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Pauline Lerner

Bernstein, Beethoven, Joy, and Freedom

August 5, 2010 at 2:39 AM

Leonard Bernstein was tremendously talented as a musician in so many ways: conductor, composer, performer, and educator. He had a broad and deep knowledge of history and many cultures which enriched his music making in many ways. I love to watch videos of him talking about and performing music. He put so much knowledge, so much soul, so many deeply personal feelings, and so many universal emotions into everything musical that he did.

In the next clip, Bernstein speaks about the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth in a much more positive tone.  He uses words and phrases like "human brotherhood," "freedom," "love," "innocence," "believing," and "immortality."

Of course, Bernstein has conducted Beethoven's Ninth Symphony many times, but a particularly memorable performance was on Christmas Day, 1987 in Berlin.  This was the year that the Berlin Wall came down and East Germans joined their brothers and sisters in West Germany.  The Communist empire had crumbled, and the word "freedom" had taken on a new and very personal meaning for many people worldwide.  Bernstein chose the performers for this concert carefully.  The chorus was composed of people who had been West Germans and people who had been East Germans.  The members of the orchestra were members of great orchestras in the four countries which comprised the Allies in World War II: the United States, Great Britain, Russia, and France.  The German word for "joy," as in Schiller's "Ode to Joy," is similar to the German word for "freedom," and Bernstein changed "joy" to "freedom" in the vocal part of the symphony.  I bought the CD of this performance shortly after it was released, knowing that it was politically correct and wondering whether it would be musically great.  It certainly was.  I started the CD and almost immediately stopped whatever I was doing and sat on the living room floor in front of my stereo, raptured, enthralled, and totally absorbed in the power and the beauty of the music.  I stayed there until the recording ended.  The video of this performance gives us a visual perspective on Bernstein as he conducted.  He was old but tremendously energized by the music.  His facial expressions and vigorous body movements gave a glimpse of strong emotions within himself.  At times, he even appeared to be singing along.

Now I would like to share with you, my readers, the joy and freedom in the last part of this great recording.




From Tom Holzman
Posted on August 5, 2010 at 1:09 PM

Thanks so much for sharing.  Bernstein was an amazing person and musician.

From Marsha Weaver
Posted on August 5, 2010 at 4:11 PM

I miss Leonard Bernstein SO much!  I remember watching his "Young People's Concerts" on TV.  His knowledge was monumental, and his enthusiasm very contagious.  :)  He could break things down and make them understandable for everyone.  I owe him a lot for sharing as he did.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on August 5, 2010 at 6:30 PM

I didn't know this conductor but the few videos you put showed a deeply concerned person about humanity and not just "humans" but the whole world we live in.  Great musicians and composers have so often been deeply concerned and complexed about such things.  Persons as Beethoven, Menuhin, Oistrakh, Gitlis etc sometimes wrote things about this in their letters or biographical videos.  I can just agree so much with everything these people told!  

Thanks for this videos! What wonderful music Beethoven wrote...


From Pauline Lerner
Posted on August 5, 2010 at 9:00 PM

Marsha and others, I watched Bernstein's Young People's Concerts as a kid, too, and they helped me develop my love and understanding of music.  You can now buy a boxed set of nine of these concerts on DVDs.  I first borrowed and then bought them.  I keep listening to them, and I always learn something new and enjoy myself.  I wrote a blog about these concerts on November 15, 2007.  You can read it here.

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