Leonard Bernstein An American Musician Allen Shawn

Jewish Lives
Publication date:
22 Mar 2016
Yale University Press
360 pages: 203 x 137 x 30mm
1 b-w illus.
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A fresh appreciation of the great musical figure that gives him his due as composer as well as conductor

Leonard Bernstein stood at the epicenter of twentieth-century American musical life. His creative gifts knew no boundaries as he moved easily from the podium, to the piano, to television with his nationally celebrated Young People’s Concerts, which introduced an entire generation to the joy of classical music. In this fascinating new biography, the breadth of Bernstein’s musical composition is explored, through the spectacular range of music he composed—from West Side Story to Kaddish to A Quiet Place and beyond—and through his intensely public role as an internationally celebrated conductor. For the first time, the composer’s life and work receive a fully integrated analysis, offering a comprehensive appreciation of a multi-faceted musician who continued to grow as an artist well into his final days.

Allen Shawn is a composer, pianist, educator, and author who lives in Vermont and teaches composition and music history at Bennington College. His previous books include Arnold Schoenberg’s Journey and Twin: A Memoir.

'There were, and are, critics who believe that Bernstein’s facility and fecundity was merely dilettantism. Allen Shawn’s suave new biography hopes to give them pause.'—Christopher Bray, The Spectator

‘Immensely valuable as a concise study of a major figure; sympathetic in its account of his life and its artistic and social context, and illuminating in its critical judgments.’
—Anthony Burton, BBC Music.

"An engrossing portrait of a gifted—and conflicted—man."—Jerusalem Post

"A few luscious slices from the massive cake that was the life of the great pianist, composer, conductor and public personality. . . . A nearly impossible task, recording this lush life, but Shawn helps us comprehend the magic."—Kirkus Reviews

"I can't imagine a better biography of Leonard Bernstein. His intensity, complexity, and personal charm come across fully; so do his manifest importance to twentieth-century American culture and his intimate relation to the music he produced. Bravo!"—Wendy Lesser

"Allen Shawn’s moving, discerning book examines what made 'Lenny' the envy of both classical and Broadway composers. Craving attention both on the podium and off, 'he may have been an inveterate show-off at a party, but on paper he was precise and serious.' Shawn’s musical analyses vie with his chronicling of Bernstein’s eclecticism: his progressive politics, teaching ability, sexual conflicts, insecurities and remarkable circle of friends."—Norwalk Hour

“A composer and pianist himself, [Shawn] shares Bernstein’s contempt for the high-/low-culture debate. Admire Bernstein’s symphonies and choral works though he does, he knows that most of Bernstein’s best work was written for Broadway — and that the best of Broadway is up there with Britten and Brahms . . . Shawn’s analysis should convince even the stuffiest aesthete that [West Side Story’s] mash-up of classical melodies with jazz rhythms and Schoenbergian dissonance wasn’t just new — it will be new forever.”—Spectator

"Shawn draws all these aspects of Bernstein into a full-scale and attractive human portrait, and an equally full-scale portrait of Bernstein’s music. With his knowledgeable analysis of Bernstein’s vast output, Shawn sends readers rushing back to listen, whether to West Side Story, Kaddish, Candide, or any number of other works. Well-paced and highly readable, Leonard Bernstein brings alive both the man and his music."—Maron L. Waxman, Jewish Book Council