Leonard Bernstein: Six Quotes


Leonard Bernstein seated at piano, making annotations to musical score (1956)
Al Ravenna (Library of Congress)

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), conductor, composer, author and pianist, was one of the very few American musical talents to achieve and maintain an international reputation.  Most often associated with the New York Philharmonic, where he served as music director from 1957 to 1969, Bernstein enjoyed a close professional relationship with both the Vienna Philharmonic and the Israel Philharmonic.  A prolific composer of both classical pieces (including three symphonies, the Chichester Psalms, the Mass commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy for the opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.) as well as music for ballet, opera, Broadway stage, and film.  He is perhaps best known for composing the score for West Side Story, an updating of Romeo and Juliet undertaken with Jerome Robbins.  Renowned teacher – on television, at Philharmonic concerts, and at Harvard, where he delivered the prestigious Charles Eliot Norton lectures (1973) and raconteur, Leonard Bernstein was a prodigal and charismatic figure on the arts scene.  Here are some of his observations on life and music.


Music…can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.


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


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.


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. To know music.


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


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