Saturday, October 22, 2011

Music was It

Music Was It: Young Leonard Bernstein Susan Goldman Rubin

This book doesn't really discuss why Bernstein was such a musical genius. It doesn't mention the fact that his melodies are modern and well, weird, and you'd think they should stay on the shelf for serious connesseurs of modern music, they instead have become standards of American cannon. (Don't believe me? Think about th opening in "Maria." It's a tritone. Traditional music doesn't use it because it's so hard to do correctly and sounds weird, and Bernstein goes and creates one of the greatest musical of all times just chock full of them.) It does, however, talk about his exhuberance and energy and how very rare it was to have a symphonic conductor who was American born and trained. Starting when Bernstein was a toddler and ending with his New York Phil conducting debut at the very very very young age of 25, Rubin tells the story of a boy for whom music was everything. His father didn't support his musical ideas (like most practical-minded parents, he worried there was no money in it and Lenny wouldn't be able to support himself of a family.)

The genius of the book is that Rubin makes Bernstein come alive in a way I've never seen before. She has a number of interviews and sources from the people Bernstein was closest to (including his little brother) that really gives us a glimpse of his life growing up that we tend not to see. Her writing style is engaging and accessible.

I like the fact that it also focuses heavily on his conducting-- not just his composing. I never really think of Bernstein as a conductor (although after reading this, I'm currently listening to his recording of Beethoven's 9th with the Bavarian Radio Symphony) but he was amazing at that, too.

I'm not sure this is the kind of book that kids will pick up on their own, but if they do, they'll be more than pleasantly surprised.

Book Provided by... my local library

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