From his dazzling conducting debut in 1943 until his death in 1990, Leonard Bernstein's star blazed brilliantly. In this fresh and revealing biography of Bernstein's political life, Barry Seldes examines Bernstein's career against the backdrop of cold war America—blacklisting by the State Department in 1950, voluntary exile from the New York Philharmonic in 1951 for fear that he might be blacklisted, signing a humiliating affidavit to regain his passport—and the factors that by the mid-1950s allowed his triumphant return to the New York Philharmonic. Seldes for the first time links Bernstein's great concert-hall and musical-theatrical achievements and his real and perceived artistic setbacks to his involvement with progressive political causes. Making extensive use of previously untapped FBI files as well as overlooked materials in the Library of Congress's Bernstein archive, Seldes illuminates the ways in which Bernstein's career intersected with the twentieth century's most momentous events. This broadly accessible and impressively documented account of the celebrity-maestro's life deepens our understanding of an entire era as it reveals important and often ignored intersections of American culture and political power.
List of Illustrations
1. Young American: Bernstein at Harvard
2. The Forties: Ascent and Blacklist
3. American Biedermeier
4. The Long Sixties
5. Norton Lectures
6. Bernstein at Sea
7. Understanding Bernstein
Epilogue: A Man in Dark Times
Barry Seldes is Professor of Political Science at Rider University and the author of a wide range of essays on politics and culture.
"Finally, a biography of Bernstein that does not merely chronicle his career but truly explains it. Barry Seldes argues most convincingly that Bernstein's life in music is bound up with his political perspective, and his creative commitments reflected his social ones. What emerges from this meticulously researched, engagingly written, and utterly fascinating account is a richer, truer portrait of an important American composer, conductor, and citizen."—Elizabeth Bergman, author of Music for the Common Man: Aaron Copland during the Depression and War
Shortlisted for the Music in American Culture Award, American Musicological Society