Leonard Bernstein: Early Life and Education

 Leonard Bernstein: A Life in Music

Leonard Bernstein was one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. He was a prodigy, a scholar, and a star who excelled in multiple fields of music. In this blog post, we will explore his remarkable journey from a young boy with a passion for music to a world-renowned conductor, composer, and teacher.

A Musical Prodigy

Leonard Bernstein was born in 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, to Jewish immigrants from Russia. His father, Samuel, was a businessman who sold beauty products, and his mother, Jennie, was a homemaker. Leonard had an older sister, Shirley, and a younger brother, Burton.

Leonard's musical talent was evident from an early age. He taught himself to play the piano when he was 10 years old, after his aunt Clara gave him an old upright piano as a gift. He also learned to play the violin and the organ at his local synagogue. He loved listening to classical music on the radio and records, and he would often improvise his own melodies and harmonies.

Leonard's father did not approve of his son's musical aspirations and wanted him to join the family business. He refused to pay for Leonard's music lessons, so Leonard had to earn money by playing piano for weddings, parties, and theater shows. He also received scholarships and grants from various organizations and individuals who recognized his potential.

Leonard attended Boston Latin School, where he excelled academically and participated in various musical activities. He was the accompanist for the school choir, the editor of the school newspaper, and the president of the drama club. He also wrote his first musical compositions during this time, including a piano sonata and a symphonic poem.

A Diverse Education

After graduating from high school in 1935, Leonard enrolled at Harvard University, where he majored in music. He studied with some of the most prominent music professors of his time, such as Walter Piston, Edward Burlingame Hill, and Archibald T. Davison. He also took courses in literature, philosophy, and languages, including French, German, Italian, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.

At Harvard, Leonard met many influential figures who would shape his musical career. He became friends with Aaron Copland, the leading American composer of his generation, who encouraged him to pursue his own voice as a composer. He also met Serge Koussevitzky, the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, who invited him to attend his summer school at Tanglewood. There, Leonard studied conducting with Koussevitzky and composition with Paul Hindemith.

Leonard graduated from Harvard in 1939 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music. He then moved to Philadelphia to attend the Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied conducting with Fritz Reiner and orchestration with Randall Thompson. He also studied piano with Isabelle Vengerova and chamber music with Samuel Barber.

A Rising Star

Leonard's big break came in 1943, when he was appointed as the assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Artur Rodzinski. On November 14 of that year, he made his debut as a conductor when he substituted for Bruno Walter, who fell ill before a nationally broadcast concert at Carnegie Hall. Leonard led the orchestra in works by Schumann, Rosza, Strauss, and Wagner with only a few hours of notice and without any rehearsal. His performance was a sensation and made him an overnight star.

Leonard soon became one of the most sought-after conductors in America and abroad. He conducted many of the world's leading orchestras, such as the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra