Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts: Context and Canons

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Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts: Context and Canons

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Title: Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts: Context and Canons
Author: Kopfstein-Penk, Alicia
Abstract: Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was recently featured in <italic>BBC Magazine</italic> with the headline “Why he was the greatest musician of modern times”. No other twentieth-century musician has inspired so many people from all walks of life as profoundly as this composer, conductor, pedagogue, humanitarian, and activist. The growth of Bernstein's career coincided with the growth of the new medium of television; thus, many knew him primarily through his broadcasts. Yet this facet of Bernstein remains completely unexplored by scholars.His fifty-three hour-long award-winning <italic>Young People's Concerts</italic> (1958-1972) are among his most significant television work but have been relegated to the periphery of his life. The series provides a window into how this musical genius was shaped by his times, and in turn how he attempted (both consciously and unconsciously) to use television to influence the world. Archival work, interviews, and a comparison of a timeline of American history with the scripts permits a four part investigation of the programs. The first part sets the stage by documenting the inception, production issues, Nielsen ratings, sponsors, and the selection process for both topics and works (revealing the sound economic basis of Bernstein's decisions). The second and third parts investigate how Bernstein's own cultural, political, and social context influenced him, and how he attempted to influence his audience. Unbeknownst to viewers, Bernstein addressed the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, civil rights, and feminism in a surreptitious, non-confrontational manner. As an early “post modernist”, the programs show how he easily integrated elements from lowbrow and middlebrow culture into these highbrow programs. The final part studies Bernstein's programming of and reactions to modernism (his tonal bias is evident) and his quest to nurture American music. No other musician in the late twentieth century so fully addressed the issues of the day as did Bernstein, and no other classical musician has ever been so widely seen. Through the <italic>Young People's Concerts</italic>, he not only spread his love of music but raised his artistic voice from this bully pulpit to work for a better world.
Description: Degree awarded: Ph.D. Musicology. The Catholic University of AmericaThis dissertation can be viewed by CUA users only.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1961/10147
Date: 2012-02-15

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