About this Collection
About the Leonard Bernstein Collection
The Leonard Bernstein Collection at the Library of Congress is as exceptional as its name would suggest. Bernstein, arguably the most prominent figure in American classical music of the second half of the twentieth century, 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 potentials of that medium.
Bernstein came to national prominence virtually overnight through a last-minute conducting debut with the New York Philharmonic, when he substituted for Bruno Walter on November 14, 1943. He was twenty-five. Because Bernstein was a national figure from 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 is one of the Music Division's richest repositories in the variety and scope of its materials.
The Music Division acquired the Bernstein Collection beginning in 1953, when Bernstein himself began donating his music manuscripts for works that his musicals West Side Story and Wonderful Town; his first and second symphonies, Jeremiah and The Age of Anxiety; his operatic works Trouble in Tahiti and Candide; the ballet Fancy Free; the Chichester Psalms; and others. In 1991, Helen Coates, Bernstein's longtime friend and secretary, left ninety-four letters, music manuscripts and other items related to Bernstein to the Library in her will. In the same year an additional six hundred letters that had been in the possession of Helen Coates were also 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, and the estate has continued to donate items since then. The collection now includes music manuscripts, correspondence, writings of all types, photographs, commercial and non-commercial recordings and audio-visual materials (now housed in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division), business papers, programs, fan mail, date books, and realia.
The online Leonard Bernstein collection makes available a significant selection of correspondence both to and from Bernstein, musical sketches for several of his major works, writings, including the scripts for his Young People's Concerts, Thursday Evening Previews, Omnibus, and Ford Presents, his scrapbooks, photographs, and audio-visual materials.
The contents of the Leonard Bernstein Collection are available for examination and study in the Performing Arts Reading Room at the Library of Congress. Here is the link to the Finding Aid.
Listed below are “canned” searches where we have pulled together materials related to particular individuals, works, and topics. One can search more broadly, more narrowly, and on entirely different topics, by going to the Collection Items screen, using the This Collection: Search Loc.gov at the top, and refining your results using the options listed in the left hand column.
A Message from Jamie Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein's life, besides being richly creative, was also extensively documented. In addition to his manuscripts and voluminous correspondence, there are also recordings, videos, film footage, and thousands of photographs. This is truly a multimedia archive, which makes it particularly appropriate for presentation by the Library of Congress. In fact, it was the Library's prescient commitment, back in the mid-1990's, to putting their treasures online that led us to choose them as the ideal repository for the Leonard Bernstein Collection.
Bernstein's career coincided with the rise of television. He was among the first to perceive the power of this new medium to communicate the joy of music to millions of viewers. It's very much 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 Library's digital program.
Online users are able to view significant portions of the Leonard Bernstein Collection, and sample the wealth of material there. Not only does the collection document the career of an extraordinary 20th-century American; it also illuminates the transformations and upheavals of the times he lived in.
With this ambitious online initiative, the Library of Congress is truly fulfilling its purpose, preserving the past as it embraces the future. As the Leonard Bernstein at 100 celebrations get under way, we, his family, are more excited than ever to share his archives with the world through the online portal of the Library of Congress.