Saturday, September 09, 2006
Bernie, we hardly knew ye
Half-watched (a replay of) the Leonard Bernstein American Masters presentation on PBS (okay, so they're not total fuckups) the other night, and was quite inspired, in spite of myself.
What an interesting life this guy led.
I can remember quite distinctly the first time I heard the soundtrack to West Side Story -- it was in the basement of our house in Florham Park, NJ. I was maybe 11 or so, had just aquired my first cassette recorder (which I thought was the coolest thing in the world), and had made my own copy of the LP. We had this old-school yellow formica table down in that basement, and I was seated at it, trying to complete some dumb homework assignment or other. Alas, I couldn't stop checking out the music -- an early example of my inability to put what I needed to do above what I wanted to do. Play, rewind. Play, rewind.
Then I discovered Candide -- thanks to our very ambitious high school band director, Andy Stachow, who apparently thought nothing of asking a bunch of pimply-faced teenagers to attempt the (rather gnarly) overture from that work. Can't remember if we ever got to play that one in concert... but does it matter? What's important is that I found out about it. And that overture continues to be one of my favorite pieces (indeed, I have earmarked it for the IJG "cover" album that I may try to do someday).
I suppose the thing I respect most about Bernstein now -- having discovered much of his other chamber and symphonic music (goodness gracious, have you heard Chichester Psalms?) -- is that, aside from being a consummate musical personality, he stuck to a particular concept and saw it through to the end. In other words, like another hero of mine, Samuel Barber, he never got aboard the twelve-tone bandwagon, but rather stayed true to an ideal of lyrical, melodic, harmonic music, not because it was or was not fashionable or "progressive," but because he liked it. Not that either side of this duality is "better" -- just that I can admire people who ignore a given zeitgeist in favor of their own aesthetic desires.
Ah, pleasure. What a complex phenomenon.
What has always baffled me about Bernstein, on the other hand, is that his total compositional output was not really commensurate with his talent. In that sense, I suppose he recalls Mendelssohn and Saint-Saens. But it just doesn't make a sense that a moron like me could seemingly be unable to stop writing, while Lenny suffered writer's block. Huh?
Ah, personality. What a complex phenomenon.