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Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein by Jack Mitchell.jpg
Louis Bernstein

(1918-08-25)August 25, 1918
Died October 14, 1990(1990-10-14) (aged 72)
Occupation Composer, conductor, author, lecturer, pianist
Years active 1940–1990
List of compositions
(m. 1951; died 1978)
Children 3
BernsteinLeonardSignature01 mono 25p transp.png

Leonard Bernstein ( BURN-styne; August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990) was an American conductor, composer, pianist, music educator, author, and humanitarian. He was the first American conductor to receive international acclaim. Bernstein received many honors, including seven Emmy Awards, two Tony Awards, sixteen Grammy Awards including the Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Kennedy Center Honor.

As a composer he wrote in many genres, including symphonic and orchestral music, ballet, film and theatre music, choral works, opera, chamber music and works for the piano. His best-known work is the Broadway musical West Side Story, which continues to be regularly performed worldwide, and has been adapted into two (1961 and 2021) feature films. His works include three symphonies, Chichester Psalms, Serenade after Plato's "Symposium", the original score for the film On the Waterfront, and theater works including On the Town, Wonderful Town, Candide, and his MASS.

Bernstein was the first American-born conductor to lead a major American symphony orchestra. He was music director of the New York Philharmonic and conducted the world's major orchestras. He was the first conductor to share and explore music on television with a mass audience. Through his educational efforts, including several books and the creation of two major international music festivals, he influenced several generations of young musicians.

A lifelong humanitarian, Bernstein worked in support of civil rights; protested against the Vietnam War; advocated nuclear disarmament; raised money for HIV/AIDS research and awareness; and engaged in multiple international initiatives for human rights and world peace.

Near the end of his life, he conducted an historic performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in Berlin to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall. The concert was televised live, worldwide, on Christmas Day, 1989.

Early life and family

Born Louis Bernstein in Lawrence, Massachusetts, he was the son of Ukrainian-Jewish parents, Jennie (née Resnick) and Samuel Joseph Bernstein, both of whom immigrated to the United States from Rovno (now Ukraine). His grandmother insisted that his first name be Louis, but his parents always called him Leonard. He legally changed his name to Leonard when he was eighteen, shortly after his grandmother's death. To his friends and many others he was simply known as "Lenny".

His father was the owner of The Samuel Bernstein Hair and Beauty Supply Company. It held the New England franchise for the Frederick's Permanent Wave Machine, whose immense popularity helped Sam get his family through The Great Depression.

When Leonard was ten years old, his aunt Clara deposited her upright piano at her brother's house. Bernstein began teaching himself piano and music theory and was soon clamoring for lessons. He had a variety of piano teachers in his youth, including Helen Coates, who later became his secretary. In the summers, the Bernstein family would go to their vacation home in Sharon, Massachusetts, where young Leonard conscripted all the neighborhood children to put on shows ranging from Bizet's Carmen to Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. He would often play entire operas or Beethoven symphonies with his younger sister Shirley. Leonard's youngest sibling, Burton, was born in 1932, thirteen years after Leonard. Despite the large span in age, the three siblings remained close their entire lives.

Sam was initially opposed to young Leonard's interest in music and attempted to discourage his son's interest by refusing to pay for his piano lessons. Leonard then took to giving lessons to young people in his neighborhood. One of his students, Sid Ramin, became Bernstein's most frequent orchestrator and lifelong beloved friend.

College years

Bernstein's first two education environments were both public schools: the William Lloyd Garrison School, followed by the prestigious Boston Latin School, for which Bernstein and classmate Lawrence F. Ebb wrote the Class Song.

In 1935, Bernstein enrolled at Harvard College, where he studied music. He majored in music with a final year thesis titled "The Absorption of Race Elements into American Music" (1939; reproduced in his book Findings).

Bernstein graduated from Harvard in 1939 with a Bachelor of Arts cum laude.

After graduating from Harvard, Bernstein enrolled at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. At Curtis, Bernstein studied conducting with Fritz Reiner (who anecdotally is said to have given Bernstein the only "A" grade he ever awarded); piano with Isabelle Vengerova; orchestration with Randall Thompson; counterpoint with Richard Stöhr; and score reading with Renée Longy Miquelle.

Personal life

After much personal struggle and a turbulent on-off engagement, Bernstein married actress Felicia Cohn Montealegre on September 10, 1951. They had three children, Jamie, Alexander, and Nina.

A major period of upheaval in Bernstein's personal life began in 1976 when he decided that he could no longer conceal his homosexuality. He left his wife Felicia. The next year Felicia was diagnosed with lung cancer, and eventually Bernstein moved back in with her and cared for her until she died on June 16, 1978.

Bernstein had asthma, which kept him from serving in the military during World War II.

Death and legacy

Leonard Bernstein Grave, Sunset, Green-Wood Cemetery
Bernstein's grave in Green-Wood Cemetery
Leonard Bernstein in een ontspannen pose, Bestanddeelnr 921-6977
Bernstein, 1968

Bernstein announced his retirement from conducting on October 9, 1990. He died five days later, in his New York apartment at The Dakota, of a heart attack brought on by mesothelioma. He was 72 years old. A longtime heavy smoker, he had emphysema from his mid-50s.

Bernstein is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York, next to his wife and with a copy of Mahler's Fifth Symphony opened to the famous Adagietto lying across his heart. On August 25, 2018 (his 100th birthday), he was honored with a Google Doodle. Also for his centennial, the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles created an exhibition titled Leonard Bernstein at 100.

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See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Leonard Bernstein para niños

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