FanFaire thanks Edition Stemmle, Abbeville
Press, and Ms. Behrens for permission to reproduce the text and b&w
photos shown here.
of Rapture - Depths of MelancholyGERMAN
by Hildegard Behrens
It is an honor
and a challenge for me to write some introductory words for this wonderful
volume on Leonard Bernstein. As many of his friends and contemporaries knew
him much longer and perhaps better than I did, I would like to limit myself
to my most powerful reminiscences of the years we played together- the last
decade of Bernstein's life, during which Thomas R. Seiler also captured
his photographic images of their travels together.
I was first personally introduced to Bernstein at a dinner in 1980 after
one of his concerts in Munich. The evening was aglow and when he told me
that he was planning to do Tristan with me I was so delighted I could hardly
speak. The work began between Christmas and New Year's. It was an enormous
project with three acts spread over January, April and November. That I
would give birth to my daughter Sara that same year, just six weeks before
the third act, was unbeknown even to me as we started Tristan.
live concerts in the Herkulessaal with Bernstein's much beloved Bavarian
Radio Symphony Orchestra were broadcast simultaneously on radio and
television, as well as being recorded for video and LP. We singers
stood on a high platform behind the orchestra. Each of us had a whole
bouquet of microphones in front of us and was expected to gesticulate
a little as well. An expectant atmosphere weighed on the entire event
and on each individual, but it soon became clear that the higher the
voltage, the better the maestro felt.
Bernstein once said,
rehearsal at the Herkulessaal (Munich)
I conduct Beethoven, I don't care whether I conduct the way Beethoven
would have conducted. What's important is that I'm convinced that
what I've done is in the spirit of Beethoven, even if I know that
Beethoven would have done it differently. One is not a slave to a
work of the past, but a creator here and now!"
Hildegard Behrens and Peter Hofmann:
Bernstein's Isolde and Tristan
the same breathtaking way, Bernstein took possession of Tristan.
As it was Peter Hofmann's debut in this role, the maestro was touchingly
attentive in his efforts to help him past all the precipices and chasms
of the part. Yet in so doing he was forced to restrain his own urge
to identify with the Tristan role. He seemed to try to compensate
for this by drawing all the more on the depths of Isolde's character.
He sang and hummed my cantilennas along with me, his mind focused
inwards. As we came to Isolde's central phrase, "Er sah mir
in die Augen," he brought the orchestra almost - as it seemed
to me - to a halt through an excessive rallentando. I went
on the offensive and protested: "Lenny, you're not leaving me
anything for my ritardando! I'm Isolde, you don't have to be
everyone!" He was a "zealous god," and after this first
act, a slightly quarrelsome atmosphere smoldered between us.
After one rehearsal, Lenny sat down at a harpsichord that happened
to be there. Dressed in a white bathrobe wih a cigarette holder in
his mouth, he made a fascinating foray into the harmonic structure
of the Tristan score. Unforgettable!
In Vienna, Munich and Bregenz I performed his third symphony, Kaddish,
together with Bernstein himself, who corrected my Hebrew unrelentingly.
He had premiered this moving piece with his deceased wife, Felicia
Montealegre. Lenny accompanied me on the piano at several charity
galas in New York in which we performed his own vocal works or Marlene
Dietrich's evergreens from Der Blaue Engel. Lenny would be
dressed in a sassy white tuxedo with glistening Lurex trousers and
patent leather buckled shoes and I would be in Marlene-look with a
midnight-blue evening dress, hat, cigarette holder and rhinestone-studded
high heels. We had a load of fun; indeed, parties were held whenever
the occasion called for it, for example after one wonderful performance
of West Side Story on Broadway to which Peter Hofmann and I
were invited by Lenny.
As I leaf through this volume and look at these so very characteristic
photographs, I think of the stories from Bernstein's life that he
liked to tell late at night. The intoxicating effect of life and profound
melancholy sapped the substance of his volcanic temperament. Ruthless
exploitation of his character deeply scored the bedrock. I can remember
how he told us in New York that a team of doctors was attempting to
teach him how to sleep again.
Like almost no one else, Bernstein bequeathed to young people the
Olympian fire, the flame of musical passion. His open-mindedness ("There
is no such thing as U- and E- Musik, only good and bad music!"),
his own compositions, his great admiration for the Beatles - all these
confirmed his "credibility" and youthfulness of heart to
the younger generation. In 1997, when I performed a lieder
recital with Christoph Eschenbach in Japan at the Pacific Festival
- which Bernstein had initiated in 1990 for young musicians from throughout
the world (and at which he allegedly once more felt happy and alive
shortly before his death) - we played one of his works for voice,
piano and cello (Dream with me) as part of the encore. The
first cellist from the Vienna Philharmonic (Friedrich Dolezal) had
come over from another auditorium to do this encore with us after
his own concert had finished. When I announced the piece, a cheer
went up in the young audience. The spark of the Bernstein name had