What is Leonard Bernstein famous for?

Leonard Bernstein: between classic and pop

He conducted operas, was a great pianist and wrote world-famous musicals. Hardly any other composer was as versatile as Leonard Bernstein - and so popular. But some critics turn up their noses at the American to this day

Brief profile: Leonard Bernstein

  • Surname: Leonard Bernstein
  • Born: on August 25, 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts (USA)
  • Died: on October 14, 1990 in New York City, New York (USA)
  • Estimated: for compositions
  • Most important works: Musicals like the famous "West Side Story", but also the plays "On the Town" and "Candide"

By a lucky coincidence, Leonard Bernstein becomes a star

Now only a miracle can help! Everything points to a huge flop at this concert on November 14, 1943 in New York's Carnegie Hall. At three in the afternoon, a hundred New York Philharmonic, one of the most famous orchestras in the world, is supposed to play an extremely difficult program. And what happens? The prominent conductor Bruno Walter is sick in bed at home. And the orchestra leader who could step in is stuck snowed in in the mountains of Massachusetts!

In desperation, he advises calling his unknown assistant: "Then take Leonard Bernstein. He can also conduct." At nine o'clock in the morning they notify the 25-year-old, who leaves everything where it is. At three, Leonard Bernstein is at the conductor's desk. "I can't remember anything," says the young man in the baggy gray suit into the microphones after the concert. "It was like a dream that I only woke up from when the audience cheered me at the end." A new classic star is born!

Bernstein is celebrated as a conductor in New York

And it's not the last time that Bernstein should surprise the music world. In the years to come he turned out to be a real jack-of-all-trades: he shook wonderful musicals up his sleeve. He conducts large orchestras as if it were child's play - and also shines as a piano virtuoso! Such versatility reminds the music world of the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The audience loves the wild young man who smokes like a chimney and pours down alcohol in great quantities. Just a few nagging reviewers. The American musician on shows is too much for them: Bernstein celebrates triumphs in European classical temples such as the Vienna State Opera. And at La Scala in Milan, the audience goes wild when he conducts an opera with the world-famous singer Maria Callas. Bravo! But at the same time - snobs turn up their noses - he writes music for New York Broadway, this glittering world with its shallow shows.

Yes, the flail takes pleasure in appearing on TV shows! In front of the camera he chats about classical music as if they were recipes: for example, he tells his audience who invented the fortepiano; how Ludwig van Beethoven composed a symphony or what twelve-tone music is. His book "Concert for Young People - An Introduction to the World of Music", which he writes at the same time, has been translated into many languages.

The New York composer mixes many elements of the music

The musicals that Leonard Bernstein performs on Broadway are unlike anything that has come before: In the "West Side Story"For example, his most famous piece, there is no happy ending! With brisk melodies and aggressive rhythms, the old love story of Romeo and Juliet is told as a fight between two youth gangs in the slums of New York.

The musician also mixes very different elements in his classical compositions: in the mostly sad Second Symphony, for example, there is a lot of jazz - the music of black Americans. In the late "Mass" you can hear organ music as well as rock, blues and latino sounds!

Leonard Bernstein loved luxury

As the son of Russian immigrants who had to laboriously work their way up in the USA, it was not easy for Leonard Bernstein. His family suffered from dire poverty. Little Leonard was a tender and sickly child. That only changed when an aunt brought an old piano into the house. Leonard jumbled at it for hours every day - and got well in the process.

Perhaps it was because of his tough childhood that Leonard Bernstein later loves luxury: he lives with his wife and three children in the most expensive district of New York. Hardly a party of the rich takes place without him. At the same time, however, he was interested in politics: in 1985 he traveled on a peace tour through Europe and gave concerts to commemorate the atomic bombs 40 years earlier.

But at all parties - Leonard Bernstein's favorite pastime is always composing: "Sometimes I work on the piano," he once said, "sometimes at the desk or at the airport or when going for a walk - but preferably when I'm in bed or on the sofa . " Leonard Bernstein died on October 14, 1990 in New York.

Of serious music and popular music

Whether Mozart or Bach - many greats in music history only became really famous after their death. Some critics and fellow musicians have openly resented him that Leonard Bernstein was still able to enjoy his fame and fortune: they criticized the passion with which he conducted as a show. And they turned up their noses at his technically and musically impeccable compositions. In their eyes he was guilty of an offense: Leonard Bernstein composed not only difficult works but also wonderful light music - and was even successful worldwide with it.

For these people, classical music is obviously something better and higher. You name them E-MUSIC (E for serious) in contrast to U-MUSIC (U for entertainment). Mozart, a grand master of 'serious' music, was thievingly happy when the arias of his opera 'Figaros Hochzeit' were whistled and trumpeted by normal people in all the streets. In his time, serious and popular music were still the same.

It was not until the middle of the 19th century that the hits of such high earners as Gioacchino Rossini or Jacques Offenbach were released from the operas and operettas for which they had originally been composed - and became independent hits.

"For me," explained Bernstein, "there is only good and bad music" - good and bad hits, good and bad symphonies, good and bad operas. And Mozart put it in a nutshell: "My music," he said, "is for everyone."