Some of my colleagues take exception to labelling an anniversary of a deceased great a 'birthday', so let's say that we celebrate Leonard Bernstein's colossal achievements as composer, conductor, pianist and educator on the 100th anniversary of his birth today. By happy chance I can only imagine doing so with a glass of Swiss Fendant from the cellar of the Schweizerhof Hotel in Lucerne, where I've been staying for two unforgettable nights of the festival (and a privileged tour around Rachmaninov's Villa Senar across the lake). The Schweizerhof claims he was served this very wine on the night he and the New York Philharmonic took Lucerne by storm, 27 August 1968 (coming up to another anniversary, then, the 50th - so he would have just celebrated a significant birthday). Here he is in 1971, the year of what to my mind is his greatest masterpiece, MASS.
Each room here is 'styled' after a significant guest. I get a celebrated Swiss weatherman, Karl Frey, which has been educational. I did ask if I could see the room where Wagner composed the last notes of Tristan und Isolde - how thrilled LB must have been to know about that - but it's occupied until Sunday, and I'm shortly gone to catch John Wilson's performance of On the Town at the Proms tonight* (Lucerne, sadly, is not playing a note of his music in the official programmes today). But the nice marketing manager did let me have a look in the Bernstein Suite, which has a familiar logo above the bed as well as the above bottles and newspaper cutting in a glass case.
On Tuesday I took a very engaged group of students, courtesy of one of them, Gillian Frumkin, making her home available, through a Bernstein 'snapshot'. Without further ado, these are the examples around which I based my talk. I think the connections are mostly explained, but I won't pad further.
West Side Story (1957) - the tritone/augmented fourth/'devil in music' in Prologue, 'Somewhere', 'Maria', 'Cool' and Epilogue. Film soundtrack conducted by Johnny Green (Sony)
Chopin: Mazurka in A minor, Op. 13 No. 4 (1833) - opening (as source for 'Maria'). Pavel Kolesnikov (Hyperion)
Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra (1896) - ending (opposing B major - man - and C major - nature as influence on end of West Side Story). Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner (RCA)
Bernstein on the tritone in Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune in the fourth of his Harvard talks on music, 'The delights and dangers of ambiguity'. Five of the six are complete on YouTube; I have American-region DVDs released by Kultur.
MASS (1971) - Gospel-Sermon: 'God Said'; Hymn and Psalm: 'A Simple Song' (excerpt); Pax: Communions ('Secret Songs'); Gloria in excelsis - Trope: 'Half of the People' - Trope: 'Thank You' - Meditation No. 2 on a sequence of Beethoven (excerpt). Alan Titus (Celebrant), Ensemble/Leonard Bernstein (Sony)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (1817-23) - choral sequence in finale. London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra/Bernard Haitink (LSO Live)
Symphony No. 3. 'Kaddish' (1963) - three excerpts from third movement, Kaddish 3. Felicia Montealegre, Jenny Tourel, Camerata Singers, New York Philharmonic/Bernstein (Sony)
Chichester Psalms (1965) - Psalm 100 (excerpt). Camerata Singers, NYP/Bernstein (Sony)
On the Town (1944) - Subway Ride and Imaginary Coney Island (excerpt); 'Some Other Time'. Frederica von Stade, Tyne Daley, David Garrison, Kurt Ollman, LSO/Michael Tilson Thomas (DG)
'Big Stuff' (1944) - Billie Holiday and band (r. 1946, Proper)
Fancy Free (1944) - opening ('Big Stuff' on juke box, entry of the three sailors; Pas de deux; The Contest; Galop Variation. Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton (Virgin)
The 'suggested reading' had to lead with Humphrey Burton's colourful biography, published by Faber. I'm halfway through and hope to finish it this weekend. What already strikes me is how much nicer and more considerate a human being LB turns out to be than I'd imagined: so much support of good democratic causes, so much non-egotistical connection with others (like Koussevitzky, for example, whom he obviously revered). I met him, courtesy of my then editor on The Guardian, Edward Greenfield, at his final recording sessions, for Candide - Adolph Green, adorable man, was also there - and he held my hand firm while walking towards the gents, which was a bit odd.
Last Tuesday I also quoted some rather strange stuff - including a fantasy story about LB's coup de foudre on meeting Mitropoulos - from the volume Findings. There's also a print version of The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at Harvard. Those are so compelling - do watch or read. I still have some listening to catch up with, too, and Burton makes one want to unearth some early rarities which must be lurking out there somewhere. Favourite recording of a work by another composer? The spacious and partly cut but so, so full and gorgeous Strauss Der Rosenkavalier with the Vienna Philharmonic. And on DVD, of course, the Vienna Phil Mahler cycle. Of the live performances I caught, unquestionably the greatest was his Mahler 5 with the Viennese at the Proms (I queued from midday to get an Arena place). Performances of his more serious works, not so much; but then I'm no great fan of the symphonies. Otherwise, the riches keep on giving. As an unusual and stylishly done anniversary tribute, this from musical saw artiste Natalia Paruz takes some beating. Deserves to go viral.
*UPDATE: 26/8 And here's what I thought on The Arts Desk. Photo of the 24-hour changeover at the end by Mark Allan for the BBC.