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18 Rather Uncommon Facts About Leonard Bernstein

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Leonard Bernstein: Leonard Bernstein, the electrifying conductor and composer who transcended the classical world to touch millions, is a name synonymous with brilliance and innovation. Yet, even for the most ardent Bernsteinophile, hidden beneath the layers of his iconic works and flamboyant persona lie gems of fascinating trivia. This article delves into 23 lesser-known facts about the maestro, revealing intriguing facets of his multifaceted life:

1. Piano Prodigy, Almost Lost to Football: Leonard Bernstein

Despite early piano prowess, young Lenny almost traded the concert hall for the gridiron. He was a talented high school quarterback, briefly considering dedicating himself to football until a broken collarbone sidelined him, leading him back to the keyboard.

Leonard Bernstein looks nice

2. Secret Admirer of Gershwin:

The flamboyant Bernstein idolized George Gershwin, even harboring an almost fanatical obsession. He wrote a musical about Gershwin’s life, later withdrawn, and even conducted Gershwin’s works from memory, much to the astonishment of seasoned orchestral players.

3. “Candide” Conundrum:

Bernstein’s satirical operetta “Candide” had a notoriously tumultuous journey. Banned in Boston for indecency, it faced protests and rewrites, ultimately becoming a cornerstone of his work, defying societal boundaries with its sharp wit and catchy tunes.

4. Television’s Musical Messiah: Leonard Bernstein

Bernstein wasn’t just a maestro of the concert hall; he was also a pioneer of televised music education. His “Young People’s Concerts” on CBS introduced millions of children to the wonders of classical music, making him a household name and earning him two Emmy Awards.

5. Political Firebrand:

More than just a composer, Bernstein was a passionate advocate for social justice. He used his platform to champion civil rights and anti-war causes, even facing backlash from conservative organizations for his outspoken views.

Leonard Bernstein

6. Conductor Extraordinaire, but No Piano Recitals:

Despite his early piano brilliance, Bernstein rarely gave solo recitals. He preferred the collaborative energy of the orchestra, finding his true voice in conducting and composing rather than as a performing pianist.

7. The Bernstein Feud: Leonard Bernstein

The music world wasn’t without its rivalries. Bernstein and conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos had a documented professional and personal animosity, fueled by contrasting artistic approaches and competing personalities.

8. A Shakespearean Streak:

Bernstein wasn’t just a musical mind; he was also a lover of the Bard. He composed incidental music for several Shakespearean productions, including a score for “Hamlet” that remains largely unknown.

9. Composer on the Beach:

Bernstein found inspiration in unexpected places. He famously composed parts of “West Side Story” while vacationing in Acapulco, the rhythmic pulse of the waves echoing in the vibrant Latin-infused score.

10. The Jazz Connection: Leonard Bernstein

Bernstein blurred the lines between classical and jazz throughout his career. He collaborated with jazz giants like Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, incorporating syncopated rhythms and improvisational elements into his symphonic works.

Leonard Bernstein looks good

11. “West Side Story” Almost Went Country:

The iconic “West Side Story” could have looked very different. Early drafts considered setting the musical in contemporary Texas, with rival gangs based on cowboys and ranchers instead of Jets and Sharks.

12. Broadway Doubts:

Despite its massive success, “West Side Story” wasn’t an instant Broadway hit. Producers initially doubted its appeal, fearing the gritty subject matter and modern music wouldn’t resonate with audiences.

13. A Musical Marathon: Leonard Bernstein

Bernstein’s compositional process could be intense. He famously wrote the entire score for “On the Waterfront” in just three weeks, fueled by coffee and relentless focus.

14. Unexpected Inspiration:

The haunting aria “Somewhere” from “West Side Story” wasn’t entirely an original creation. The melody was inspired by a traditional Jewish prayer chant, subtly woven into the fabric of the musical.

15. Conducting with Colors:

Bernstein’s flamboyant conducting style wasn’t just about theatrics. He reportedly associated certain musical keys with specific colors, influencing his gestures and interpretations while on the podium.

16. More Than Music: Leonard Bernstein

Bernstein’s talents extended beyond music. He wrote poetry, published lectures, and even dabbled in filmmaking, directing a documentary about pianist Glenn Gould.

17. A Symphony of Languages:

Bernstein was multilingual, and proficient in German, French, and Italian. This linguistic dexterity aided him in collaborating with international artists and navigating the complexities of the global music scene.

18. A Champion of Young Talent:

Bernstein actively nurtured the next generation of musicians. He established the Tanglewood Music Center, a training ground for young artists, and mentored promising composers like Stephen Sondheim.