In face of the challenges of twelve-tone, serial and dissonant music, Bernstein alwaysbelieved in the power of tonality as an artistic vehicle to redeem mankind. And so, afterbrass fanfares recalling the jubilation of the first movement, his ends with lushly orchestrated, deeply moving and richly tonal music overwhich a baritone sweetly chants the ancient priestly benediction that closes Jewishservices of worship and which thus provides a fitting end to Bernstein's activities as acomposer of music:
Indeed, films of Bernstein conducting at the time show him to have been mostly wild anduninhibited on the podium. Interestingly, for Mozart and Beethoven he lapsed into achaste, traditional function of time-beating with expressive accents, much as otherconductors did for all music. For overtly emotional music, though, Bernstein flung himselfat the orchestra, making desperate, clutching gestures with his bare hands (à la JoeCocker), as if trying to wrest music out of the very air before him. Only after 1957, inorder to compensate for back problems, did Bernstein resort to using a baton. Even then,his face continued to reflect a full gamut of extreme emotion, from excruciating pain tooverwhelming bliss. No musician could possibly play routinely when the leader was soovertly involved and enthused.
Beethoven had poured into his final symphony a sprawling summation of life's passion,profundity, humor, despair and triumph. Bernstein added to the occasion his ownoverwhelming vision of humanity. To underline the message, Bernstein changed the word"Freude" ("joy") to "Freiheit" ("freedom") in thefinal chorus, a gesture for which he invoked the composer's blessing. The united forcesEast and West are palpably gripped with a spiritual conviction that transcends even theglory of the music itself. Captured on DG 429 861, every moment of the sublime 78 minutesvindicates all that Bernstein lived for as an artist and as a human being.
Shostakovich: (ChicagoSymphony Orchestra, 1989) (DG 427 632). Lacking the structural inevitability of Bruckneror the prolific invention of Mahler, Shostakovich's 1941 depiction of the siege ofLeningrad can seem trite, diffuse and very, very long (as in Toscanini's earnest buttedious 1942 broadcast). The only way to pull off this rambling work is with unabashedemotional commitment. Bernstein does just that and makes an overwhelmingly persuasive casefor a piece that needs lots of interpretive help. One of the projects Bernstein neverlived to realize was a new recording of the Shostakovich , which hadcaused such a sensation on the Moscow tour in 1959. What a stunning performance that wouldhave been!
Mozart: and (Bavarian RadioOrchestra, 1988 and 1990) (DG 427 353 and 431 791). The current trend in Mozartinterpretation is to use period instruments and light, unemotional textures in an effortto replicate the performance practices of 200 years ago. Bernstein's richly romantictemperament was as far removed from this approach as possible. His readings of Mozart'stwo greatest religious works are awash in deep reverence. Whether or not Mozart would haveplayed them this way, the sheer magnitude of profound feeling is overwhelminglypersuasive.
The culmination of Bernstein's formal teaching came in 1973, when he was invited backto Harvard to deliver a series of six lectures. Bernstein threw himself into the project,devoting nearly two years to their preparation. In them, he used equal helpings oflinguistic theory, musicology and mysticism to demonstrate that all musical expression,from childish taunts to Mahler adagios, are an integral part of a unified system ofuniversal communication. At turns colloquial and at others bafflingly dense, the lectureswere entitled "The Unanswered Question," in reference to the title of one ofBernstein's favorite works, Charles Ives's visionary tone poem which traces man'sunfulfilled quest for meaning throughout his existence: a trumpet incessantly propounds anunchanging "question" to which flutes posit increasingly complex and confoundinganswers, all over an unchanging background of soothing strings representing the unaffectedeternity of the indifferent universe. Bernstein concluded the lectures on a note oftouching optimism: "The answer to the question, although I forget what it is, is'yes'."
Eight succeeding shows covered the gamut of music, from Bach to jazz andfrom grand opera to musical comedy. In January 1958, was followed by , broadcast on Sunday nights for fifteen years, dubbed into a dozenlanguages and syndicated to forty countries. All were written by Bernstein and wereinfused with his knowing, dynamic personality and his genuine love of all music. They wonEdison, Emmy, Peabody and Sylvania awards for excellence in television. But perhaps theirgreatest achievement emerges from a 1960 incident in a Denver park, when a little boy wentup to Bernstein and hit him. The reason, it turned out, was that the previous program hadbegun to run over and Bernstein had to omit his usual closing. The boy resented that,"You didn't say goodnight to me." But Bernstein was thrilled at what else theboy remembered: "You were talking about Mahler." And that, of course, was theultimate vindication of all of Bernstein's efforts: he harnessed the boob tube to turn anentire generation on to classical music.
The beginning sets the tone as a bop trio paints a gushy picture of a perfect life insuburbia. This facetious idyll immediately fades into a vicious parody of the openingdomestic duets of Mozart's and Beethoven's , inwhich lovers delightedly flitted about and teased each other in anticipation of adelicious future. Here, Sam and Dinah step on each other's lines and create awkwardsilences as they bicker over their breakfast, accompanied by dry orchestration, awkwardrhythms and spiky xylophone accents.
Admittedly, this sounds rather dull by current standards, when everything from news toscience must be smothered in electronic gimmickry to hold even a moment's attention. Butcritics at the time immediately grasped the significance of what had occurred. proclaimed that it "opened up a new field in television." John Crosby raved inthe : "This is the sort of teaching that I had visionsof television doing in all the arts and sciences. One great teacher bursting with vitalityand personality and information could spread his culture all over the country, assaultingyou in a physical wave to such a degree that a short course in opera sticks in a millionor so craniums forevermore. It's quite a feat if you can bring it off and Bernstein canand does. Virtually no one else does. He's a natural asset, that young man, and one weshould treasure."
Another problem was that Voltaire's work was a dizzying succession of brief, surrealadventures in wide-flung locales. As Meryle Secrest aptly observed, the story was moresuited for cinematic than theatrical treatment. Despite pruning, the huge number ofepisodes lacked continuity, the costuming and sets were overwhelming and the pace wassimply too breathless for the typical theater-goer. Perhaps the ultimate kiss of death wasthe absence of genuine romance. Writing in the New York , Walter Kerrtermed "a really spectacular disaster." The show opened onBroadway on December 1, 1956 and closed after 73 performances.
Violinist Isaac Stern explained that Bernstein "revelled in the power and beautyof ideas and was driven to share his wonder at these human treasures with all who werearound him – most particularly young people." Norman Scribner expanded: "We allstart out as children making music and our emotion is pure. We feel our bodies dance. Wehave this pure and unalloyed love for music. What makes Bernstein unique is that he neverveered from that childhood love. When you made music with him, you felt brought back tothe place where you should be and from which you should never stray – that primal stateof joyful embrace."