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Collection Leonard Bernstein

About this Collection

About the Leonard Bernstein Collection

The Leonard Bernstein Collection at the Library of Congress is as exceptional as its name would suggest. Bernstein, arguably the most prominent figure in American classical music of the second half of the twentieth century, made his impact as a conductor, as a composer of classical and theater music, and as an educator through books, conducting students at Tanglewood, and especially through various televised lecture series that helped define the potentials of that medium.

Bernstein came to national prominence virtually overnight through a last-minute conducting debut with the New York Philharmonic, when he substituted for Bruno Walter on November 14, 1943. He was twenty-five. Because Bernstein was a national figure from the very beginning of his career, his friend and teacher Helen Coates, who became his secretary in 1944, maintained his papers meticulously and extensively annotated many of them. The Bernstein Collection therefore offers a remarkably complete record of his life and is one of the Music Division's richest repositories in the variety and scope of its materials.

The Music Division began acquiring the Bernstein Collection in 1953 and continuing to 1967, when Bernstein himself donated music manuscripts for The Age of Anxiety, Candide, Chichester Psalms, Fancy Free, Jeremiah, Trouble in Tahiti, West Side Story, Wonderful Town, and other works.In 1991, Helen Coates, Bernstein's longtime friend and secretary, left ninety-four letters, music manuscripts and other items related to Bernstein to the Library in her will. In the same year an additional six hundred letters that had been in the possession of Helen Coates were also given to the Library by the Springate Corporation, representatives of the Bernstein estate. In 1993, the Springate Corporation greatly increased the size of the Bernstein Collection by giving the Library hundreds of thousands of additional items, and the estate has continued to donate items since then. The collection now includes music manuscripts, correspondence, writings of all types, photographs, commercial and non-commercial recordings and audio-visual materials (now housed in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division), business papers, programs, fan mail, date books, and realia.

The online Leonard Bernstein collection makes available a significant selection of correspondence both to and from Bernstein, musical sketches for several of his major works, writings, including the scripts for his Young People's Concerts, Thursday Evening Previews, Omnibus, and Ford Presents, his scrapbooks, photographs, and audio-visual materials.

The contents of the Leonard Bernstein Collection are available for examination and study in the Performing Arts Reading Room at the Library of Congress. Here is the link to the Finding Aid.

Listed below are “canned” searches where we have pulled together materials related to particular individuals, works, and topics. One can search more broadly, more narrowly, and on entirely different topics, by going to the Collection Items screen, using the This Collection: Search at the top, and refining your results using the options listed in the left hand column.

  • Bernstein, Burton (1932-2017)

    Leonard Bernstein’s brother, an author and staff writer for the New Yorker (1957-92).

  • Bernstein, Felicia Montealegre-Cohn (1922-1978)

    Leonard Bernstein’s wife, born in Costa Rica and educated in Chile, she became a stage and television actress. They married in 1951.

  • Bernstein, Jennie Resnick (ca. 1898-1992) & Samuel Joseph (ca. 1992-1969)

    Leonard Bernstein’s parents. His father founded the Samuel J. Bernstein Hair Company, and was active at Temple Mishkan Tefila in Newton, Ma., and the Lubavitz Yeshiva of Roxbury.

  • Bernstein, Shirley (1923-1998)

    Leonard Bernstein’s sister, a literary agent, whose clients included Arthur Laurents and Stephen Schwartz

  • Blitzstein, Marc (1905-1964)

    Composer, lyricist and librettist. Bernstein championed Blitzstein’s work, producing a production of his The Cradle Will Rock while at Harvard, after which they became close friends.

  • Boston Symphony Orchestra

    Bernstein conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra during 31 seasons, between 1942 and 1990 – second only to the New York Philharmonic. Bernstein’s mentor, Serge Koussevitzky, was music director of the Symphony, bringing him into the BSO fold.

  • Boulanger, Nadia (1887-1979)

    Legendary French composer, pedagogue and composition teacher to many of Bernstein’s own teachers. After a meeting arranged by Copland, Boulanger and Bernstein became good friends.

  • Bowles, Paul (1910-1999)

    Composer and author, championed by Bernstein. In an appreciation Bernstein wrote: “Copland still refers to the ‘Bowles’ style that crops up now and then in my music.”

  • Brandeis University

    Bernstein was appointed (visiting) Professor of Music at Brandeis from 1951-1955. In 1952, he directed the “Festival of the Performing Arts, during which his opera, Trouble in Tahiti, premiered, and where he lead the premiere of Blitzstein’s version of The Threepenny Opera.

  • Candide (1956)

    Bernstein composed the music for this Broadway “comic operetta,” with a libretto by Lillian Hellman, inspired by the novel by Voltaire. The show’s “Overture” has become Bernstein’s most popular orchestral work.

  • Chichester Psalms (1965)

    Bernstein’s setting of three psalms in Hebrew for chorus and a small orchestra, commissioned by the Chichester Cathedral in England.

  • Civil Rights

    Bernstein and his wife were passionate supporters of Civil Rights, championing and hiring black musicians throughout his career. Felicia Bernstein was a member of the ACLU and, in 1970, hosted a meeting to raise funds for the legal defense of “twenty-one” Black Panther defendants.

  • Coates, Helen (1899-1989)

    Coates became Bernstein’s piano teacher in 1932. After his New York Philharmonic debut in 1943, Coates became Bernstein’s personal secretary, working for him most of the rest of her life.

  • Comden, Betty (1917-2006)

    Co-lyricist and librettist, with Adolph Green, of Bernstein’s musicals On the Town and Wonderful Town. Earlier, in 1939 Bernstein became an occasional accompanist for The Revuers, a performing group that included Comden, Green, and Judy Holiday.

  • Copland, Aaron (1900-1990)

    The “dean of American composers,” Copland was arguably Bernstein’s most significant mentor in composition; they championed each other as colleagues, and were lifelong friends.

  • Conductor/Conducting

    Bernstein conducted dozens of orchestras throughout his career, including 40 years with the New York Philharmonic, 31 years with the Boston Symphony, and 24 years with the Vienna Philharmonic. Bernstein conducted hundreds of recordings, with over 500 compositions recorded for Columbia alone. Later recordings were mostly live concerts released by Deutsche Grammophon. Bernstein also mentored many composers over the years, including Michael Tillson Thomas and Marin Alsop.

  • Curtis Institute of Music

    Bernstein received a diploma in conducting from Curtis (1939-1941). Teachers included Fritz Reiner, Isabella Vengerova, Randall Thompson, and Renee Longy Miquelle.

  • Diamond, David (1915-2005)

    Diamond was a composer and a good friend of Bernstein’s, though their friendship was sometimes strained.

  • Educator

    Bernstein was a teacher throughout his life – from private students, to master classes, writing books and articles, talks before general audiences and concertgoers, and is probably best remembered for his television programs, most notably the Young People’s Concerts. Here we bring together his scripts for those, Ford Presents, Omnibus, and Thursday Evening Previews.

  • Family

    Bernstein was extraordinarily close with his family. This brings together the correspondence between Bernstein and his parents, Sam and Jennie, his sister Shirley, and his brother Burton.

  • Fine, Irving (1914-1962) & Verna (1920-1995)

    Fine was a composer and friend of Bernstein’s. They were closely connected through relationships, not only with people that included Copland and Koussevitzky, but institutions that included Harvard, Brandeis, and Tanglewood.

  • Ford Presents

    Eleven televised lectures with the New York Philharmonic, 1959-1962.

  • Foss, Lukas (1922-2009)

    Foss was a German-born American composer, pianist, and conductor. His friendship with Bernstein began when they were both students at Curtis and they became professional colleagues, conducting each other’s works.

  • Gay rights/AIDS/Sexuality

    Although Bernstein married and fathered children, his sexuality seems to have been predominantly gay. After his wife died he came out publicly and, in the 1980s, became involved and supportive in the fight against AIDS.

  • Green, Adolph (1914-2002)

    Green was one of Bernstein’s closest friends, starting at their first meeting at Camp Onato as teenagers. Bernstein became an occasional accompanist for The Revuers, a performing group that included Green, Betty Comden, and Judy Holiday. Then, with co-lyricist and librettist, Comden,  collaborated with Bernstein on the musical On the Town and Wonderful Town.

  • Harvard University

    Bernstein entered Harvard in 1935, graduating in 1939. He maintained his relationship with the University through the years and in 1973 delivered the lecture series The Unanswered Question as the Charles Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University [those scripts are not included here].

  • Hellman, Lillian (1905-1984)

    Playwright Lillian Hellman became a close friend of the Bernstein family, particularly to Felicia Bernstein, and was Jamie Bernstein’s godmother. Bernstein composed incidental music for Hellman’s translation of Jean Anouih’s The Lark (1955), collaborated with Hellman on Candide (1956), for which she wrote the libretto and some of the lyrics.

  • Interviews and Talks

    Links to a talk by Nigel Simeone on Bernstein’s correspondence, an interview with Charlie Harmon, Bernstein’s assistant, and audiotaped interviews with Bernstein.

  • Israel/Israeli Philharmonic/Judaism

    Bernstein’s Judaism was fundamental to his identity and was a major influence in his work, both as a conductor and a composer, and caused him to work for Jewish causes and institutions. Among his related works were Dybbuk, Four Sabras, “Halil,” “Hashkiveinu,” Jeremiah, and Kaddish. And he conducted the Israel (or Palestine) Philharmonic during 25 seasons, 1947-1989.

  • Kaddish Symphony, Symphony No. 3 (1963)

    Composed by Bernstein for orchestra, mixed chorus, boys’ choir, speaker, and soprano solo; spoken text by Bernstein. Dedicated “To the Beloved Memory of John F. Kennedy.”

  • Koussevitzky, Serge (1874-1951) & Olga Naumovo (1901-1978)

    Russian-born conductor, music director of the Boston Symphony (1924-1949), and founded the Berkshire Music Festival (Tanglewood). Koussevitzky was one of Bernstein’s most important mentors and supporters as a conductor, accepting him in his classes (1940), hiring him as his assistant (1942).

  • Longy-Miquelle, Renée (1897-1979)

    Longy-Miquelle was Bernstein’s transposition and score-reading teacher at Curtis.

  • Mahler, Gustav (1860-1911) & Alma (1879-1964)

    Bernstein led concerts with the New York Philharmonic for the Mahler Centennial – credited with a resurgence of interest in Mahler and his work – and recorded two complete cycles of Mahler’s Nine Symphonies.

  • Mass (1971)

    A theatre piece for singers, players and dancers, music by Bernstein, with text from the liturgy of the Roman mass (L), and additional text by Bernstein and Stephen Schwartz. Composed for the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC.

  • Mitropoulos, Dmitri (1896-1990)

    Mitropoulos became the music director for the New York Philharmonic in 1951, and was succeeded by his protégé, Bernstein, in 1958.

  • New York Philharmonic

    Bernstein was music director of the New York Philharmonic from 1958 to 1969, after having conducted 939 concerts with the orchestra (831 as Music Director), more than any other conductor in its history. Gave 36 world premiered. Received the title of “Laureate Conductor”. He conducted concerts there over 40 seasons, between 1941-1989.

  • Omnibus

    Bernstein presented ten musical lectures on this television series, between 1954 and 1961. It were these programs that introduced him to television audiences and showed his mastery of the medium.

  • On the Town (1944)

    Bernstein’s first Broadway musical, loosely based on his ballet Fancy Free (1944). Book and lyrics were by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and choreography was by Jerome Robbins. The score included a significant amounts of dance music, and the songs “New York, New York,” and “Some Other Time.”

  • Oppenheim, David (1922-2007)

    Oppenheim and Bernstein met at Tanglewood in 1942 where they became fast friends. Bernstein dedicated his “Sonata for Clarinet and Piano” to Oppenheim who would premiere the work in New York and made the first recording. Oppenheim would go on to become a record and television producer, including for Columbia Records, and CBS, and later became the Dean of the New York University School of the Arts.

  • Photographs

    There are thousands of photographs in the Bernstein Collection, but here we have a sampling from throughout his life, largely related to the individuals and topics listed here.

  • Quiet Place, A (1983)

    An opera by Bernstein that was initially a sequel to his opera Trouble in Tahiti (1951), and then incorporated it in a revised version (1984). The libretto was by Bernstein and Stephen Wadsworth.

  • Recordings

    A sampling of interviews and talks with Bernstein selected from the hundreds in the collection.

  • Robbins, Jerome (1918-1998)

    Chorographer and Director Jerome Robbins worked closely with Bernstein on several works, including the ballet Fancy Free, the musical On the Town, Age of Anxiety [ballet version], ballet Facsimile, musical West Side Story, ballet Dybbuk,

  • Russian tour (1959)

    During the height of the Cold War, Bernstein lead the New York Philharmonic in an extraordinary tour of Western Europe, Poland, and included three weeks in the USSR, where he conducted 36 of 50 concerts.

  • Schuman, William (1910-1992)

    The composer was an early champion of Bernstein, commissioned his Brass Music, and Bernstein programmed, conducted and recorded many of Schuman’s works.

  • Scrapbooks

    There are 130 scrapbooks, dating from 1933-1987. Mostly compiled by Helen Coates, they are surprisingly rich with clippings, programs, photographs, transcripts of interviews, and are international in score. The scans here were derived from microfilm.

  • Social Causes

    Throughout his life, Bernstein was a passionate supporter of social causes and institutions that worked on them. He was particularly concerned with civil rights, promoting peace and anti-nuclear activities, and the AIDS crisis.

  • Sondheim, Stephen (1930-)

    Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim made his Broadway debut writing lyrics for West Side Story with music by Bernstein. Sondheim would go on to become arguably the single most influential musical theater artist of the second half of the 20th Century.

  • Tanglewood

    In 1940, Bernstein became a conducting student of Koussevitzky's with the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, two years later, Koussevitzky appointed Bernstein as his assistant, placing him on the faculty, a status he maintained until his death. Bernstein taught and performed at Tanglewood virtually every summer for fifty years.

  • Thursday Evening Previews

    Beginning with the New York Philharmonic concert season of 1958-59, Bernstein included an informal talk in the first concert of a week's series—the Thursday Evening Previews. The talks continued until 1964.

  • Tourel, Jennie (1900-1973)

    The soprano Jennie Tourel premiered Bernstein’s "I Hate Music," he wrote his "Jeremiah Symphony" with her voice in mind, they performed together frequently, and she appeared on many of Bernstein’s recordings.

  • Vienna (Wiener) Philharmonic

    Bernstein conducted the Vienna Philharmonic during 24 seasons, from 1966 to 1990, making dozens of recordings with them.

  • Walter, Bruno (1876-1962)

    Walter was a German-born conductor who became the music advisor for the New York Philharmonic (1947-1949). It was substituting for an ailing Walter that gave Bernstein the opportunity to make his debut conducting the New York Philharmonic.

  • West Side Story (1957)

    A musical based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, set in 1950s New York, featuring feuding Puerto Rican and Anglo gangs. Concept, choreography and direction were by Jerome Robbins, script by Arthur Laurents, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It remains Bernstein’s most popular work.

  • Wonderful Town (1953)

    Bernstein’s second Broadway musical, with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

  • Young People’s Concerts

    Bernstein’s scripts for the televised concerts/talks he gave with the New York Philharmonic, beginning in 1958 and ending in 1972.

  • Zucker, Mildred Spiegel (1916-)

    Mildred Spiegel met Leonard Bernstein when he was fifteen and became life-long friends. It was she who recommended that Bernstein study piano with Heinrich Gebhard. For years, she and Bernstein met every week to play piano duets at the Harvard Musical Society, and every weekend for six years to attend the Boston Symphony. Zucker later became a member of the Madison Trio.

A Message from Jamie Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein's life, besides being richly creative, was also extensively documented. In addition to his manuscripts and voluminous correspondence, there are also recordings, videos, film footage, and thousands of photographs. This is truly a multimedia archive, which makes it particularly appropriate for presentation by the Library of Congress. In fact, it was the Library's prescient commitment, back in the mid-1990's, to putting their treasures online that led us to choose them as the ideal repository for the Leonard Bernstein Collection.

Bernstein's career coincided with the rise of television. He was among the first to perceive the power of this new medium to communicate the joy of music to millions of viewers. It's very much in keeping with Bernstein's generosity of spirit to make materials from his archives available to the greatest number of people -- which is the essential purpose of the Library's digital program.

Online users are able to view significant portions of the Leonard Bernstein Collection, and sample the wealth of material there. Not only does the collection document the career of an extraordinary 20th-century American; it also illuminates the transformations and upheavals of the times he lived in.
With this ambitious online initiative, the Library of Congress is truly fulfilling its purpose, preserving the past as it embraces the future. As the Leonard Bernstein at 100 celebrations get under way, we, his family, are more excited than ever to share his archives with the world through the online portal of the Library of Congress.
Jamie Bernstein