last 10 years began in January 1981 with the legendary production
for television and recording of Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.
In Seiler's book, Martin Wöhr currently of the Bavarian Broadcasting
Company who was then the sound engineer, writes: 'We were fascinated
by Lenny's great seriousness, his positively philosophical understanding
of Wagner's music and his uncompromising interpretation of this love
drama.... At the end of the production... we felt speechless and moved
- Lenny was sitting in front of the score, weeping, "Unbewußst,
höchste Lust."' *
It was the climax of his collaboration with his beloved Bavarian Radio
Symphony Orchestra and he thought it to be his most important recording
activity of the year. For him, Tristan was " the central
work of all music history, the hub of the wheel... I have spent my
life since I first read it trying to solve it. It is incredibly prophetic,
full of pre-Freudian insights."
And when the project was completed, Bernstein was said to have exclaimed:
"My life is complete, I don't care what happens after this.
It is the finest thing I've ever done." **
For the project, Bernstein chose the tenor Peter Hofmann to be his Tristan;
and for his Isolde, he chose the legendary dramatic soprano Hildegard
Behrens. Thus began a musical partnership of which it has been written:
"Bernstein's partnership with Ms. Behrens, his exceptionally gifted
Isolde, was one of the most thrilling sights ever witnessed on a concert
It is no surprise that Thomas Seiler asked Ms. Behrens to write one of
the two forewords to his book (the other is by baritone Thomas Hampson).
In her engagingly candid remarks, she shares with trademark spontaneity
her most powerful memories of Bernstein the consummate musician and of
versatile collaborations that crossed from the operatic - as in Isolde,
into the symphonic - as in Kaddish, and into the theatric - as
in Marlene Dietrich. Ms. Behrens' remarks are excerpted here, in full
and with the requisite permissions, as an exemplar of the reminiscences
assembled in the book -- while the memories are unique to each writer,
there is no flattery and self-promotion in the writing, only sincere and
honest thought; and the words ring true because they are spoken from the
*The last words of the "Liebestod" - Unconscious. Supreme bliss!
** from Leonard Bernstein, by Humphrey Burton: Doubleday,
NY., pp. 462-63 (1994).