Bernstein at 100: From Broadway to the Symphony

As a composer and conductor, Leonard Bernstein passionately sought a style of concert music which could be called uniquely “American.” “What is American Music?” was the subject of one of his nationally-televised Young People’s Concerts. Composing the “great American opera” remained an elusive goal. It must have been on his mind with the creation of A Quiet Place in 1983, as well as an ill-advised 1984 adaptation of West Side Story performed by an operatic lineup including José Carreras and Kiri Te Kanawa. Like …

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Bernstein at 100: “Serenade, after Plato’s Symposium”

This month, we celebrate the centennial of the birth of Leonard Bernstein. Born on August 25, 1918, Bernstein was a uniquely energetic and multi-faceted figure- a bold and inventive conductor dedicated to adventurous, American programming during his tenure as music director of the New York Philharmonic, a composer who seemed to be trying to wrap his arms around the entire Western musical canon from Mahler to Ives, a passionate teacher and communicator …

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Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, “Eroica”: Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic

The Romantic era in music may have begun, unofficially, with the ferocious opening hammer blows of Beethoven’s Third Symphony. As the story goes, this monumental and revolutionary music was originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte. When Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of France in 1804, Beethoven reportedly scratched out the dedication on the title page (shown above) and re-dedicated the Symphony to the Hero (“Eroica”), exclaiming So he is no more than a common mortal! Now, too, …

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Mozart’s Symphony No. 25: Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic

Next month marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990). As a conductor, composer, pianist, and educator, Bernstein seems to have thrown his arms around the world of music. He brought a unique energy and dynamism to the podium, as well as to his compositions, which run the gamut from the Broadway theater to the concert hall. Over the coming weeks, we’ll explore the music of Leonard Bernstein. For …

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The Art of the List Song

Here at The Listeners’ Club, lyrics normally take a backseat to music. But today, let’s bring some of the Broadway musical theater’s most exhilarating lyrics into focus with a brief survey of the list song. List songs are built around extensive inventories of people, places, and things. They open the door to lyric writing filled with sparkling virtuosity and unexpected rhyme. Surprise is a key element of humor, and in this respect the …

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Tossing Off Melodies: Leonard Bernstein’s “Lucky to Be Me”

The jubilant, infectious melody and gushing lyrics of the song, Lucky to Be Me, from Leonard Bernstein’s 1944 Broadway musical, On the Town, seem appropriate for any Valentine’s Day playlist. (The lyrics are by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and the show’s inspiration came from Jerome Robbins’ ballet, Fancy Free, produced the same year with a score by Bernstein). Listen to the way the contour of Bernstein’s melody, beginning around the 35 second mark, mirrors the carefree euphoria …

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Mahler’s Final, Haunting “Wunderhorn” Songs: “Revelge” and “Der Tamboursg’sell”

In Monday’s post, we listened to Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, a work which grew out of the 1892 song, “Das himmlische Leben” (“The Heavenly Life”). The Symphony was written primarily during the summers of 1899 and 1900 shortly after Mahler was appointed director of the Vienna Court Opera. As a follow up, let’s listen to two songs which compositionally bookend the Fourth Symphony- Revelge (“The Dead Drummer), composed in July of 1899, and Der Tambourg’sell (“The …

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