A look at an American icon: composer, conductor, and pianist Leonard Bernstein. In this hour—rare recordings from the Library’s recorded sound archives that showcase Bernstein as pianist. You’ll hear two very early recordings from the 1940's. First, a skit called The Girl with the Two Left Feet, with Bernstein as pianist for the comedy sketch troupe The Revuers. Next, the recording he made of his Clarinet Sonata–his first published composition–with his longtime friend, clarinetist David Oppenheimer. The centerpiece is his terrific performance of the Schumann Piano Quintet, as guest artist with the Juilliard String Quartet. This is a live recording made in our concert hall, on April 19, 1963. Plus, you can take a peek into the Library’s Leonard Bernstein Collection, which documents the composer’s life and works, and a special online exhibit about the 50th anniversary of his West Side Story.
During Bernstein’s 1941 stay in Key West, he worked on the score for a never-published ballet, Conch Town, which would provide material for Fancy Free and West Side Story later on. Our West Side Story tribute concert in October 2007 marked the 50th anniversary of the show. Accompanying it was an exhibit of items from Leonard Bernstein Collection: manuscripts, choreographic notes, letters and telegrams, production and rehearsal photos and set designs. View West Side Story exhibit
Having access to the extraordinary resources of a collection like this gives us the chance of hearing the composer’s ideas for songs, lyrics and interludes that never made it into the classic West Side Story score. You’ll hear pianist Jon Kalbfleisch, music director for Washington’s Signature Theatre, playing a piano solo from the unpublished Conch Town score.
Bernstein as pianist
The Girl with the Two Left Feet, sketch with The Revuers, 1940 (excerpt)
Robert Schumann: Quintet in E-flat major for piano and strings, Op. 44, complete performance with the Juilliard String Quartet, recorded at the Library of Congress April 19, 1963
Bernstein as composer
Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (composed 1941, recorded 1949)
Conch Town (unpublished ballet, composed 1941, performance by pianist Jon Kalbfleisch, recorded at the Library of Congress October 15, 2007)
Explore What's Behind the Music
Bernstein's Sonata for Clarinet and Piano: The title page and first page from the manuscript of his clarinet sonata, dedicated to the composer’s friend, clarinetist David Oppenheim. Composed in Key West, Sept. 1941 and Boston, Feb. 1942. View Bernstein's Sonata
Bernstein's Conch Town: A page from the pencil manuscript of Bernstein's unfinished, unpublished ballet Conch Town, featuring a tune he later used in West Side Story: "America." View manuscript
Photograph, Bernstein at the piano: Snapped at a party at New York's Hotel Dorset following a Gershwin Memorial Concert, Leonard Bernstein with his father and a group of friends, including Marc Blitzstein and David Oppenheim (March 16, 1946). View photograph
Postcards from Bernstein in Key West: Two postcards written to Bernstein's friend Charlie Harmon in 1989, showing the Key West house where the composer worked on Conch Town and the Clarinet Sonata in August 1941, “…when I was fleeing from ragweed + total hayfever,” he writes on one. View postcards
Jon Kalbfleisch: Pianist and conductor Jon Kalbfleisch is resident musical director for Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, where he has won the Helen Hayes Award for Oustanding Musical Direction for productions of Sunday in the Park with George, Grand Hotel, and Highest Yellow. He is currently Music Director of the Lawton Philharmonic Orchestra, and an associate conductor of the Washington Ballet.
David Oppenheim: Clarinetist, music producer, and university dean, Oppenheim established the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. He was a lifelong friend of the composer from their days as students at Tanglewood.
Juilliard String Quartet: Regarded as “the standard by which all other quartets must be judged,” (LA Times) the Juilliard was the quartet in residence at the Library of Congress for four decades. Founded in 1946, the JSQ continues to be admired worldwide for its uncompromising musical integrity and an enthusiastic championship of new music.
The Revuers: Photo of the Revuers, a comedy sketch troupe formed in 1939 that included Leonard Bernstein's friends and collaborators Adolph Green and Betty Comden, Judy Holiday, John Frank and Alvin Hammer.
About the Library’s Leonard Bernstein Collection
The Bernstein archive is among the largest, richest, and most frequently consulted collections in the Library of Congress Music Division. Arguably the most prominent figure in American classical music in the latter half of the twentieth century, Bernstein made his impact as a conductor, as a composer of classical and theater music, and as an educator–through books, conducting students at Tanglewood, and especially through various televised lecture series that helped define the potential of that medium.
He came to national prominence virtually overnight through a last-minute conducting debut with the New York Philharmonic, when at age twenty-five he substituted for Bruno Walter on November 14, 1943. Since Bernstein was a national figure from almost the very beginning of his career, his friend and teacher Helen Coates, who became his secretary in 1944, maintained his papers meticulously and extensively annotated many of them. The Bernstein Collection therefore offers a remarkably complete record of his life and works.
The Music Division began acquiring the collection as gifts of individual music manuscripts from Bernstein between 1953 and 1967. After his death in 1990, his family and estate determined that the rest of Bernstein’s papers should join those manuscripts, and over the intervening years they have added 300,000 to 400,000 additional items to the collection. This material includes personal correspondence, writings–ranging from student papers to the texts for his Young People’s Concerts, and his various books and articles, business papers, datebooks, scrapbooks, programs and recordings, and hundreds of odd items, including passports, batons, his glasses, even the white suit he was married in, which had been a gift from (and previously worn by) his mentor Serge Koussevitzky. A selection of more than 1,000 items from the collection is available online at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/bernstein/.
—Mark Horowitz, Music Division, Library of Congress
Last Updated: 12/02/2009