About this Recording
8.573056 - BERNSTEIN, L.: Transcriptions for Wind Band - On the Waterfront Suite / On the Town / Candide (University of South Carolina Wind Ensemble, Weiss)

Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990)
Transcriptions for Wind Band


In an open letter penned in 1966, Leonard Bernstein lamented that “the famous gulf between composer and audience is not only wider than ever: it has become an ocean.” This concerned not only Bernstein the music director of the New York Philharmonic, but also Bernstein the composer, who found his musical language at odds with an establishment whose “electronic music, serialism, [and] chance music,” in Bernstein’s estimation, had “already acquired the must odor of academicism.” “Tonal music lies in abeyance, dormant,” he complained. Frustrated, Bernstein argued, “all forms that we have ever known have always been conceived in tonality, that is, in the sense of a tonal magnetic center, with subsidiary tonal relationships.”

Bernstein’s particular interpretation of tonality, often referred to as eclectic, reveals a synthesis of musical influences and styles—a wide variety of elements on a spectrum from the most accessible popular music to the most cerebral art music. And while his detractors sometimes sought to use eclecticism as a brand to delegitimize his compositional efforts, Bernstein happily embraced that very label. “The greater the composer, the better case you can make for his eclecticism. Otherwise you don’t exist. Who are you if you are not the sum of everything that’s happened before?” The compositions on this disc, with the exception of the Divertimento, were written before Bernstein’s open letter of 1966, and prove a testament to this musician’s devotion to eclecticism and tonality.

Bernstein adored his fellow citizen of Massachusetts, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The two men graduated from Harvard only one year apart, and Bernstein supported Kennedy’s run for the presidency. Bernstein composed the Fanfare for the Inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961 for Kennedy’s inaugural gala. Bernstein, who never shied away from the attention of a crowd, felt right at home when he opened the gala, to which were invited such notable musical guests as Ethel Merman, Nat “King” Cole, Louis Prima, and Ella Fitzgerald. This short fanfare, whose opening statement features a characteristic Bernstein tritone, was one of three works in Bernstein’s catalogue inspired by Kennedy. The President was assassinated as Bernstein was completing his third symphony, Kaddish, a work in which Bernstein wrestled with crises of faith. Kennedy’s death brought about another crisis of faith for the composer—a crisis of faith in his fellow Americans. He responded by dedicating his symphony to the memory of the slain President. Bernstein returned to these themes again in his theater work, MASS, which Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis commissioned for the opening of the Kennedy Center for the Arts in Washington, DC in 1972.

Although the Overture to Candide was composed for the stage work, it has enjoyed a vibrant life outside the theater in the concert hall, being programmed by orchestras all over the world. This brilliant Overture has become somewhat of a calling card for the New York Philharmonic, who often performs it as an encore, in the same way the orchestras of Europe reward curtain calls with the Overture to The Marriage of Figaro. Most notably, the New York Philharmonic performed the Overture to Candide in North Korea in 2008 as part of their famous cultural exchange concert.

Clare Grundman’s arrangement, Candide Suite, reminds listeners that while the Overture cobbles together some of the lovely melodies of the musical’s score, many more gems await. It is unfortunate that Candide was not a success in its original run on Broadway and that the various revisions that followed have resulted in the stain of a checkered past. Stephen Sondheim has argued that the fundamental problem with this show was the incompatibility of Lillian Hellman’s biting irony, adapted from Voltaire’s play, and the bubble and sentimentality of Bernstein’s music. True, it is hard to imagine something bubblier than “Glitter and Be Gay,” but recent revivals of the musical have proven successful, and while it may be sentimental, it is difficult to think of a more hopeful finale in all of Broadway than Make Our Garden Grow.

Candide appeared only two years after the Elia Kazan’s Academy-Award-winning film, On the Waterfront (1954). Candide may be all bubble and sentimentality, but the music for On the Waterfront is anything but. Words such as plaintive and longing describe the opening measures of the suite, which give way to a bluesy, gritty and aggressive allegro. Bernstein’s barbaro indication in the score is an obvious reference to Bartók’s Allegro barbaro, while the adagio that closes the suite calls to mind Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, the third movement of which sounds as though it could go on forever without ending. Bernstein’s score concludes much this way, reminding us that even though Marlon Brando’s character in the film finally emerges triumphant, in the real world such a positive ending would be tainted with ambiguity.

A waterfront also plays a part in one of Bernstein’s musicals, from which drew the Three Dance Episodes from On The Town. A ship has docked in the harbor at New York City, enabling three sailors to take advantage of all this city has to offer over one 24-hour period. The idea of sailors on shore leave first provided the scenario for Fancy Free (1944), a ballet collaboration between Bernstein and choreographer Jerome Robbins. After the success of the ballet, some of the creative team felt that the topic would work well as a Broadway musical, and On the Town was born. With lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and new songs by Bernstein, it ran for over 400 performances in its original run, and spawned a 1949 MGM film. Unfortunately, the musical staff at MGM excised most of Bernstein’s score, with the notable exception of the rousing opening number, “New York, New York.” Bernstein, however, gave some of the best melodies new life in this version for the concert hall, heard here in a transcription for band by Marice Stith.

Divertimento represents the only work on this recording that Bernstein wrote after his rather public pronouncements about the viability of tonal composition, and provides another excellent example of Clare Grundman’s skills of transcribing orchestral works for symphonic band. Composed in 1980 for the centenary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Divertimento was extremely personal for Bernstein. Having grown up in Brookline, Mass., Bernstein always wanted to be named the music director of the BSO, but the opportunity never presented itself. At a time in his career when he had conquered not only the New York Philharmonic, but the Vienna Philharmonic, the invitation to compose for the BSO provided Bernstein an opportunity to reflect on his musical past and to wax nostalgic about it. The nostalgia comes forth in the various movements of the Divertimento as audiences hear musical references to Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, the Radetzky March, and other popular music, thus reflecting on Bernstein’s multiple musical histories. He also ties the movements together with the melodic motive B-C, which stands for Boston Centenary. As you listen to these pastiches, you can decide for yourself whether Bernstein’s eclecticism is his biggest crutch or his greatest asset. But after you hear the performances of these works by the members of the USC Wind Ensemble, one thing will be certain: tonality is not dead and neither is Leonard Bernstein.

J. Daniel Jenkins

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