Jacket Image

Enlarge Image

200 × 130 mm
216 pages
25 illustrations
05 Feb 2018
Critical Lives

Leonard Bernstein Paul R. Laird

Leonard Bernstein was one of twentieth-century music’s most successful and recognizable figures. In a career spanning five decades he conducted many of the world’s leading orchestras, and composed scores for landmark musicals such as Candide and West Side Story. Published to tie in with the 100th anniversary of Bernstein’s birth, this engaging new biography provides a concise overview of the life and work of this prodigiously talented, fascinating and controversial musician.

Drawing on over thirty years of study, leading scholar Paul R. Laird describes Bernstein’s work as a conductor, composer, music educator and commentator, evaluating all his major compositions. Laird explores the impact of his complicated personal life on his professional work, including his homosexuality and many affairs with men, and his strong yet difficult marriage. The author also describes Bernstein’s iron self-belief, which enabled him to negotiate risky and challenging musical situations that resulted in passionate, if sometimes mixed, reviews.

Featuring original insights into Bernstein’s life, including the author’s interview with Bernstein in 1982, this is an ideal introduction to Bernstein’s eclectic musical style, showing where it fits in the larger world of twentieth-century music.

‘Laird’s long immersion in the subject shows through in this book . . . he is as well placed as anyone to write a new study of Bernstein’s life and work. The present book gives a concise, clear-headed account of an immensely charismatic musician whose personal life Laird describes as “difficult and messy” . . . there is a lot to enjoy in Laird’s book. His success is achieved through lucid presentation and through a depth of knowledge – lightly worn – from which to evaluate Bernstein’s achievements.’ – Gramophone

‘Reaktion's Critical Lives series has become a useful barometer for an artist’s reputation. Experts, rather than journalists or jobbing biographers, take the temperature of some of the culture’s leading figures in concise, un-sensationalist studies . . . Laird offers a neatly filleted account of Bernstein's life and works. It is a calm if not entirely neutral supplement to the unwieldy and often controversial bibliography that now surrounds the composer’ – Prospect

‘Laird’s enthusiasm for his subject, kindled in a student encounter touchingly recalled in the final pages, must have eased the difficult task of compressing a complex man and a hectic career as composer, conductor, and public figure into 175 pages of text.’ – BBC Music Magazine

‘Laird’s concise format, however, has the advantage of laying bare the chronological structure of Bernstein’s career. In ninety pages you quickly see how much he accomplished in the first forty years of his life.’ – New York Review of Books

Show all

Paul R. Laird is Professor of Musicology at the University of Kansas School of Music, where he has taught since 1994. His previous books include The Chichester Psalms of Leonard Bernstein (2010), with co-author Hsun Lin Leonard Bernstein: A Research and Information Guide (2015) and with co-editor William A. Everett The Cambridge Companion to the Musical (2017).

1 ‘Safe at the Piano’: Bernstein’s Youth, 1918–39
2 ‘The Spirit of Koussevitzky’: Bernstein Discovers Conducting, 1939–43
3 ‘I have a fine large apartment in Carnegie Hall’: A Time of Searching, 1943–51
4 ‘I simply must decide what I’m going to be when I grow up’: Leaning Towards Composition, 1952–7
5 ‘I’m going to be a conductor, after all!’: Philharmonic Maestro, 1957–69
6 ‘I do know that the answer is Yes’: Living with Fame, 1969–78
7 ‘And all the spooks of swift-advancing age’: Music at the Close, 1978–90
8 ‘A Final Evaluation

Select Bibliography
Select Discography and Videography
Photo Acknowledgements