Leonard Bernstein

From the Collection: Leonard Bernstein

The Paley Center for Media collection contains more than 200 radio and television programs featuring the American superstar conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990). This year marks both the 90th anniversary of his birth and the 65th anniversary of his historic Carnegie Hall conducting debut.

Young People's Concerts: "Who Is Gustav Mahler?"
Airdate: February 7, 1960

Exactly one week before Valentine's Day in 1960, Leonard Bernstein offered up a heartfelt Valentine—and a hundredth birthday tribute—to his favorite composer, Gustav Mahler, at one of his Young People's Concerts at Carnegie Hall. The event was part of the New York Philharmonic's Mahler Festival of 1960, and it opened the minds and hearts of children across the country to the sensitive, passionate conductor-composer with whom Bernstein so closely identified. One of his guests on that concert was the soprano Reri Grist, who three years earlier had introduced the song "Somewhere" in the original Broadway production of West Side Story. The following excerpt is from an essay by Roger Englander, the Emmy Award-winning producer and director of Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts, which were broadcast 53 times on CBS between 1958 and 1971. The essay was originally published in the 1985 catalogue that accompanied the exhibition "Leonard Bernstein: The Television Work," at The Museum of Broadcasting (today The Paley Center for Media).

No Balloons or Tap Dancers: A Look at the Young People's Concerts
Bernstein's Young People's Concerts were probably the least produced shows on television. Each was essentially a reportage of an event, and that event was broadcast live to some four million viewers who could share the same experience with the three thousand people in the hall. There were few concessions to the usual production methods of television. There were no hidden effects. If we used any visuals, such as portraits of composers or pages of musical scores, they were large enough to be seen in the farthest reaches of the balcony, not just picked up by an offstage camera for the home audience. Nor were there any special orchestra seating arrangements for the television camera's convenience.

For five seasons the concerts were broadcast live from Carnegie Hall at 12 noon on Saturdays. Even after we moved to Lincoln Center and videotape made prerecording possible, the tapes were seldom edited before the show was broadcast. So what you got at home was what you saw at the hall.

Leonard Bernstein: Sixtieth Birthday Party at Wolf Trap
Airdate: August 25, 1978

Leonard Bernstein's sixtieth birthday was celebrated around the world and included this gala live performance from Wolf Trap Farm National Park in Virginia. The three-hour concert included selections from West Side Story, On the Town, Wonderful Town, and Candide; excerpts from Bernstein's musical score to the film On the Waterfront and from his Mass; Aaron Copland conducting The National Symphony Orchestra in the "Lamentation" from Bernstein's "Jeremiah" Symphony No.1 with Christa Ludwig as soloist; and prerecorded conversations with host Joel Grey and several of Bernstein's collaborators (including Christa Ludwig and Betty Comden and Adolph Green) about his place in music history. In this clip, recorded earlier in the day (if you listen closely, you will hear a rehearsal of "The Dance at the Gym" from West Side Story taking place in the background), Bernstein talks with Joel Grey and producer Humphrey Burton about his dual life as a composer and conductor.

Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic in Moscow
Airdate: October 25, 1959

Leonard Bernstein's journey to Moscow with the New York Philharmonic in 1959 was an historic cross-cultural move during the height of the Cold War. In the audience for the concert at the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory were Soviet dignitaries along with the composer Dmitri Shostakovich (whose Seventh Symphony was performed at the concert) and the Nobel Prize-winning author Boris Pasternak (who at the time was living in more or less forced seclusion in his dacha at a writer's colony in Peredelkino, near Moscow). In this clip, Bernstein talks to the audience about the similarities and differences between Russian and American music.

The following excerpt is from an article by the music critic Herbert Kupferberg that first appeared in the exhibition catalogue for "The New York Philharmonic: A Radio and Television Tradition," a 1992 screening and listening series at The Museum of Television & Radio (today The Paley Center for Media). Mr. Kupferberg covered the Philharmonic's Moscow trip for the New York Herald Tribune.

The Philharmonic Goes Abroad: Moscow 1959
The problems began early. The Philharmonic had put in a request for work visas, but the Soviets insisted on visitors' visas, which they took weeks to grant. Still more disturbing was a contretemps over the recording process itself. The Saudek production team had come with their own cameras, crews, and videotape, expecting to make color pictures. But the Russians insisted on using their cameras and crews, and instead of videotape they employed thirty-five millimeter black-and-white film. "We had to work with the Russian cameramen," says Richard Thomas, the production supervisor for Saudek. "It was a very elaborate system of communication. We really didn't know what they were doing, and were very nervous about how it would come out technically. When they were done, they turned over the film to us . . ."

Word that Bernstein intended to address the audience before the afternoon concert produced consternation among the Soviet authorities. "The Russians really objected to having Lenny talk," Carlos Moseley (former managing director, president, and chairman of the Philharmonic) says. "They didn't know what he would say. Finally, we reached a compromise. His remarks were written out, and mimeographed translations were to be provided to the audience. But, somehow, the translations didn't arrive on time."

Much of this byplay can be observed in the CBS television program. Bernstein is seen reading in English from a prepared text—certainly not his customary procedure—and if there are any copies of a translation in the hands of his Russian audience, they certainly are invisible to the naked eye.

Wonderful Town
Airdate: November 20, 1958

This joyous romp opened on Broadway on February 25, 1953, and won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Actress in a Musical-Rosalind Russell. Here, in a live television re-creation of the original production, fifty-one-year-old Russell proves she still can deliver the goods (and then some) in "Conga." The lyrics are by Bernstein's longtime friends Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

CBS News Special: Inside Pop-The Rock Revolution
Airdate: April 25, 1967

Bernstein had an appreciation for all kinds of music, including rock. In this special, he examines creativity in pop music of the sixties, including works by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Monkees, and Janis Ian. Here, he analyzes (and croons, in his inimitable voice) a famous Beatles song.