(1918 - 1990)
Leonard Bernstein has his aunt to thank for introducing
him to music. When he was 10 years old, his aunt gave his family her piano.
He was so fascinated with it that he began to play by ear and to compose
simple pieces for it. Despite his father's apprehensions about musicians,
he soon began formal piano lessons.
Born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, on August 25, 1918,
Bernstein was the son of Russian immigrants, Samuel Joseph and Jennie, nee
Resnick, Bernstein. His father was in the hair goods and beauty supply
business. Bernstein attended Boston Latin School, where he received a
well-rounded early education. He graduated from Harvard in 1939 with a
degree in music. He continued his studies at the Curtis Institute of Music
in Philadelphia, where there were many leading musicians on the staff.
When World War II broke out, Bernstein was just
beginning his career. His first work, the Clarinet Sonata had been
published and he was busy producing operas for the Boston Institute of
Modern Art. He received his first major opportunity in September 1942, when
he was appointed as the assistant conductor at Tanglewood, Massachusetts.
This position gave him entree to many other
opportunities. In the 1942-43 season, he conducted concerts in New York and
in 1943, he was appointed as the assistant conductor of the New York
Philharmonic. On November 13, 1943, Bernstein was asked to conduct the
Philharmonic in place of Arthur Rodzinski, who had become ill. His success
was instantaneous. The New York Times praised his debut on its front
page and he received the plaudits of his colleagues.
Bernstein was very sensitive to the feelings of people.
When he was a guest conductor with the Israel Philharmonic, he was asked by
parents in the audience to write a work to honor their 19-year-old son, a
flautist, who had fallen in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Bernstein said,
"I never knew Yadin Tannenbaum, but I knew his spirit." He wrote
"Halil," which he dedicated to the flautist and his fallen
brothers. Bernstein wrote many pieces dealing with the world's cruelty and
injustices. His feelings were expressed in his works the Jeremiah
Symphony, the Age of Anxiety, Candide, Mass, and Kaddish
. Bernstein was also known for his popular music. He
composed music for Fancy Free, Wonderful Town, West Side Story and The
Dybbik. He also composed a one-act opera, Trouble in Tahiti, a
piano piece, Touches, and a piece in memory of Andre Kostelanetz
titled A Musical Toast.
Bernstein was a leader in introducing music to the youth
through his television program, the Young People's Concerts. He displayed
much enthusiasm and vigor in these concerts. Bernstein resigned as director
of the New York Philharmonic in 1969, following the death of his Chilean
born wife, Felicia Montealegre Cohn. The New York Philharmonic honored him
by giving him the title conductor laureate.
Bernstein's contributions cannot be measured. He will
always be a giant in American music. He died on October 14, 1990.
Sources: This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of
American heroism included in Jewish
Heroes & Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of American Jewish
Heroism, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of
Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and
published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.