The Glasshouse !

The Glasshouse #origins is definitely one of the best ways to introduce the great classical composers to your children.  The Glasshouse #origins offers young buds and new sprouts quality sustained exposure to classical music ~ through unique monthly collections of Storyboards, Activities and Canvases.  

Join us in The Glasshouse for meaningful personal journeys of growth.

Stay tuned for our next Spotlight on Great Classical Composers coming in December ~!