Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Leonard Bernstein

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Leonard Bernstein: Fancy Free and On the Town

Leonard Bernstein is very like the most talented, all-around musician ever born in the United States. I prevaricated a bit by adding “very likely” (above), if only to assuage those who might consider Charles Schulz’s Schroeder or Snoop Dog (Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr., born 1971) to be, instead, the greatest all-around musicians this nation has yet produced. But really, in terms of his prodigious musical range and versatility and tremendous cultural impact, Leonard (born Louis) Bernstein is indeed the most gifted musician ever born in the U.S.: America’s Mozart. He was born on August 18, 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the son of Ukrainian Jews. Bernstein’s hard-working immigrant parents had indeed found America’s streets paved with gold; his father, Samuel Joseph Bernstein, was the owner of “The Samuel Bernstein Hair and Beauty Supply Company”, which held the New England franchise for the immensely popular “Frederick’s Permanent Wave Machine.” When he was 10, Bernstein’s Aunt Clara parked her upright piano at his house. He began teaching himself to play and then, we are told, he began “clamoring for lessons.” However, Samuel Bernstein had no intention of encouraging Lenny’s musical foolishness; as his eldest son, he was going to follow his father into […]

Continue Reading

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Symphonic Dances from West Side Story

I am going to say it upfront; abuse me as you wish. In my humble but not entirely ill-informed opinion, West Side Story – with its story concept by William Shakespeare, “book” (play) by Arthur Laurents, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, choreography and direction by Jerome Robbins, and music by Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) – is very likely the greatest single work of musical theater thus far created in the United States. The story line, which deals with the confrontation of Hispanic and Anglo cultures on the streets of Manhattan, is as relevant today as it was when it opened at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theater on September 26, 1957. The story, play, lyrics and choreography of West Side Story are wonderful, but it is Bernstein’s remarkable music – jazzy and urban for the Anglos, characteristically Caribbean for the Puerto Ricans, and out-of-the-world heavenly for the lovers (Romeo and Juliet re-conceived as Tony and Maria) – that renders West Side Story the sublime masterwork that it is. Bernstein was, by any measure, a superb composer, someone who was equally comfortable composing for the musical theater, the opera theater, the ballet theater, and the concert hall. He also composed what is, to my mind, […]

Continue Reading