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Leonard Bernstein: A Life

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Here is Leonard Bernstein, full scale and fully alive - the child prodigy, the man, the composer, the teacher, the hugely charismatic personality, the lover, the American folk hero. Everything is here: the child growing up in a Hasidic family in Massachusetts, his father a rabbi's son; his first piano at age nine ("I remember touching it ... It was my contact with life, with God"); his reluctant, brilliant, argumentative years at Harvard; the rocky but exhilarating start of his career (scant jobs, no money, but ...
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Overview

Here is Leonard Bernstein, full scale and fully alive - the child prodigy, the man, the composer, the teacher, the hugely charismatic personality, the lover, the American folk hero. Everything is here: the child growing up in a Hasidic family in Massachusetts, his father a rabbi's son; his first piano at age nine ("I remember touching it ... It was my contact with life, with God"); his reluctant, brilliant, argumentative years at Harvard; the rocky but exhilarating start of his career (scant jobs, no money, but friendships with Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Judy Holliday, Comden and Green, et al.); his spectacular debut (understudy into a star!) as substitute conductor at the New York Philharmonic; the great career over the years as a composer in classical music, and in musical theater. We see Bernstein: the good father to his three children, the man who adored his wife, Felicia Montealegre, the man who adored men, the brilliant and generous mentor, the temperamental artist, the hypochondriac, the politician, the businessman, the Pied Piper... His life, his music, the great international cultural world in which he traveled, are richly and vividly portrayed in this magnificent biography, alive with music - and with life.

A full-scale biography of Leonard Bernstein--child prodigy, musician, composer, teacher, charismatic personality, father, husband, lover, and American folk hero. A magnificent biography, alive with music--and with life. 100 photographs.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Because this study, by a biographer better known for her books on art figures (Frank Lloyd Wright, Bernard Berenson, Salvador Dali) is the second major one of Bernstein this year, comparisons with the first, by British TV producer Humphrey Burton (Nonfiction Forecasts, Feb. 28), are inevitable. Both biographies are valuable. Burton enjoyed official access to family and papers and Secrest did not, with the perhaps natural consequence that Burton presents Bernstein in a more kindly light. On the other hand, Secrest can approach the maestro with a better sense, as an American, of his cultural context. Secrest is definitively superior on young Lenny's relations with his family; she also offers a more vivid, unvarnished picture of his final unhappy decade, during which he seemed determined, by his outr behavior, to drive away even those who loved and admired him. On the early successes and the golden years from the mid-1940s to the mid-'70s, both books offer a sense of the headlong excitement of Bernstein's prodigious flowering. Burton is stronger on Bernstein the composer, however, giving a far better sense of the value of his work and its place in American music, while Secrest contents herself with contemporary commentary. On basics, these two solid, highly readable books agree: the maestro had a vast talent, particularly as a conductor, that even his regrettable later personal excesses could not diminish. Photos. 35,000 first printing. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Access to Bernstein's papers was denied Secrest (Frank Lloyd Wright, LJ 9/1/92) and given to Humphrey Burton (Leonard Bernstein, Doubleday, 1994). Thus, this second big Bernstein book of 1994 has a different documentary foundation and draws on a different set of interviews, underscoring the point that Bernstein's legacy demands multiple interpretations. Secrest takes issue with some legends, repeats and supports other details, and allows herself to remain perplexed by remaining mysteries. She applies Karen Horney's description of "demoniacal obsession" to Bernstein's perfectionist need to do it all in music: create, re-create, conduct, teach, and inspire. But her welcome perspective allows him his failures, as he never did himself, and credits him with never losing his enthusiasm, the tempering of obsession that makes achievement possible. Recommended as a companion to Burton's work. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/94.]-Bonnie Jo Dopp, formerly with District of Columbia P.L.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679737575
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/31/1995
  • Pages: 496
  • Product dimensions: 5.26 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Meet the Author

Meryle Secrest was born and educated in Bath, England. She has written biographies of Romaine Brooks, Bernard Berenson, Kenneth Clark, Salvador Dali, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Meryle Secrest lives in Rockville, Maryland, with her husband, the composer Thomas Beveridge.
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