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Thread: Music Composed by Bernstein

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    Senior Member Captainnumber36's Avatar
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    Default Music Composed by Bernstein

    I'm listening to my local classical radio station and a piece of his came on, it was quite Jazz inspired. I really enjoyed it! Unfortunately I don't recall the name of it.

    What are some works you enjoy that were composed by performers?
    Last edited by Captainnumber36; Apr-19-2021 at 02:26.

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    Senior Member SanAntone's Avatar
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    It could have been Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs


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    Senior Member Captainnumber36's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SanAntone View Post
    It could have been Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs

    Yes, that was it! . Thanks.

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    Senior Member SanAntone's Avatar
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    Bernstein is one of my favorite composers.

    Some of my favorite works, usually his original recordings are the best, IMO:

    Mass
    His three symphonies, especially the second "Age of Anxiety"
    Of course West Side Story
    Candide

    His solo piano music is wonderful, he wrote a number of "anniversaries" which are short portraits of some of the people in his life.

    His violin concerto - Serenade after Plato's "Symposium" is really very good:

    Last edited by SanAntone; Apr-19-2021 at 02:36.

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    Senior Member fluteman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SanAntone View Post
    Bernstein is one of my favorite composers.

    Some of my favorite works, usually his original recordings are the best, IMO:

    Mass
    His three symphonies, especially the second "Age of Anxiety"
    Of course West Side Story
    Candide

    His solo piano music is wonderful, he wrote a number of "anniversaries" which are short portraits of some of the people in his life.

    His violin concerto - Serenade after Plato's "Symposium" is really very good:

    Yes! Plus his On The Waterfront suite, made from his score that should have won the Academy Award, the ballet Fancy Free, On the Town, the hit Broadway show that preceded West Side Story, also made into a suite, and the more serious Chichester Psalms and Halil. Not considered a "master" by some of the authorities here, but should be.

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    Senior Member SONNET CLV's Avatar
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    The Symphony No. 1 "Jeremiah" remains my favorite work by Leonard Bernstein. It's likely the work of his I've played most in my listening room over the years. I give it a spin at least once or twice a year. Sometimes more often than that. I never tire of the piece. The other two symphonies, on the other hand, have never much interested me.

    Too, I rank the Candide Overture high on my list of favorite overtures. It's an absolutely wonderful work with one of the best melodies to come from Bernstein's pen.

    And of course I cherish the West Side Story music, though I enjoy it most in the context of the stage play or the film version. Still, many of the selections are prominent on jazz musicians' recordings, and with good cause.

    Too, as appropriately cited above, On The Waterfront ranks with the great film scores of modern times.

    I've had opportunity to hear nearly everything Bernstein composed, having the Deutsche Grammophon box set Bernstein Complete Works in my current collection, and combing through it on numerous occasions.

    Q-a.jpg

    Looking over the track list of that compilation of 26 CDs and 3 DVDs, I'm reminded that I greatly enjoy Songfest (1977) A Cycle Of American Poems For Six Singers And Orchestra, Symphonic Dances From "West Side Story" (1960), Missa Brevis (1988) For A Cappella Mixed Chorus (Or Octet Of Solo Voices) And Countertenor Solo, With Incidental Percussion, and several of the many Anniversaries piano pieces Bernstein composed for/about friends and/or acquaintances.

    I've never been a big fan of Mass, nor of some of the other "theatre" music and chamber works. But, any composer who writes a song titled "I Hate Music!" is well worth listening to.
    Last edited by SONNET CLV; Apr-19-2021 at 03:42.

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    Senior Member MrMeatScience's Avatar
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    I have mixed feelings about his work. Candide, West Side, the Symposium, the Piano Trio, the Clarinet Sonata, and some of the Anniversaries are all a regular part of my listening diet, but some of his music leaves me cold (the symphonies), and at least one piece I have some active antipathy towards (the Mass, which is probably my least favourite work by any major composer). I'm no great fan of his as a conductor either, though, so I suspect we're just not on the same wavelength. Different strokes, different folks.

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    Senior Member mikeh375's Avatar
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    Like Sonnet CLV and unlike Mr.MeatS above, I love his 'Jeremiah' and it might well be the one work of his I've listened to the most too. The solo vox in the last mvt. is so haunting and moving. Powerful stuff indeed. I'm also a fan of his 2nd +3rd Symphonies. My first introduction to him was singing tenor in the 'Chichester Psalms' and have loved that work ever since, even though it is a bit twee to my tastes in places - notably Psalm 23, but I still like it anyway. The 'Serenade' too is wonderful as are a lot of his 'Anniversaries' for piano, many of which I've played through over the years.

    Like Mr.MeatS and S CLV, I too have an aversion to 'Mass' which is far too eclectic and ambitious for me.
    I have quite a few of his scores and for a significant birthday present, my wife bought me a hardback full score of West Side Story, knowing how much I admire that work.
    Last edited by mikeh375; Apr-19-2021 at 12:32.
    New website and some new music......www.mikehewer.com

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    Senior Member SanAntone's Avatar
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    I want to plug Mass a bit in the wake of the negative comments since I absolutely love the work and consider it his masterpiece, which is a revised critical opinion which has been trending somewhat. In the last two decades, I have seen some evidence of the tide turning in favor of this unique work. There have been several newish recordings, which I covered in a blog article:

    Leonard Bernstein’s Mass : Newer Recordings

    I would urge any Bernstein fan to give Mass a new listen.

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    Senior Member fluteman's Avatar
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    Virgil Thomson referred to Bernstein as a minor composer who mainly was a conductor, while he didn't try hard to disguise the fact that he considered himself a major composer. Yet, even if we limit the discussion to the Overture to Candide and the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, both of which are in the standard orchestral repertoire everywhere, it is now clear that he was a major composer in terms of the long term recognition of his music as an important part of western culture, and Virgil Thomson, less so. And that is before we consider the questions of whether the 1st symphony or the Mass are masterpieces, never mind the clarinet sonata, which is a favorite of mine, and as a very early work both reflects his original influences and roots and anticipates his future triumphs.

    I always think of that whenever anyone dismisses a contemporary or recently deceased composer as 'minor'. Their standing can change after 20, 50, or even 100 years.

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    I really like "Jeremiah"....i also enjoy On the Town, Fancy free, facscimile, On the H2OFront...

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    I love Bernstein as a conductor. His earlier Columbia recordings of the 1950s, 60s and early 70s that he made mostly with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra are very robust and enthusiastic. Almost across the repertoire you really can't go wrong with a Bernstein recording from the Columbia years; the only exception being Debussy which Bernstein over-plays. Some of the later DG recordings that Bernstein made from the late 1970s through the 1980s and on until his death in 1990, are also very good but not for everyone. Instead of being vibrant, Bernstein is more meditative, reflective, and intense, on these recordings and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

    As for Bernstein the composer, his finest creation is West Side Story. While the play itself, the lyrics and plot seem to be completely misunderstand juvenile delinquency, urban poverty, and Puerto-Rican culture; the music itself can't be faulted, and every one of Bernstein's tunes is a hit recorded over and over again by popular singers and jazz bands, and deservedly so. The West Side Story Orchestral suite is also, therefor, fantastic; as are many other cute little things that Bernstein put together such as the snappy Prelude, Fugue and Riffs for clarinet and jazz band. Candide is also a wonderful musical, and in some ways it is even better and even more profound than West Side Story, though apart from the rollicking overture, nothing is as nearly catchy than anything from West Side Story.

    But I don't think that musicals and clever little orchestral tricks was what Bernstein wanted to be known for, and I sense that this is not what this thread is about either. Bernstein wanted to be a composer like Beethoven, or Brahms, or at least something belonging to a great tradition of American composers which included the likes of Ives and Copland who Bernstein championed. So then, Bernstein, wanted to be known as a composer of symphonies, concertos, and religious works; "serious" music, if you will.

    In this sense, I think that Bernstein identified mostly with Mahler. He identified Mahler as a man and a musician who was torn in different directions, as Mahler incorporates many musical elements into his monster symphonies. There is the Austro-German tradition of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, and Wagner; the Vienna waltzes; the German folk music; and Bernstein himself made a convincing case that Mahler's music is heavily influenced as much by his own Jewish religious and musical heritage, as it was more outwardly reminiscent of the Catholic Church. Along this line, in the wonderful, Das Lied Von Der Erde, looks to Chinese philosophy, even if the scholars say that Mahler's full understanding of it was lost a bit in the translation.

    This is also what I see in Bernstein's Symphonies, and in the Mass. Like Mahler, Bernstein was also a conductor and a cosmopolitan; and you see Bernstein doing what Mahler did, as Bernstein's music shows influences of Ives, Copland, Stravinsky, Jewish elements, Christian elements, Jazz elements, Broadway, and even a few serial passages here and there. But with Bernstein these elements never seem stick or feel one with the larger musical vision. Wherever Mahler goes, Mahler sounds like Mahler, the fact that it may be taken from a Vienna waltz, a Catholic Mass, a Jewish cantor, a German milk-maid, is almost along the lines of an afterthought because Mahler's larger musical vision is so powerful. Or maybe Mahler was just composing what he was feeling, with all these musical elements being part of his stream of consciousness (and those long, long, Mahler symphonic ramblings do sometimes sound that way to me); whereas Bernstein seems to try to hard at it.

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    Senior Member fluteman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Coach G View Post
    ... whereas Bernstein seems to try to hard at it.
    It may be that Bernstein's greatest strength and his greatest flaw were one and the same: His compulsive desire to do everything for, and be loved by, everyone. In music, he was formidably talented in every way: conductor, composer, pianist, teacher, lecturer, writer. When he accepted the position as sole music director of the New York Philharmonic, a position he already was sharing with Dmitri Mitropoulos, fulfilling his lifelong ambition of directing a major orchestra, he had misgivings, as he thought (I think correctly) that to a great extent he was sacrificing his composing career.

    Late in life he became bitter over his lost opportunities as a composer. He had an angry and permanent break with David Diamond, a close friend for nearly his entire professional life. Diamond always was a difficult man, emotionally and financially demanding and needy. Bernstein long had championed his music nearly as much as his own and helped him in many other ways. The break came after it became clear that Diamond considered himself the composer in their relationship, and Bernstein merely one of the conductors.

    But it wouldn't be Bernstein without that wonderful eclecticism, would it?

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    Senior Member mbhaub's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Coach G View Post
    As for Bernstein the composer, his finest creation is West Side Story. While the play itself, the lyrics and plot seem to be completely misunderstand juvenile delinquency, urban poverty, and Puerto-Rican culture; the music itself can't be faulted, and every one of Bernstein's tunes is a hit recorded over and over again by popular singers and jazz bands, and deservedly so.
    Do be so quick to judge Bernstein and Sondheim's 60+ year old work. Juvenile delinquency has changed a lot since the late '50s. In it's time it was certainly stylized, but it was also very edgy and provocative. It's going to be interesting to see how Steven Spielberg handles that aspect in his upcoming movie. Will the gang have guns? Switchblades are no longer "cool".

    The music is great - a genuine classic. I like his On the Waterfront score, too. The Dybbuk is sadly neglected. Can't stand the symphonies - any of them.
    "It is surprising how easily one can become used to bad music" - F. Mendelssohn

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    Senior Member SanAntone's Avatar
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    Steven Spielberg is doing a remake of West Side Story?

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