The many obsessions of Leonard Bernstein

The many obsessions of Leonard Bernstein

The Leonard Bernstein Letters

edited by Nigel Simeone

Yale University Press (Inbooks), $49.95 hb, 624 pp, 9780300179095

There once was a boy named Lenny
Whose talents were varied and many
So many that he was inclined
Never to make up his mind
In fact he was so gifted
He never felt uplifted
Just undefined.
Poor Lenny – ten gifts too many
The curse of being versatile.
To show how bad the curse is
We’ll need a lot of verses
And take a little Weill.

Lauren Bacall performed Stephen Sondheim’s spoof of Kurt Weill’s ‘Jenny’ at Leonard Bernstein’s seventieth birthday

How does one get a handle on a phenomenon like Leonard Bernstein? The whirling dervish of the podium was also a brilliant pianist and a composer who wrote for both Broadway and the concert hall, although it is interesting that his most performed orchestral pieces, the overture to Candide and the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, are both from his Broadway life. He was a great proselytiser for classical music, as one can still see in his Omnibus appearances and his Young People’s Concerts, and a strong advocate for American composers, but he was also a ruthless self-promoter, as some of his erstwhile friends and mentors found to their cost. A mostly happily married man and loving father, he was also a wildly promiscuous, mostly gay, Lothario.

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Published in April 2014, no. 360
Ian Dickson

Ian Dickson

Ian Dickson has degrees in drama from Yale and the University of New South Wales, and is the co-author of the musical Better Known As Bee.

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