A Leonard Bernstein: Chronology of a Life in Music
The Not-So-Humble Boston Beginnings
1918 Born in Lawrence, Massachusetts of immigrant parents from czarist Russia
1928 Began his first piano lessons at home on the piano given by an aunt. On the day the piano arrived, he knew for sure his life was going to be all about music.
1929 Graduated from William Lloyd Garrison Grammar School in Roxbury, Massachusetts, where he learned to read music based on the solfege system and where he found "the most shining hours" to be "the singing hours"; entered Boston Latin School
1930 Began piano lessons with Susan Williams at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston
1932 Gave his first piano recital, attended his first symphony concert and began piano studies and a life-long association with Helen Coates; began but never finished his boyhood composition - a piano concerto subtitled "The War of the Gypsies and the Russians"
1934 Produced and performed in the first Sharon Players production - a spoof of Bizet's Carmen, at the Singers' Inn in Sharon where the Bernsteins had a summer cottage

Debuted as a piano soloist playing the first movement of Grieg's Piano Concerto with the Boston Public School Orchestra
1935 Staged and performed in his second Sharon Players' opera production - The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan; graduated from Boston Latin

Made his first radio broadcasts on station WBZ, Boston - a series of 15-minute piano recitals, sponsored by his father's cosmetics company

Entered Harvard University, where the intellectual stimuli compensated for the restricted music curriculum; began piano studies with Heinrich Gebhard; composed a 4-minute setting of Psalm 148 for voice and piano
1936 Staged and performed in the Sharon Players' production of Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS Pinafore
1937 First professionally performed as a piano soloist at the Sanders Theatre in Cambridge where he played Ravel's Piano Concerto with the State Symphony Orchestra

Met and began life-long friendships with: the American composer Aaron Copland, the Russian conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos (who were among the first to steer him into taking up a conducting career, with the potential of becoming America's great conductor), and actor-scriptwriter of Broadway and Hollywood musicals Adolph Green
1938 Became Music Editor of The Harvard Advocate
1939 Graduated cum laude in music from Harward; wrote an insightful senior thesis entitled "The Absorption of Race Elements into American Music"

Made a successful conducting debut at the Sanders Theatre, conducting the Greek Society production of The Birds, based on the satire by Aristophanes, and for which he composed the music

Mounted to great acclaim Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock at Harvard, featuring "the most talented student cast this [music] department has ever seen." (Boston Post)

Began composing his "Hebrew Song" for mezzo-soprano and orchestra set to text from the Lamentations of Jeremiah; sketched piano duets entitled Scenes from the City of Sin; and drafted a piano transcription of Copland's El Salon Mexico

Entered the Curtis Institute in Philadephia where he studied conducting under Fritz Reiner, piano with Isabelle Vengerova, orchestration with Randall Thompson, and score-reading with Renee Longy Miquelle
1940 Chosen as one of five students for active participation in Sergei Koussevitzky's conducting class at the Tanglewood summer music school, then known as the Berkshire Music Center; conducted Randall Thompson's Symphony No.2, the opening piece of the Berkshire Music Center's first Institute Orchestra concert

Composed his Sonata for Violin and Piano; performed but never published, it became the source of thematic material for his later works Facsimile and The Age of Anxiety
1941 Conducted the Curtis Orchestra twice, performed Sibelius violin sonatina, the Stravinsky concerto for two pianos on radio, and a succession of other piano and conducting performances

Graduated from Curtis Institute; opened a studio for the teaching of Piano and Musical Analysis
1942 Attended second summer season at Tanglewood; conducted the Boston Pops on the Esplanade, the final Institute Orchestra concert, became assistant to Koussevitzky

Completed Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, his first published work, "full of jazzy, rocky rhythms" which shortly premiered at the Boston Institute of Modern Art, played the piano for the first time in Boston's Symphony Hall as accompanist to the BSO principal cellist

Moved to NY where he completed his first symphony Jeremiah while working at various musical jobs, waiting for the golden conducting opportunity - and fame - to knock on his door




Front Page

Leonard Bernstein:
the last 10 years

-a look at the book by T.R Seiler

Unbewußt, höchste Lust

- on the recording of Tristan

Heights of Rapture

- a foreword by Hildegard Behrens

Chronology of a
Life in Music:

The not-so-humble beginnings

Big time in the Big Apple

At the helm of the NYPO

The last 20 years


The Composer

The Conductor / Pianist


The Teacher
the Musician in performance
and in rehearsal

by and on Bernstein


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