Leonard Bernstein died on October 14, 1990. It is a measure of the man that almost two decades after his death his music making continues to move and inspire. My post about his Mass, which I wrote in 2005, has attracted more reader's comments than any other article uploaded On An Overgrown Path over the last four years. Bernstein's music reaches an audience that ignores the geographic, age and cultural boundaries enforced by today's new music thought police. This is shown by the comments that continue to be added to my article. Here are two of the most recent; interestingly, in view of the fact that Marin Alsop is currently championing Mass, both are from women:
I've already bought CD with Bernstein's Mass, and I'm really surprised!!! I'm young (very young :) ) musicologist and I'm fascinated in this work. I think or I feel something true in it. Maybe now I'm too fascinated to say something more objective but each one way of expression in Bernstein's work is really meaningful for me. It's interesting idea to create these all blues and rock parts, for me it's clear emotional report - when he uses blues it's like he says: "I can say whathever - it makes no difference to me", when he uses rock music it's like... "It has to be stopped! I need to know something! I want to fight with all these problems!" It's clever I think. And easily understandable:) ... I suppose it is fair now to admit I'm writing from Poland - Sylvie
Put me in the genuine Masterpiece camp. I can't speak to the musicality--dammit, Jim, I'm an ornithologist, not a music theorist--but the standard pieces of any Mass--especially the Gloria and Sanctus--are ethereally beautiful and thrilling--fresh even 30+ years after being written. The honest viewpoints (some cliche'--just as some people spout cliche's honestly) of the various people in the congregation ring true, as does the priest's steadfast simple and even rather blind faith. It rings equally true when his faith shatters, and then when the simple charity of the congregation leads him back. I had the original recording--never had four speakers to hear how it was actually supposed to be played--and now have it on CD. I loved listening to it in college in the early 70s, and love it just as much today - Laura Erickson
Laura's mention of 'four speakers' prompted me to feature the cover of Bernstein's 1973 CBS LP of the Rite, which was originally released in SQ quadraphonic format as well as stereo. The sleeve illustration was by that great designer Richard Hess. Once you are told that Richard Hess also invented paint-by-numbers you will see that LP sleeve in a rather different light.
A very different take on Lenny's music is found on the CD below. The Bernstein Estate authorised guitarist Lucian Plessner to make arrangements for guitar of a selection of his music including excerpts from Mass, Candide and West Side Story. Laura Erickson used the words 'etherally beautiful' about Mass, and that description applies equally to Lucian Plessner's transcriptions. This is haunting and intimate music making that is ideal for late-night listening. Released on the German CPO label in 1998 Leonard Bernstein on Guitar appears is deleted. But it is still available from online retailers and is well worth searching out.
The last track on Leonard Bernstein on Guitar is a reduction of the Candide finale. Make Our Garden Grow may well be an unashamed crib from the close of the first act of Aaron Copland's neglected opera The Tender Land, but it is also a wonderful summation of Lenny's approach to life and music.
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