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Quotes of the day: Leonard Bernstein

Published Sunday, August 25, 2013 @ 6:46 AM EDT
Aug 25 2013

Leonard Bernstein (August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990) was an American composer, conductor, author, music lecturer, and pianist. He was among the first conductors born and educated in the United States of America to receive worldwide acclaim. According to The New York Times, he was "one of the most prodigiously talented and successful musicians in American history." (Click for full Wikipedia article.)


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.

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

Any great art work... 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.

Einstein said that 'the most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.' So why do so many of us try to explain the beauty of music, thus depriving it of its mystery?

Elvis Presley is the greatest cultural force in the twentieth century. He introduced the beat to everything, music, language, clothes, it's a whole new social revolution- the 60s comes from it.

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.

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.

I'm no longer quite sure what the question is, but I do know that the answer is Yes.

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

I've been all over the world and I've never seen a statue of a critic.

If you're a good composer, you steal good steals.

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.

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.

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

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

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

Technique is communication: the two words are synonymous in conductors.

The 20th century has been a badly written drama, from the beginning. The opposite of a Greek drama. Act one: Greed and hypocrisy leading to a genocidal world war, a boom, a crash, totalitarianism. Act two: Greed and hypocrisy leading to a genocidal world war, a boom, a crash, totalitarianism. Act three: Greed and hypocrisy... I don't dare continue.

The joy of music should never be interrupted by a commercial.

The key to the mystery of a great artist is that for reasons unknown, he will give away his energies and his life just to make sure that one note follows another... and leaves us with the feeling that something is right in the world.

The second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm, that's a problem. And if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony.

The trouble with you and me... is that we want everyone in the world to personally love us, and of course that's impossible; you just don't meet everyone in the world.

This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.

To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.

To be a success as a Broadway composer, you must be Jewish or gay. I'm both.

When I am with composers, I say I am a conductor. When I am with conductors, I say I am a composer.

When you get the feeling that whatever note succeeds the last is is the only possible note that can rightly happen in that instant, that context, then chances are you're listening to Beethoven.


Bernstein would have been 95 today. Here he is at 67, conducting his full score to West Side Story for the first time. The 1985 recording featured the era's top operatic voices, but forget the singers... the joy is watching Bernstein lead "a contract orchestra" of New York musicians, interpreting the music as he imagined it, and thoroughly enjoying its performance.

Categories: Leonard Bernstein, Quotes of the day


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