From his dazzling conducting debut in 1943 until his death in 1990, Leonard Bernstein's star blazed brilliantly. In this fresh and revealing biography of Bernstein's political life, Barry Seldes examines Bernstein's career against the backdrop of cold war America - blacklisting by the State Department in 1950, voluntary exile from the New York Philharmonic in 1951 for fear that he might be blacklisted, signing a humiliating affidavit to regain his passport - and the factors that by the mid-1950s allowed his triumphant return to the New York Philharmonic.
Seldes for the first time links Bernstein's great concert-hall and musical-theatrical achievements and his real and perceived artistic setbacks to his involvment with progressive political causes. Making extensive use of previously untapped FBI files as well as overlooked materials in the Library of Congress' Bernstein archive, Seldes illuminates the ways in which Bernstein's career intersected with the 20th century's most momentous events.
This broadly accessible and impressively documented account of the celebrity-maestro's life deepens our understanding of an entire era as it reveals important and often ignored intersections of American culture and political power.
This book is published by University of California Press.
©2009 The Regents of the University of California (P)2010 Redwood Audiobooks
"Mr. Seldes' book is a masterpiece of concision, romping through background accounts of the machinations of the House Committee on Un-American Activities and the collapse of post-war efforts to revive the liberal political philosophies of the New Deal generation. He turns with equally efficient grace to interpretations of Bernstein's more enigmatic compositions, such as his theatrical setting of the "Mass" and his disillusioned follow-up to 'Trouble in Tahiti' with an opera, "A Quiet Place". The book's greatest value, however, lies not simply in shedding new and more nuanced light on the story of 'Our Lenny', but in its consistent demonstration - in accordance with Bernstein's own ideas - that any attempt to separate the musical sphere from the moral and political comes at an unconscionably high price." (The Economist)
"A rich, thoroughly researched and immensely readable study." (Times Literary Supplement)
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Two of my favorite topics: music and lefty politics. Basically, the author uses Bernstein's life as a metaphor for the decline of progressive liberalism in the United States in the twentieth century. It works well as both biography and a historical survey, only getting slightly bogged down in theory in the last chapter.
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