January 5th, 2005


Leonard Bernstein at the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress has put the Leonard Bernstein Collection online. Included are 1100 items of correspondence, scripts from the Young People’s Concerts and the Thursday Evening Previews, and photographs, all nicely indexed. (Librarians are good at that. Software designers ought to consult them when they’re creating search engines, cross-referencing systems, and the like.)
I must admit that when I was studying composition twenty-some years ago I thought Bernstein was too commercial and too self-important. But now, when I consider that West Side Stody was a hit in 1957 and again in 1961 when it became a movie, winning ten Academy Awards,
and compare it with the commercial successes of today—Bernstein looks better & better.
A few years ago I saw one of the Young People’s Concerts on Classic Arts Showcase (a free channel carried by some cable systems and public TV stations). I don’t remember seeing them when I was a young person, but now, in seeing how much information Bernstein managed to convey, and without talking down, I again am forced to contemplate how much is missing from American culture today. (Compare Bill Nye the Science Guy with Mr. Wizard, and ask yourself who respects kids more—who thinks they might be interested in science for its own sake, rather than having to be cajoled by adults who think it has to be nonstop fun.)