LEONARD BERNSTEIN by Peter Gradenwitz

LEONARD BERNSTEIN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In contrast to Joan Peyser's recent Bernstein bio (p. 542), which gave considerable attention to Bernstein as celebrity and personality (complete with gossipy private-life details), this study--by a longtime Bernstein friend and Honorary Professor of Music (Freiburg U.)--confines itself largely to analysis of the composer-conductor's art, along with some reverential tributes to the man himself. After a brief, rambling chapter on Bernstein's place in American music and his ties to lyes and Mahler, Gradenwitz offers a bland biographical sketch--with anecdotes and reminiscences from Lenny himself, plus a few of the author's recollections (which emphasize Bernstein's devotion to Israel). Then comes an appreciation of Bernstein-as-conductor, more mystic than showman: there are tributes from colleagues (Fischer-Dieskau, Christs Ludwig, orchestra players) and reprimands from Gradenwitz to those who don't ""perceive the latent spiritual and sensual force behind the outward ecstasy."" The book's real value comes, however, in the subsequent chapters on Bernstein-as-composer. Gradenwitz examines all the early work, with convincing enthusiasm for the two Town musicals (though ""Some Other Time"" is bewilderingly slighted). Here, and in the symphonies and ballets, he finds recurring themes (loneliness above all), compositional patterns and techniques, key influences (liturgical music, Stravinsky). West Side Story gets its own chapter, with special attention to the score's underlying structure--the ""Somewhere"" melody is foreshadowed throughout--and an intriguing comparison with Britten's Rape of Lucretia. Close-ups of later works acknowledge serious defects--the ""confusion of styles"" in Mass, the shallowness of the A Quiet Place libretto--while stressing the musics complexity. And the volume concludes with short profiles of Bernstein as lecturer and personality: not very persuasively, Gradenwitz argues against the image of Lenny as ""star artist."" The musical analysis here is sometimes pedantic, sometimes over generous. The prose is occasionally awkward, rarely eloquent. But amid the puffery is plenty of careful, illuminating critical commentary--sure to be welcomed by students, performers, and serious listeners.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Berg--dist. by St. Martin's