Leonard Bernstein Quotes

Leonard Bernstein, 1918 – 1990

Born: 25 August 1918, Lawrence, Massachusetts
Died: 14 October 1990, New York City

Originally named Louis at his grandmother’s insistence, his parents preferred Leonard and he changed it officially at fifteen. He studied at Boston Latin School, then attended Harvard University followed by Curtis Institute of Music. At Curtis he received the only A that Fritz Reiner ever gave. Bisexual during his early years at New York, he married in 1951 on the advice of a mentor who felt it would enhance his chances at landing the position of conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He was a conducting assistant at the BSO for some years, then was in charge of the orchestral and conducting departments at Tanglewood, the summer institute operated by that orchestra. As assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, his conducting debut came when Bruno Walter came down with the flu. The concert was broadcast nationally and was met by rave reviews. He became principal conductor of the Philharmonic in 1958, holding the post through 1969. He conducted and recorded with them for the rest of his life. He elevated the Young People’s Concerts at the Philharmonic in 1958, with 53 concerts (four per year) broadcast on CBS and in forty other countries during his tenure. Bernstein conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, both in concert and in recordings, from 1970, and was a frequent guest conductor with Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in the ’80s. In addition to conducting he was also an active composer of symphonic works, opera, and the musical West Side Story. He received Kennedy Center Honors in 1980. A longtime smoker, his last concert at Tanglewood was interrupted by a coughing fit; he died of pneumonia less than a month later.

Leonard Bernstein quotes:

A liberal is a man or a woman or a child who looks forward to a better day, a more tranquil night, and a bright, infinite future.
    Leonard Bernstein

A work of art does not answer questions, it provokes them; and its essential meaning is in the tension between the contradictory answers.
    Leonard Bernstein

Any great work of art … revives and readapts time and space, and the measure of its success is the extent to which it makes you an inhabitant of that world – the extent to which it invites you in and lets you breathe its strange, special air.
    Leonard Bernstein

I believe in people. I feel, love, need and respect people above all else, including natural scenery, organized piety and nationalistic superstructures. One human figure on the slope of a mountain can make the mountain disappear for me, one person fighting for truth can disqualify for me the entire system which had dispensed it.
    Leonard Bernstein

I think it is time we learned the lesson of our century: that the progress of the human spirit must keep pace with technological and scientific progress, or that spirit will die. It is incumbent on our educators to remember this; and music is at the top of the spiritual must list.
    Leonard Bernstein

I’m not interested in having an orchestra sound like itself. I want it to sound like the composer.
    Leonard Bernstein

In the olden days, everybody sang. You were expected to sing as well as talk. It was a mark of the cultured man to sing.
    Leonard Bernstein

Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time…. The wait is simply too long.
    Leonard Bernstein

It was] an initiation into the love of learning, of learning how to learn, that was revealed to me by my BLS (Boston Latin School) masters as a matter of interdisciplinary cognition; that is, learning to know something by its relation to something else.
    Leonard Bernstein

Life without music is unthinkable. Music without life is academic. That is why my contact with music is a total embrace.
    Leonard Bernstein

Mozart combines serenity, melancholy, and tragic intensity into one great lyric improvisation. Over it all hovers the greater spirit that is Mozart’s – the spirit of compassion, of universal love, even of suffering – a spirit that knows no age, that belongs to all ages.
    Leonard Bernstein

Mozart’s music is constantly escaping from its frame, because it cannot be contained in it.
    Leonard Bernstein

Music, because of its specific and far-reaching metaphorical powers, can name the unnamable and communicate the unknowable.
    Leonard Bernstein

Music, of all the arts, stands in a special region, unlit by any star but its own, and utterly without meaning … except its own.
    Leonard Bernstein

Stillness is our most intense mode of action. It is in our moments of deep quiet that is born every idea, emotion, and drive which we eventually honor with the name of action. Our most emotionally active life is lived in our dreams, and our cells renew themselves most industriously in sleep. We reach highest in meditation, and farthest in prayer. In stillness every human being is great; he is free from the experience of hostility; he is a poet, and most like an angel.
    Leonard Bernstein

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