Working with Bernstein

Jack Gottlieb

Amadeus Press £20.50

Working with Bernstein

Though he wrote other books, several of which are still in print, Leonard Bernstein died in 1990 without writing his memoirs. However, his life is covered by several biographies. One, Humphrey Burton's account of 1994, is particularly praised by Gottlieb. To fill any possible gaps in these accounts now comes Gottlieb's own Working with Bernstein, a fascinating view from a daily associate who is himself a composer.

Bernstein first hired Gottlieb in 1958 when, at the age of forty, LB was freshly installed as musical director of the New York Philharmonic. Gottlieb edited the first three of Bernstein's books. And, as the maestro's assistant, he performed many other tasks, from reviewing proofs to shepherding scores into print.

The conductor sought and thought on a grand scale, never more than at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961, a stellar affair. Guests included Bette Davies, Tallulah Bankhead, Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Laurence Olivier, Anthony Quinn, Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis. Bernstein held his own among these luminaries, confidently addressing many by their first names. Indeed, almost all significant classical musicians and many showbiz and political figures of the era have at least a walk-on rôle in Gottlieb's account. One, President Richard Nixon, was not a friend of Bernstein's. He described Bernstein's kissing of men on the mouth as 'absolutely sickening'. He called the musician 'a son of a bitch'.

Gottlieb collected autographs from Boris Pasternak and Dmitri Shostakovitch. He spoke to Noel Coward. He also met Stockhausen, Boris Blacher, Luciano Berio and Bruno Maderna. He met Kabalevsky and Khachaturian. He saw Stravinsky at lunch in Venice. We learn here that Bernstein detested Robert Craft. Among this modernity one is surprised to read of Gottlieb taking - or rather, suffering - his first jet flight, in 1959.

The second part of the book offers My Notes on LB's Notes, being more formal writings about Bernstein's compositions, collected from Gottlieb's previously published concert programmes, record jackets, essays and forewords to scores. Notated musical examples are given, mostly as piano reductions or single-stave excerpts. Gottlieb's book constitutes a valuable account, written by an eminent Bernstein scholar.

John Robert Brown

First published in Classical Music magazine. Used by kind permission. Reproduction forbidden.
Updated and maintained by: routeToWeb