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 Leonard Bernstein

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Leonard Bernstein

  • Birth 25 Aug 1918 Lawrence, Essex County, Massachusetts, USA
  • Death 14 Oct 1990 Manhattan, New York County (Manhattan), New York, USA
  • Burial Brooklyn, Kings County (Brooklyn), New York, USA
  • Plot Section G, Lot 43642
  • GPS
  • Memorial ID 1166

Composer, Orchestra Conductor, and Pianist. He was among the first conductors born and educated in the US to receive worldwide acclaim, and was one of the major figures in orchestral conducting in the second half of the 20th century. His conducting was characterized by extremes of emotion with the rhythmic pulse of the music conveyed visually through his balletic podium manner. As a composer, he is best remembered for writing the music for Broadway's "On the Town" (1944), "Wonderful Town" (1953), and "West Side Story" (1957), for which he also contributed the film scores. As a conductor, he held the post as the music director of the New York Philharmonic from 1958 to 1969, becoming the first American-born conductor to hold that position. Born Louis Bernstein, he was the son of Ukrainian Jewish parents whose father was a businessman and owner of a bookstore. His parents called him 'Leonard' and when he was fifteen, he changed his name accordingly. His father initially opposed his interest in music but took him to orchestra concerts in his teenage years and eventually supported his music education. At a very young age, he listened to a piano performance and was immediately captivated. He subsequently began learning the piano seriously when the family acquired his cousin's unwanted piano. As a child, he attended the Garrison Grammar School and Boston Latin School in Boston, Massachusetts, graduating in 1935. He enrolled in Harvard University at Cambridge, Massachusetts, majoring in music, and received in Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1939. He then enrolled at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1940 he moved to New York City, New York. Taking jobs as a music publisher, transcribing music, or producing arrangements under the pseudonym Lenny Amber. He began his study at the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer institute, Tanglewood, in the conducting class of the orchestra's conductor, Serge Koussevitzky. On November 1943, having recently been appointed assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, he made his major conducting debut at sudden notice and without any rehearsal after conductor Bruno Walter came down with the flu. He became instantly famous because the concert was nationally broadcast, and afterwards started to appear as a guest conductor with many US orchestras. From 1945 to 1947 he was the Music Director of the New York City Symphony Orchestra, which had been founded the previous year by the conductor Leopold Stokowski. He also began to emerged as a composer during this time. In January 1944 he conducted the premiere of his "Jeremiah Symphony" in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His score to the ballet "Fancy Free" opened in New York City in April 1944, which was later developed into the Broadway musical "On the Town" that opened in December 1944. After World War II, his career on the international stage began to flourish, with his first European conducting trip in 1946. The same year he conducted an opera for the first time, with the American premiere at Tanglewood of Benjamin Britten's "Peter Grimes." This was followed by conductor Arturo Toscanini's invitation to guest conduct two concerts with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, one of which featured him as piano soloist in the Maurice Ravel's "Piano Concerto in G Major." In 1947 he conducted in Tel Aviv, Israel for the first time, beginning a lifelong association with that country. During the 1950s he was blacklisted by the US State Department and CBS for his involvement in left-wing causes and organizations, but it had minimal impact on his career. On September 10, 1951 he married Costa Rican actress Felicia Cohn Montealegre. It has been speculated that he chose to marry partly to dispel rumors about his private life to help secure a major conducting appointment, following advice from his mentor Dimitri Mitropoulos about the conservative nature of orchestra boards. From 1951 to 1956 he was a visiting music professor Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, and founded the Creative Arts Festival there in 1952. He conducted various productions at the first festival, including the premiere of his opera "Trouble in Tahiti" and Blitzstein's English version of Kurt Weill's "Threepenny Opera." The festival was named after him in 2005, becoming the Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Creative Arts. In 1953 he was the first American conductor to appear at La Scala in Milan, conducting opera soprano Maria Callas in Cherubini's "Medea." That same year, he produced his score to the musical "Wonderful Town." In 1954 he made the first of his television lectures for the CBS arts program "Omnibus." The live lecture, entitled "Beethoven's Fifth Symphony," involved his explanation the work with the aid of musicians from the former NBC Symphony Orchestra (recently renamed the "Symphony of the Air") and a giant page of the score that covered the floor. He subsequently performed concerts with the orchestra and recorded his "Serenade for Violin" with Isaac Stern. Further "Omnibus" lectures followed from 1955 to 1958 (later on ABC and then NBC) covering jazz, conducting, American musical comedy, modern music, Johann Sebastian Bach, and grand opera. In late 1956 he conducted the New York Philharmonic in concerts that were to have been conducted by Guido Cantelli, who had died in an airplane crash in Paris. Partly due to these appearances, he was named the music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1957 (he began his tenure in that position in 1958), replacing Dimitri Mitropoulos. He became a prominent figure in the US through his series of 53 televised "Young People's Concerts" for CBS, which grew out of his "Omnibus" programs. He became as famous for his educational work in those concerts as for his conducting. His "Young People's Concerts" were the first and probably the most influential series of music appreciation programs ever produced on television, and were highly acclaimed by critics. Prior to taking over the New York Philharmonic, he composed the music for two shows. The first was for the operetta "Candide," which was first performed in 1956 with a libretto by Lillian Hellman based on Voltaire's novel. The second was Bernstein's collaboration with the choreographer Jerome Robbins, writer Arthur Laurents, and lyricist Stephen Sondheim to produce the musical "West Side Story." The first three had worked on it intermittently since Robbins first suggested the idea in 1949. Finally, with the addition of Sondheim to the team and a period of concentrated effort, it received its Broadway premiere in 1957 and has since proven to be Bernstein's most popular and enduring score. In 1959 he took the New York Philharmonic on a tour of Europe and the Soviet Union, portions of which were filmed by CBS. A highlight of the tour was Bernstein's performance of Dmitri Shostakovich's "Fifth Symphony," in the presence of the composer. In 1961 he conducted at President John F. Kennedy's pre-inaugural gala, and he was an occasional guest in the Kennedy White House and in 1968 he also conducted at the funeral mass for the late President Kennedy's brother Robert Kennedy. With his commitment to the New York Philharmonic and his many other activities, he had little time for composition during the 1960s. The two major works he produced at this time were his "Kaddish Symphony" (1963) dedicated to the recently assassinated President John F. Kennedy and the "Chichester Psalms" (1965) which he produced during a sabbatical year he took from the Philharmonic to concentrate on composition. In 1969 he stepped down as the full-time conductor of the New York Philharmonic and devoted more time to writing music and guest conducting, even though he continued to occasionally tour with them. His major compositions during the 1970s were his "MASS: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers," his score for the ballet "Dybbuk," his orchestral vocal work "Songfest," and his U.S. bicentenary musical "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" that was written with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner which was his first real theatrical flop, and last original Broadway show. The world premiere of his "MASS" took place on September 8, 1971. Commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy for the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., it was partly intended as an anti-war statement. Hastily written in places, the work represented a fusion not only of different religious traditions (Latin liturgy, Hebrew prayer, and plenty of contemporary English lyrics) but also of different musical styles, including classical and rock music. It was originally a target of criticism from the Roman Catholic Church on the one hand and contemporary music critics who objected to its Broadway/populist elements on the other. Today, it is perhaps seen as less blasphemous and more a piece of its era; in 2000, it was even performed in the Vatican. In 1973 he was appointed to the Charles Eliot Norton Chair as Professor of Poetry at his alma mater, Harvard University, and delivered a series of six televised lectures on music with musical examples played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which were not televised until 1976. Taking the title from a Charles Ives work, he called the series "The Unanswered Question." In 1976 he decided that he could no longer conceal his homosexuality and left his wife to live with writer Tom Cothran. The following year she was diagnosed with lung cancer and eventually he moved back in with her and cared for her until she died on June 16, 1978. In 1979 he conducted the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for the first and only time, in two charity concerts for Amnesty International involving performances of Gustav Mahler's "Ninth Symphony." In the 1980s he continued to conduct, teach, compose, and produce the occasional TV documentary. His most significant compositions during this time were probably his opera "A Quiet Place" (which he wrote with Stephen Wadsworth and which premiered (in its original version) in Houston in 1983), his "Divertimento for Orchestra," his "Halil" for flute and orchestra, his "Concerto for Orchestra "Jubilee Games"" and his song cycle "Arias and Barcarolles." In 1982 he and impresario Ernest Fleischmann founded the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute as a summer training academy along the lines of Tanglewood. He served as artistic director and taught conducting there until 1984. In 1985 he took the European Community Youth Orchestra in a "Journey for Peace" tour around Europe and to Japan. In his later years, his life and work was celebrated around the world (as it has been since his death). The Israel Philharmonic celebrated his involvement with them at Festivals in Israel and Austria in 1977. In 1986 the London Symphony Orchestra mounted a Bernstein Festival in London with one concert that he conducted and was attended by Queen Elizabeth II. In 1988 his 70th birthday was celebrated by a lavish televised gala at Tanglewood, featuring many performers who had worked with him over the years. On December 25, 1989 he conducted Beethoven's "Symphony No. 9" in East Berlin, Germany's Schauspielhaus (Playhouse) as part of a celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The previous day, he had conducted the same work in West Berlin, Germany. The concert was broadcast live in more than twenty countries to an estimated audience of 100 million people. For the occasion, he reworded Friedrich Schiller's text of the "Ode to Joy," substituting the word 'Freiheit' (freedom) for 'Freude' (joy). In the summer of 1990, he and conductor/composer Michael Tilson Thomas founded the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan, a summer training school for musicians modeled on Tanglewood. He made his final performance as a conductor at Tanglewood on August 19, 1990, with the Boston Symphony playing Benjamin Britten's "Four Sea Interludes" from Peter Grimes, and Beethoven's "Seventh Symphony." He suffered a coughing fit in the middle of the Beethoven performance which almost caused the concert to break down. On October 9, 1990 he announced his retirement from conducting due to his health problems. A heavy smoker for most of his life, he had been suffering from emphysema, pulmonary infections and a pleural tumor. He died of a heart attack at the age of 72 at his home in Manhattan, New York City, New York, five days after announcing his retirement. During his lifetime, he received numerous awards and honors, including a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1951), the Sonning (Denmark) Award (1956), the Ditson Conductor's Award (1958), the George Peabody Medal - Johns Hopkins University (1980), the Kennedy Center Honors (1980), the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize (1987), The British Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal (1987), the Italy's Knight Grand Cross Order of Merit (1989), the Japan Arts Association Lifetime Achievement Award, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, along with various other Grammy Awards for musical composition and performance.

Bio by: William Bjornstad

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 1 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 1166
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Leonard Bernstein (25 Aug 1918–14 Oct 1990), Find A Grave Memorial no. 1166, citing Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, Kings County (Brooklyn), New York, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .