leonard bernstein

On Leonard Bernstein: "Do we love him or do we want to kick him in the ass?"

Robert Gottlieb in the New York Review: "There’s the Lenny problem: Is he for real or is he an act? Do we love him or do we want to kick him in the ass? Is his heart only on his sleeve, or is there another one inside him? And do those of us who grew up with him in all his avatars respond to him the same way as those coming to him for the first time, with no history and perhaps no expectations?"

With neither beginning nor end

[Leonard Bernstein's account of his visitation of Mlle. Boulanger.] I was ushered into her bedchamber by the angelic and anxiety-ridden Mlle. Dieudonné, who, with forefinger to lips, and seconded only by an attending nurse, whispered a sharp order: Ten minutes only. As it turned out, the visit lasted closer to one hour.

Nadia was beautifully dressed and groomed, as if for the coffin. Her crucifix gleamed at her throat; her eyes and mouth were closed; her whole face seemed closed in coma. I knelt by the bed in silent communion. Suddenly there was the shock of her voice, deep and strong as always (how? her lips did not seem to move; how?) "Qui est là?" I could not respond for shock. The Dieudonné forefinger whipped to the lips. Finally I dared speak: "Lenny. Léonard..." Silence. Did she hear, did she know? "Cher Lenny..." She knew; a miracle. Encouraging signal from Dieudonné. I persevered: "My dear friend, how do you feel?" Pause. Then that basso profundo (through unmoving lips!): "Tellement forte." I drew a deep breath. "Vous voulez dire ... intérieurement?" "...Oui. Mais le corps--" "Je comprends bien," I said hastily, to shorten her efforts. "Je pars. Vous devez être très fatiguée." "Pas de fatigue. Non. Point. ..." A protracted pause, and I realized she had drifted back into sleep.

Signals from the astonished attending ladies suggested my departure, but I was held there, unable to rise from my knees. I knew there was more to come, and in a few minutes it did come: "Ne partez pas." Not a plea, but a command. I searched my mind anxiously for the right thing to say, knowing that anything would be wrong. Then I heard myself asking: "Vous entendez la musique dans la tête?" Instant reply: "Tout le temps. Tout le temps." This so encouraged me that I continued, as if in quotidien conversation: "Et qu'est-ce que vous entendez ce moment-ci?" I thought of her preferred loves. "Mozart? Monteverdi? Bach, Stravinsky, Ravel?" Long pause. "Une musique ... [very long pause] ... ni commencement ni fin ..."

She was already there, on the other side.

"I have never rested well. I am only happy when I work. But I can't work. And there you are."

Leonard Bernstein to Aaron Copland (July 1967): Dear A:

Can't sleep (haven't for weeks) and thinking very much of you, of music, of impasses. Haven't found a work to write (after almost a month of dolce-far-niente in this beautiful house): not a note on paper, not a score studied, a very few books read: no thoughts to speak of, no nuthin. Much pleasure in children. Hebrew lessons (!) to Alexander (we adore them and laugh a good deal; in the sun-air-sky-water-boat department, diving from my new rubber boat (singing all the while "All we've got is a rubber boat we can't blow up and a single flashlight" and nearly weeping with nostalgia) and enjoying all my diving gear -- black spaceman type wet-suit, flippers, helmet, knife, watch, depthometer, oxygen tanks on back; enjoying driving my new silver-gray Maserati -- my first (and last) sheer playboy acquisition. Sailing, snorkeling, seeing a very few people, not even going to see Etruscan ruins nearby, logey, paralyzed with sea and sun. And no sleep. Somewhere in all this I must be restoring my soul, recharging my transistors, "resting." I never have rested well; I'm happy only when I work. But I can't work. And there you are."

Leonard Bernstein to Kenneth Ehrman (January 17th, 1939)

"Life has been going on, as it has a way of doing. Just a series of minor catastrophes of varying kinds. Most noteworthy: I left a valuable manuscript of Copland's plus another printed piece of his plus a valuable manuscript book of mine plus a valuable fountain pen plus all of my thesis notes over which I had theoretically slaved (!) in New York on the train coming back from the City of Sin. The infallible New Haven Railroad is unable to find these things, which means I must start my thesis all over again at double speed, and type this letter, faut d'un stylo, and be generally upset at having lost Aaron's manuscript for him. He of course took it as only he could take it -- with a philosophical phrase. Good old Aaron: if it had been anyone else but he I should long ago have gone into voluntary exile."

The Bernstein letters

From The Spectator — "The implication of insincerity is not wholly undeserved. Bernstein had an ‘excessive need to be loved by everyone’, as Martha Gellhorn pointed out. Yet probably his worst epistolary (and perhaps personal) sin was gush, exaggerated emotion, verging at times on the sententious. Only with one correspondent, his great conducting mentor Serge Koussevitzky, does he wax insufferably, sycophantically false, and the sheer weight of the exception is a compliment to the rule."