Professor Lenny: Essay by Joseph Horowitz

  • Section 1 Virgil Thomson once called Leonard Bernstein "the ideal explainer of music, both classical and modern." Bernstein explained more than that. The dozens of programs he wrote and hosted for television—including the twenty-five Young People's Concerts about to become available on video cassette—range effortlessly from Bach to jazz, rock, and Broadway. As TV time capsules, they also explore an incidental topic scarcely apparent when these...
  • Section 2 Bernstein's second Young People's Concert, "What is American Music?," broadcast February 1, 1958, is a natural starting point. It poses a problem: compared to Poland, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Hungary, or Russia, countries whose music Bernstein briefly samples, the United States lacks a common folk music. "Don't forget, America is a very new country, compared to all those European ones. We're not even two hundred...
  • Section 3 Generally, Bernstein's earlier shows are pedagogically the most ambitious, and the most concerned with issues of American identity. They are likely to consider such general subjects as "What Does Music Mean?," "What Is Classical Music?," and "Humor in Music." The later shows incorporate fewer contemporary or American works. Bernstein is more likely to play and discuss a single big piece from the week's subscription...
  • Section 4 Bernstein's six Norton Lectures, delivered at Harvard University in 1973, were televised three years later and are now available on video cassette. The collective title, borrowed from Charles Ives, is "The Unanswered Question"—which to Bernstein means: "Whither music in our time?" His answer incorporates an overview of music history from Mozart to Schoenberg and Stravinsky. A second component of the lectures is an exercise...
  • Section 5 Bernstein's relative disillusionment might have signaled the relative derailment of his career. Nothing of the kind occurred. Rather, his career was rerouted in the only possible direction: Europe. In particular, Vienna—the city of Beethoven and Mahler—exerted an ineluctable pull. In Vienna, he led Falstaff, Der Rosenkavalier, Fidelio, and his own A Quiet Place. The Vienna Philharmonic supplanted the New York Philharmonic as the orchestra...
  • Notes For a history of the music appreciation movement, see my Understanding Toscanini—How He Became an American Culture-God and Helped Create a New Audience for Old Music (Knopf, 1987), pp. 189-213. I am also indebted to Paul DiMaggio, of Princeton University, for sharing with me his perusal of music-educational materials. (Return to text) Published as "The Absorption of Race Elements into American Music" in Bernstein's...