The Leonard Bernstein Collection, ca. 1920-1989


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About the Leonard Bernstein Collection

The Leonard Bernstein Collection at the Library of Congress is as exceptional as its name would suggest. Bernstein, arguably the most prominent figure in American classical music of the twentieth century, made his impact as a conductor, as a composer of classical and theater music, and as an educator through books, conducting students at Tanglewood, and especially through various televised lecture series that helped define the potentials of that medium.

Bernstein came to national prominence virtually overnight through a last-minute conducting debut with the New York Philharmonic, when he substituted for Bruno Walter on November 14, 1943. He was twenty-five. Because Bernstein was a national figure from the very beginning of his career, his friend and teacher Helen Coates, who became his secretary in 1944, maintained his papers meticulously and extensively annotated many of them. The Bernstein Collection therefore offers a remarkably complete record of his life and is one of the Music Division's richest repositories in the variety and scope of its materials.

The Music Division has acquired the Leonard Bernstein Collection over a forty-four year span. From 1953 to 1967, Leonard Bernstein gave many of his most significant music manuscripts to the Library of Congress, including those of his musicals West Side Story and Wonderful Town; his first and second symphonies, Jeremiah and The Age of Anxiety; his operatic works Trouble in Tahiti and Candide; the ballet Fancy Free; the Chichester Psalms; the score for the film On the Waterfront, his Prelude, Fugue and Riffs; and his Serenade for Violin Solo, Strings and Percussion. From 1965 to 1983, Bernstein gave 104 scrapbooks to the Library; five additional scrapbooks were given by Brandeis University in 1973.

In 1991, Helen Coates, Bernstein's longtime friend and secretary, left ninety-four letters, music manuscripts and other items related to Bernstein to the Library in her will. In the same year an additional six hundred letters that had been in the possession of Helen Coates were also given to the Library by the Springate Corporation, representatives of the Bernstein estate. In 1993, the Springate Corporation greatly increased the size of the Bernstein Collection by giving the Library hundreds of thousands of additional items. These included not only additional music manuscripts, but correspondence, writings of all types, photographs, commercial and non-commercial recordings and audio-visual materials (now housed in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division), business papers, programs, fan mail, date books, and regalia. In addition to Bernstein's personal business papers, the extensive archives for his corporate identity, Amberson Inc., were also part of the gift. Lastly, in 1997, Burton Bernstein, brother of Leonard Bernstein, gave the Library ninety-five additional items to add to the Bernstein Collection. These were originally in their sister Jennie Bernstein's possession and consisted primarily of letters to their parents, including fifty-two from Leonard Bernstein, one from Felicia Bernstein, one from Aaron Copland and four from Helen Coates.

The online Leonard Bernstein collection makes available a selection of 85 photographs, 177 scripts from the Young People's Concerts, 74 scripts from the Thursday Evening Previews, and over 1,100 pieces of correspondence. Three categories have been included from the Personal Correspondence: correspondence between Bernstein and his family; between Bernstein and Helen Coates, his teacher, friend, and assistant for most of his professional life; and between Bernstein and his two most significant mentors, Aaron Copland and Serge Koussevitzky. Bernstein's scripts for The Young People's Concerts and the Thursday Evening Previews have been included from the Writings.

The contents of the Leonard Bernstein Collection are available for examination and study in the Performing Arts Reading Room at the Library of Congress. Both the Finding Aid, available online here for the first time, and the collection itself should be considered works in progress. Rather than waiting until the entire collection is processed before making it generally available to researchers--the Music Division's usual practice-- each series is being made available as it is completed. For access to collection materials as yet unprocessed, address written requests to: Head, Acquisitions and Processing Section, Music Division, Library of Congress, Washington DC 20540-4710.

As each series is completed, an introduction to that material will be added at the beginning of the content list for that series. Because much of the music in the Bernstein Collection is being held in New York in readiness for new or in some cases initial publications, the music will be the last series in the collection to be processed.

Mark Eden Horowitz
Music Division


Young People's Concerts

The New York Philharmonic already had a tradition of presenting concerts for young people when between 1958 and 1972 Leonard Bernstein took advantage of the medium of television to introduce music to children and instruct them in how to become informed, discerning listeners. The Young People's Concerts reveal Bernstein's mastery of both music education and the medium of television. Combination lecture-concerts were recorded before a concert-hall audience, primarily of children, and broadcast in the United States and Canada. Over the course of the broadcasts, Bernstein discussed a wide array of subjects relating to music history and theory, forms, genres, featured composers and compositions. As part of this series, there were also annual concerts featuring young performers. The impact of these broadcasts is incalculable, but judging by the letters and fan mail found elsewhere in the Bernstein Collection, generations of both musicians and audience members were formed in large part by their early exposure to these programs.

There are a number of drafts for each program script. The online collection includes each handwritten "first" or preliminary draft and what appears to be closest to the final typescript version. The typescript drafts often include handwritten annotations that appear in many cases to have been added by one of Bernstein's assistants to reflect more accurately what had been said during the concerts. Where they exist, additional materials such as preliminary notes, musical samples, musical cues and/or filming schedules have been included for most of the broadcasts.


Thursday Evening Previews

Beginning with the New York Philharmonic concert season of 1958-59, Leonard Bernstein offered his audience a departure from the normal concert experience. He included an informal talk in the first concert of a week's series, which he called a Thursday Evening Preview. Usually given at the beginning of the concert, but sometimes between pieces, the brief talks covered a variety of topics, often centering on the techniques, styles and compositional school of a composer whose work was featured that evening; or on a topical subject such as American or other national style in music. Bernstein adapted both his concerts and the format of his talks to audience response in order to sustain the intimate, informal atmosphere he desired. The talks became less frequent after their initial season but continued until 1964.

Typically, the documentation for each talk is a handwritten draft and a typewritten script with handwritten emendations and annotations. Musical examples or additional materials are rare.



The Leonard Bernstein Collection at the Library of Congress contains more than 15,500 pieces of correspondence to and from Leonard Bernstein. The online collection presents selections of this correspondence dating from 1932 to 1990 that include letters, telegrams, notes, and messages from greeting cards and postcards. The selected correspondence comes from four sources: Bernstein family members; Helen Coates, Bernstein's piano teacher during his adolescence who became his close friend and lifelong personal assistant; Aaron Copland, the eminent American composer, Bernstein's colleague and friend; and Serge Koussevitzky, Bernstein's mentor and a revered conductor and advocate of twentieth century music, and his wife Olga.

Family members whose correspondence is represented includes Leonard's parents, Sam and Jennie Bernstein; his sister, Shirley Bernstein; his brother, Burton Bernstein; and his wife, Felicia Montealegre Bernstein. In most cases, the correspondence includes communications both to and from Bernstein.


A Message from Jamie Bernstein Thomas

Leonard Bernstein's life, besides being richly creative, was also extensively documented. In addition to his manuscripts and voluminous correspondence, there are also his recordings, videos, film footage, and thousands of photographs. This is truly a multimedia archive, which makes it particularly appropriate for presentation by the Library of Congress's ambitious new online initiative, the National Digital Library Program.

The estate of Leonard Bernstein chose the Library of Congress as the repository for the Leonard Bernstein Collection because of the Library's strong commitment, spearheaded by the Librarian, James Billington, to make portions of its collections available through the new digital media. Moreover, Bernstein's career coincided with the rise of television, and it was his unique genius to understand the power of this new medium to communicate the joy of music to millions of people through it. So it seems entirely in keeping with Bernstein's generosity of spirit to make materials from his archives available to the greatest number of people -- which is the essential purpose of the National Digital Library Program.

Through digital technology, on-line users will be able to gain access to portions of the Leonard Bernstein Collection, and sample the wealth of material there. Not only does the collection document the career of an extraordinary 20th-century American, it also illuminates the transformations and upheavals of the times he lived in.

With this ambitious on-line initiative, the Library of Congress is truly fulfilling its purpose, preserving the past as it embraces the future. The National Digital Library Program is the perfect way for the Library to assert its relevance in the next century, and the estate and family of Leonard Bernstein are very proud to be participants in this far-reaching enterprise.

Jamie Bernstein Thomas