Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary Composer Biographies

Leonard Bernstein

Born: August 25, 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, America
Died: October 14, 1990 in New York City, New York, America
Nationality: American
Era: Twentieth Century
Main genre: Musical Theatre, Orchestral
Main works:
Musical Theatre:
West Side Story
Wonderful Town
Fancy Free
Serenade for Violin and Orchestra
Brief biography:

Leonard Bernstein was born to a family of Russian Jewish immigrants in Lawrence, Massachusetts on August 25, 1918. Leonard was born as Louis to honor the memory of his great-grandfather, but neither of his parents liked the name so he was called Leonard or Lenny. Even as a small child, he would beg to hear music, either on the piano in various friends' houses, or on his mother's wind-up Victrola. From the age of six he attended William Lloyd Garrison School in Roxbury, where he learened the rudiments of singing and reading music. At about age twelve Bernstein met Sid Ramin when he agreed to give him piano lessons for one dollar per lesson. Bernstein and Ramin became lifelong friends and Ramin went on to become a famous orchestrator, orchestrating Bernstein's West Side Story and A Quiet Place.

Bernstein was accepted to Harvard in 1935 as a music major. At Harvard he did study a lot, but also participated in many university activities. He joined the Glee club and played squash regularly. He picked up smoking at this age and would continue to smoke until his death. He graduated Harvard cum laude in 1939. Lenny Bernstein then went on to study conducting with Fritz Reiner at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, together with piano with Isabelle Vengerova and composition with Randall Thompson. In 1941 he graduated from Curtis Institute.

Leonard Bernstein years of glory were from 1957 to 1969. In 1957 the musical West Side Story premiered. From 1958 to 1969 he was the music director of the New York Philharmonic. In 1958 he conducted the first four seasons of "Young People's Concerts" and also toured Latin America with Dimitri Mitropoulos. His daughter Nina was born in 1962. The first performance of Third Symphony, Kaddish was in 1963. Leonard Bernstein was named lifetime Laureate Conductor on retirement from music directorships of New York Philharmonic.

In 1985 Burnstein was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Bernstein died in his New York City home on October 14, 1990. His death was due to cardiac arrest brought on by mesothelioma.

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