By MARK EDEN HOROWITZ
The composer, conductor, writer and teacher Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990) was one of 20th-century America’s most important musical figures. The Library of Congress is fortunate to be the repository of the Leonard Bernstein Collection, one of the Music Division’s richest collections in variety and scope.
Bernstein’s friend and piano teacher Helen Coates, who became his secretary in 1944, maintained his papers meticulously and annotated them extensively. Thanks in large part to her efforts, the Bernstein Collection offers a remarkably complete record of his life. It joins the papers of dozens of other 20th-century composers and musicians that are housed at the Library, such as those of Bernstein’s mentor Serge Koussevitsky, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Aaron Copland, and George and Ira Gershwin.
Comprising approximately 400,000 items, the Bernstein Collection includes music and literary manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, audio and video recordings, fan mail and other types of materials—such as batons and passports—that document the maestro’s extraordinary life and career.
The Library acquired the Bernstein Collection over a period of 50 years. From 1953 to 1967, Bernstein gave many of his most significant music manuscripts to the Library of Congress, including those for his musicals “West Side Story,” “Wonderful Town” and “Candide”; his first and second symphonies, “Jeremiah” and “The Age of Anxiety”; his “Trouble in Tahiti”; the ballet “Fancy Free”; the “Chichester Psalms”; the score for the film “On the Waterfront”; his “Prelude, Fugue & Riffs”; and his “Serenade for Violin Solo, Strings and Percussion.” From 1965 to 1983, Bernstein gave 104 scrapbooks to the Library, and Brandeis University gave an additional five scrapbooks to the Library in 1973.
In 1991, Helen Coates left 94 letters, music manuscripts and other items related to Bernstein to the Library in her will. That same year, 600 letters that had been in Coates’ possession were given to the Library by the Springate Corporation, representatives of the Bernstein estate.
In 1993, the Springate Corporation greatly increased the size of the Bernstein Collection by giving the Library hundreds of thousands of additional items. They included music manuscripts, correspondence and other writing, photographs, commercial and noncommercial recordings and audiovisual materials (now housed in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division), business papers, programs, fan mail and date books. In addition to Bernstein’s personal business papers, the extensive archives for his corporate entity, Amberson Inc., were part of the gift.
Bernstein’s brother Burton gave the Library 95 additional items to add to the Bernstein Collection. These items, which were originally in the possession of their mother Jennie, consist primarily of letters from the brothers to their parents, including 52 from Leonard.
The Library has continued to receive materials from the estate as recently as 2003. Largely music manuscripts, this material is primarily written in the hands of copyists, arrangers and assistants; however, some of the materials are also annotated by the composer himself.
The contents of the Leonard Bernstein Collection are available for examination and study in the Performing Arts Reading Room at the Library of Congress. For access to collection materials as yet unprocessed, address written requests to Head, Acquisitions and Processing Section, Music Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC 20540-4710.
The 1993 donation from the Bernstein estate was made with the intention of collaborating with the Library to launch an electronic archive of materials that could be shared with users everywhere.
On the occasion of the Library’s announcement of the acquisition, Bernstein’s daughter Nina, who spoke on behalf of the family, said, “My father would be thrilled to be joining his archives with those of so many of his colleagues, teachers and friends. He would be particularly excited by the educational possibilities that digital formatting will bring to this material. My father was driven by a passion for sharing ideas, and it is in that spirit that we are launching this ambitious project. We offer the Leonard Bernstein archives as a catalyst for developing other digital archives across the globe.”
The project became a reality on Aug. 25, 1998. To commemorate what would have been Bernstein’s 80th birthday, a preview of the site debuted. Today the site contains 85 photographs, capturing moments from his childhood as well as performances and professional experiences (for example, rehearsing contralto Marian Anderson in 1947); 177 scripts from the Young People’s Concerts, which introduced music to children in the United States and Canada, 1958–72); 74 scripts from the Thursday Evening Previews, informal talks that preceded his weekly New York Philharmonic concerts, 1958–64; and more than 1,100 pieces of correspondence, including a 1932 letter from 14-year-old Leonard Bernstein to his prospective piano teacher Helen Coates (“Hoping to have the pleasure of studying with you soon.”)
A finding aid to the Bernstein Collection is accessible, along with links to other useful resources for the study of Bernstein. The site also contains the following message from daughter Jamie Bernstein Thomas:
“The estate of Leonard Bernstein chose the Library of Congress as the repository for the Leonard Bernstein Collection because of the Library’s strong commitment, spearheaded by the Librarian, James Billington, to make portions of its collections available through the new digital media. Moreover, Bernstein’s career coincided with the rise of television, and it was his unique genius to understand the power of this new medium to communicate the joy of music to millions of people through it. So it seems entirely in keeping with Bernstein’s generosity of spirit to make materials from his archives available to the greatest number of people—which is the essential purpose of the National Digital Library Program.…With this ambitious online initiative, the Library of Congress is truly fulfilling its purpose, preserving the past as it embraces the future. The National Digital Library Program is the perfect way for the Library to assert its relevance in the next century, and the estate and family of Leonard Bernstein are very proud to be participants in this far-reaching enterprise.”
Mark Eden Horowitz is a senior music specialist in the Library’s Music Division, archivist of the Leonard Bernstein Collection and curator of the West Side Story exhibition.