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Leonard Bernstein (1918 - 1990)

Leonard Bernstein, one of the most important figures in twentieth-century music, was born in Massachusetts into a Russian-Jewish immigrant family. He had his first piano lessons in 1928, and soon recognised that his life was to be dominated by music. In 1930 he began piano lessons with Susan Williams at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, giving his first piano recital two years later, when he also started to study piano with Helen Coates, later to be his personal secretary. In 1934 he played Grieg’s Piano Concerto with the Boston Public School Orchestra. During this period he produced, and performed in, many amateur theatrical productions.

The year 1935 was important for Bernstein: he made his first radio broadcasts (a series of short piano recitals sponsored by his father’s cosmetics company) and he entered Harvard University. Here he continued with his piano studies and composed, studying with Walter Piston amongst others. In 1937 he became friends with several highly influential musicians: the composer Aaron Copland, of whom Bernstein was a life-long supporter; the conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos, whose flamboyant direction of the Boston Symphony Orchestra convinced Bernstein that conducting was to be his career; and Adolph Green, the actor and scriptwriter of Broadway musicals. In 1938 he became music editor of The Harvard Advocate. He graduated in 1939, when he also mounted a critically-acclaimed production of Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock at Harvard.



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