Start Your Visit WithHistorical Timelines
General Interest Maps
Leonard Bernstein was one the most influential figures in classical music in the last half of the 20th century. He was a composer, conductor, author, lecturer and often a controversial media personality. Bernstein exerted a dramatic impact on the popular audience's acceptance and appreciation of classical music.
Childhood and education
Leonard Bernstein was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, to to a Jewish family from Rovno, Russia. As a boy he attended the Garrison and Boston Latin schools; during that time he took piano lessons. He attended Harvard University and studied with Walter Piston, Edward Burlingame-Hill, and A. Tillman Merritt, among others. He 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 before graduating in 1939. He also studied piano at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
In 1940, Bernstein studied at the Boston Symphony Orchestra's newly created summer institute, Tanglewood, with the orchestra's conductor, Serge Koussevitzky. He later became Koussevitzky's conducting assistant. In 1943, Bernstein was appointed assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic. He substituted for the ailing Bruno Walter at a Carnegie Hall concert; that performance brought him critical acclaim.
In 1945, Bernstein was appointed music director of the New York City Symphony Orchestra, a post he held until 1947. Following the death of Serge Koussevitzky in 1951, Bernstein took over the orchestral and conducting departments at Tanglewood. He also married Felicia Montealegre, a Chilean actress and pianist, in 1951. They had three children.
Bernstein became the music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1958 and remained there until 1969. Subsequently, he was given the lifetime title of Laureate Conductor. More than half of Bernstein's 400-plus recordings were made with the New York Philharmonic.
Bernstein traveled the world as a conductor. In 1946, he conducted in London and at the International Music Festival in Prague. In 1947 he conducted in Tel Aviv, beginning a relationship with Israel that lasted until his death. In 1953, Bernstein was the first American to conduct opera at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan: Cherubini's Medea with Maria Callas.
Bernstein wrote a one-act opera, Trouble in Tahiti in 1952, and its sequel, the three-act opera, A Quiet Place in 1983. He collaborated with choreographer Jerome Robbins on three major ballets. He composed the score for the award-winning movie, On the Waterfront (1954) and incidental music for two Broadway plays: Peter Pan (1950) and The Lark (1955). He also helped to write the music for the landmark musical, West Side Story.
In 1985 the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences honored Bernstein with the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award. He won 11 Emmy awards in his career. There are Bernstein Festivals throughout the world in honor of his accomplishments.
Bernstein enjoyed any opportunity to teach young musicians. His master classes at Tanglewood were famous. He was instrumental in founding the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute in 1982. He also helped to create a world-class training orchestra at the Schleswig Holstein Music Festival. In addition, he founded the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan.
Bernstein received many honors. He was elected in 1981 to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The National Fellowship Award in 1985 recognized his life-long support of humanitarian causes. He received the MacDowell Colony's Gold Medal; medals from the Beethoven Society and the Mahler Gesellschaft; the Handel Medallion, New York City's highest honor for the arts; a Tony award (1969) for Distinguished Achievement in the Theater; and dozens of honorary degrees and awards from colleges and universities. He was presented ceremonial keys to the cities of Oslo, Vienna, Bersheeva and the village of Bernstein, Austria, among others. National honors came from Italy, Israel, Mexico, Denmark, Germany (the Great Merit Cross), and France (Chevalier, Officer and Commandeur of the Legion d'Honneur). He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1980.
Dedication to global harmony
World peace was a particular concern of Bernstein's. Speaking at Johns Hopkins University in 1980 and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York in 1983, he expressed a vision of global harmony. He traveled to Athens and Hiroshima with the European Community Orchestra in 1985 on the 40th anniversary of the dropping of the atom bomb. In December 1989, Bernstein conducted the historic "Berlin Celebration Concerts" on both sides of the Berlin Wall, as it was being dismantled. Bernstein supported Amnesty International from its birth. To benefit the effort in 1987, he established the Felicia Montealegre Fund in memory of his wife, who died in 1978.
In 1990, Bernstein received the Praemium Imperiale, an international prize created in 1988 by the Japan Arts Association and awarded for lifetime achievement in the arts. Bernstein established The Bernstein Education Through the Arts (BETA) Fund, Inc. with the $100,000 prize from that award.
Leonard Bernstein died on October 14, 1990. His remains rest in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.
---- Selected Quotes ----
Quotes by Leonard Bernstein.
Regarding George Gershwin
The Rhapsody is not a composition at all. It's a string of separate paragraphs stuck together – with a thin paste of flour and water… I don’t think there has been such an inspired melodist on this earth since Tchaikovsky…but if you want to speak of a composer, that's another matter.
The Atlantic Monthly, 1955
Quotes regarding Leonard Bernstein.
By Oscar Levant
Bernstein has been disclosing musical secrets that have been well known for over 400 years. ... Today, he uses music as an accompaniment to his conducting.
Memoirs of an Amnesiac, 1965
Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts
... love of his family led him to teach young people about his other love -- music Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts People of all ages enjoy music. The New York Philharmonic had already established a tradition of presLeonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts People of all ages enjoy music. The New York Philharmonic had already established a tradition of presenting concerts ...
... Sensation "Leonard Bernstein's Debut" Shakespeare for the 1950s "Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story" Young People's Concerts "Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts" Library Of Congress | Legal Notices | Privacy | Site MLeonard Bernstein's Debut" Shakespeare for the 1950s "Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story" Young People's Concerts "Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts" Library Of Congress | Legal Notices | Privacy | Site MLeonard Bernstein's West Side Story" Young People's Concerts "Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts" Library Of Congress | Legal Notices | Privacy | Site MLeonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts" Library Of Congress | Legal Notices | Privacy | Site Map | Contact Us ...
September 22, 1810 Forces under the command of Leonard Covington begin a march on Baton Rouge, West Florida September 24, 1810 Using a revolt by citizens of West Florida as a pretext, (they had secured Baton Rouge the previous day) Leonard ...