Universal genius – this term comes up regularly when people talk about Leonard Bernstein. On 25. August would have been the conductor, pianist, composer and music educator 100 years old.
No, Leonard Bernstein was not a man of half measures. From his early youth he burned for music. He shone all over the world as a conductor, and occasionally as a pianist. He raised rows and rows of students and won generations of young people to classical music with his Young Peoples' Concerts. And then he composed: operas and musicals, symphonies and chamber music, piano pieces, songs and choral works.
Bernstein did not limit himself in his private life either. His consumption of cigarettes was as legendary as his love of whiskey. The bisexual musician was also not strict about marital fidelity. 100 years ago, on the 25th. August 1918, he was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the son of Jewish-Ukrainian immigrants.
Not a healthy lifestyle
He was well aware of the fact that he was exploiting his health. "When I was in my mid-20s, I was diagnosed with emphysema. I would be dead by the time I was 35, they said. Then they said I would die at 45. Then at 55. But I'll manage," Bernstein said in a 1986 interview. There he was 68 – and still had four years to live.
As passionate as he always appeared in public, his extroverted personality concealed a torn human being. "It was his tragedy that, precisely because he was blessed with so many talents, he always had to neglect one part of himself in favor of another," writes his biographer Humphrey Burton. Bernstein also suffered from the fact that his "serious" compositions were far less successful than his musicals.
"A star was born"
His career began on 14. November 1943 at Carnegie Hall with an interlude with the New York Philharmonic. The legendary conductor Bruno Walter cancelled, the 25-year-old assistant took over the concert without any rehearsal. A star was born.
The reputation of the young American also spread in Europe. In 1946 he was already giving guest performances in Prague and London, and in 1948 he was the first American conductor to appear in post-war Germany. In 1948 he made his debut in Vienna, in 1953 at La Scala in Milan – Maria Callas was on the stage. At the same time, he attracted attention as a composer: his musical "On the Town" was published in 1944, "Candide" in 1956, and finally the legendary "West Side Story" in 1957.
A wide repertoire
And Bernstein taught: At the university, but above all on television, which he recognized early on as a means of popular education. His "Young Peoples' Concerts" broadcast on CBS, in which he explained works of classical music to young people in his inimitable and charming way, became legendary.
Bernstein's conducting repertoire knew few limits: From classics like Bach, Mozart and Schumann to operas by Verdi and Wagner and works of the 20th century. Century. He had a special love affair with the music of Gustav Mahler, which he firmly re-established in the concert hall. His performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony at the Schauspielhaus in East Berlin at Christmas 1989 is legendary. Symphony. As a tribute to the fall of the Berlin Wall, he had "Freiheit" sung instead of "Freude, schoner Gotterfunken".
Bernstein was Jewish – and homosexual
The Jewish faith of his family played an important role in Bernstein's creative work. His third symphony is entitled "Kaddish", and the Hebrew "Chichester Psalms" are among his most frequently performed works, along with the musicals.
In the late 1970s, Bernstein went through a serious crisis. When he spent more and more time with a student in 1976, his wife – although long since long-suffering – gave him an ultimatum: either him or me. Bernstein decided in favor of the friend. Just then his wife fell ill with cancer. Bernstein returned remorsefully and nursed her until her death in 1978. Had the separation encouraged the onset of the disease? This question occupied him ever since.
Of course, such reproaches are alien to his children. "It was painful for us at times," daughter Jame said, referring to Bernstein's extramarital homosexual escapades. But he did not destroy the family. "Our family had a sincere closeness and warmth. This was so strong that we remained closely connected to each other."