Leonard Bernstein: The Total Musician

A Personal Remembrance

by Jeffrey Dane

(Page 2)

 

The Composer

[Leonard Bernstein composing at his home in Fairfield, Connecticut]

One day in the fall of 1963 I spoke with Mr. Bernstein in his dressing room before a rehearsal. "I've been composing all summer," he told me. When I asked him if it was a large-scale work, he replied, "It's a symphony." I was intrigued by what he said, and I was eager to learn more about it when the time came.

That time came not long afterward, when I visited the offices of one of the most important music copyists in the USA, Arnold Arnstein. When Bernstein's name was mentioned, Mr. Arnstein silently showed me to a table on which lay a very large piece of cardboard. He removed it to reveal what it had concealed and protected -- an enormous manuscript then in preparation by him and his staff: Symphony Nr. 3 ("Kaddish"), by Leonard Bernstein. Among other things, I was struck by the sheer physical height of the score itself, pages of which required more than 50 staves, because of the instrumentation. This, then, is what Mr. Bernstein had been referring to when he told me he'd been "composing" all summer. I recall thinking at that moment that in addition to his other merits the Maestro was also a master of understatement, in that even the bulk of his manuscript, alone, might qualify it as a "symphony" to end all symphonies. I found it rather gratifying to realize I had just been privy to looking at the composer's autograph score -- before its actual publication, certainly, and even before its premiere not long afterward. Because of the national tragedy that soon occurred, on November 22 of that year, the composer dedicated the piece,
"To the beloved memory of John F. Kennedy."

The subsequent rehearsals and performances I attended in which Mr. Bernstein was involved were many and memorable. Among them: Andre Previn as piano soloist in the Shostakovich Concerto for Piano, Trumpet & Strings; Rudolf Serkin as soloist in the Beethoven Emperor Concerto; Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock (given at then-Philharmonic Hall soon after the composer's death), with Mr. Bernstein playing not only the piano but also a part in the cast!; the world premiere performance of Francis Poulenc's Clarinet Sonata (at a memorial concert a year after Poulenc died), with Mr. Bernstein accompanying soloist Benny Goodman, one of the most personally enjoyable concerts I've ever attended at Carnegie Hall; the final rehearsal and performance in April 1987 of Mahler's Resurrection Symphony (the last time I ever saw Mr. Bernstein), which was without exception the most significant symphonic performance, of any work, that I've ever experienced.
And so it went, for so long a time. . . .

 

Meeting Bernstein

I prize very highly a personalized photo of Mr. Bernstein and me (taken on June 6, 1979 by my wife, Marie), as well as the baton he had used at one of his rehearsals I had attended at Avery Fisher Hall many years before. When I visited him in his dressing room after that particular rehearsal, he was sitting on a couch, talking with some gentlemen and fidgeting with the baton. I felt the "nothing ventured, nothing gained" principle applied here, and in my youthful (and, in retrospect, brazen) innocence I asked him if I might have that baton as a keepsake -- whereupon he handed it to me, with a smile that brightened up not only that rather dark little room
but also my entire day, if not my entire season altogether.

 

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Other Composer Tributes on this website

 

Leroy Anderson

George Whitefield Chadwick

Aaron Copland

Edwin Arthur Jones

Edward MacDowell

George Templeton Strong

 

 

 


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