Happy Birthday, Leonard Bernstein

Tuesday, August 21, 2018 by Morgen Stevens-Garmon

August 25 marks the 100th birthday of Leonard Bernstein. We’re getting in on the world-wide celebration of the conductor, composer, and New Yorker with a few highlights from the Museum’s collection. Happy birthday, Lenny!

Stanley Kubrick for Look Magazine. [Leonard Bernstein at a piano.] 1949. Courtesy MCNY and SK Film Archives. X2011.4.12304.141

Bernstein was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He started taking piano lessons at the New England Conservatory of Music at age 13, and graduated with honors from Harvard University two months before his 21st birthday. After Harvard, Bernstein studied conducting at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and during the summer break, he made his symphonic conducting debut at the newly founded Tanglewood Music Festival. Though often in New England for gigs, Bernstein shared an apartment in New York City with his good friend Adolph Green. Green, his writing partner Betty Comden, and a few friends formed an act called The Revuers. When they performed in Greenwich Village, Bernstein would often serve as their accompanist.

Stanley Kubrick for Look Magazine. [Bernstein playing piano.] 1949. Courtesy MCNY and SK Film Archives. X2011.4.12304.102E.

 Bernstein met the dancer Jerome Robbins in 1943. Robbins was looking for a composer for his ballet about three sailors on leave in New York. The resulting “Fancy Free” premiered in 1944 with Bernstein conducting. In December of that year, On the Town opened on Broadway. An expansion of “Fancy Free,” the musical marked Bernstein’s Broadway debut as well as the first Broadway appearance of Robbins’s choreography and book and lyric authors Comden and Green.

Sheet music for “Lonely Town” from On the Town. 1944. Museum of the City of New York. 70.22.31.

Bernstein went on to compose five more full-length musicals including Wonderful Town and West Side Story. He also contributed original compositions to plays.

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990). Fragment of score for Peter Pan. 1950. Museum of the City of New York. 51.73.

Around the time Bernstein met Robbins, the composer was hired as assistant conductor with the New York Philharmonic. When a guest conductor suddenly came down sick, Bernstein had to step in without much preparation. The Carnegie Hall concert was broadcast nationally, and it turned Bernstein into an instant sensation. From 1958 to 1969, Bernstein served as music director of the New York Philharmonic.

William Auerbach-Levy (1889-1964). [Leonard Bernstein.] 1940-1964. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.180.

Find out where to join in the birthday celebrations here. And stop by the Museum to see more images of Leonard Bernstein as part of Through a Different Lens: Stanley Kubrick Photographs.  

By Morgen Stevens-Garmon, Associate Curator, Theater Collection

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