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The Leonard Bernstein Letters Hardcover – October 29, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (October 29, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030017909X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300179095
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,637 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“With their intellectual brilliance, humour and wonderful eye for detail, Leonard Bernstein’s letters blow all biographies out of the water. His galaxy of correspondents includes Stephen Sondheim, Boris Pasternak and Jacqueline Kennedy. Full of fresh information and the authentic voice of a constant seeker.”—The Economist (named a 2013 Book of the Year)
(The Economist 2013-12-07)

“His collaborator Betty Comden once noted, in a letter to Bernstein, that he saved ‘every scrap of correspondence.’ You will be grateful . . . a rich collection of letters to and from Bernstein, filled with revelations about his musical and personal lives.”—James R. Oestreich, New York Times
(James R. Oestreich New York Times)

“Bernstein's versatility and ambition were such that he spent a lot of time trying to figure out who he was—which also meant searching for American music and for the future of music generally. This book doesn't resolve Bernstein's quest. But it's an invaluable resource, and the quest itself continues to fascinate and to matter.” —Joseph Horowitz, The Wall Street Journal
(Joseph Horowitz The Wall Street Journal)

“The correspondence from and to the remarkable conductor is full of pleasure and insights.”—New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)
(New York Times Book Review)

“Exhaustive, thrilling [and] indispensable.”—Elysa Gardner, USA Today, starred review
(Elysa Gardner USA Today)

“Energetic, intimate . . . an eye-opening volume: a glimpse into the personal life of a legend.”—Jeff Lunden, NPR “Weekend Edition Sunday” (Jeff Lunden NPR "Weekend Edition Sunday")

“Bernstein emerges as highly literate, compassionate, astonishingly busy and gifted almost beyond measure.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review) (Kirkus Reviews)

“A hugely entertaining chronicle of a enviable life, and a trove of musical and show-business gossip.”—Adam Kirsch, The New Republic

(Adam Kirsch The New Republic)

"What terrifying letters you write: fit for the flames is what they are. Just imagine how much you would have to pay to retrieve such a letter forty years from now when you are conductor of the Philharmonic."—Aaron Copland to Leonard Bernstein in 1940
(Aaron Copland)

“[It’s] full of both serious and gossipy correspondence between the musical genius and such friends as Stephen Sondheim, Betty Comden and Aaron Copland.”—Joe Meyers,
(Joe Meyers

“This incredible collection of letters gives us a glimpse into the depth and breadth of Bernstein's world. The sheer volume of correspondence, all beautifully presented and annotated by Nigel Simeone, shows us that Bernstein loved the written word as much as the musical word!”—Marin Alsop, musical director, The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
(Marin Alsop)

“A document of a golden age.”—Jimmy So, The Daily Beast
(Jimmy So The Daily Beast)

“The book — consisting of 650 letters both from and to Bernstein, dated between 1932 and 1990 — is not merely interesting. It is fascinating, enlightening and a veritable page-turner that will keep you up nights, ruin your sleep and wreak all sorts of havoc for 600 pages.”—Steve Suskin, Playbill
(Steve Suskin Playbill)

“His letters have a tremendous zest, and a good journalistic eye, too, and since he was often at the right place at the right time, at some of the key moments in his 20th-century history, this gives them a wider interest.”—Christopher Hart, The Sunday Times

(Christopher Hart The Sunday Times 2013-10-20)

“A marvelously entertaining new book . . . The Leonard Bernstein Letters makes it possible to take stock of Bernstein’s weaknesses—his enthusiasm could lead to sentimentality, and clearly his fame became a kind of bubble. But these pale in comparison with his energy, joy, and absolute dedication to music. It’s sad to think that our culture will probably never produce someone like him again.” —Adam Kirsch, Tablet magazine
(Adam Kirsch Tablet magazine)

The Leonard Bernstein Letters. . .contains so much that is startling and unknown that all past books, including his own, become instantly inadequate. Don’t take my word for it. On the jacket, Bernstein’s official biographer, Humphrey Burton, declares that, with this book in hand, ‘I want to start all over again.’”—Norman Lebrecht, Standpoint Magazine
(Norman Lebrecht Standpoint Magazine 2013-11-01)

“Simeone’s choice of letters [are] superbly amplified by his exhaustively researched footnotes, which manage to identify and flesh our even the most obscure of his subject’s multifarious correspondents.”—Stephen Walsh, The Spectator (Stephen Walsh The Spectator 2013-11-16)

“In Nigel Simeone’s editorial labour of love The Leonard Bernstein Letters some of the most entertaining letters come from Bernstein’s correspondents.”—Sameer Rahim, The Sunday Telegraph
(Sameer Rahim The Sunday Telegraph 2013-11-24)

“Like Britten, Bernstein was an assiduous correspondent, and The Leonard Bernstein Letters is a vast, absorbing canvas of a life lived at full speed, with a cast list that reads like a who’s who of American cultural life in the 20th century.”—Adam Lively, The Sunday Times
(Adam Lively The Sunday Times 2013-11-24)

“Magnificent and long-awaited.”—Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
(Maria Popova Brain Pickings)

“This anthology of Bernstein’s correspondence, assembled by Nigel Simeone, shines a light on the famous conductor and composer’s private thoughts.”— (

“For. . .eloquent and moving testimony read the entry for 25 November 1963 in The Leonard Bernstein Letters edited by Nigel Simeone, the contents of which give an. . .overview of a liberal American century.”—Chris Ford, The Guardian (Chris Ford The Guardian 2013-12-28)

“[Bernstein’s] manifold legacy, including these letters, lives on.”—John Simon, The Weekly Standard
(John Simon Weekly Standard)

“The . . .mainly unpublished correspondence both from and to Bernstein, between 1932 and 1990, shines a light on this unique figure’s thoughts, work and passions, his voice ringing clear with warmth and candour. . .he was a remarkable artist and human being – elusive in his complexity, yet evoked, through these letters, with undeniable presence.”—Teresa Levonian Cole, Country Life (Teresa Levonian Cole Country Life 2014-01-29)

“Simeone has manages to encapsulate a central tradition in the history of music of the last century as seen through the correspondence of one of its most important exponents.”—Paul Seydor, Absolute Sound (Paul Seydor Absolute Sound)

“Opens a window into the world of one of the most accomplished and brilliant artists of the 20th century.”—Irene Javors, The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review
(Irene Javors The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review)

“Time and again, The Leonard Bernstein Letters demonstrate how the composer and conductor lived in overdrive.”—Carol Oja, Harvard Magazine
(Carol Oja Harvard Magazine)

‘A rich selection of letters to and from Bernstein, meticulously edited by Nigel Simeone. . .Alive with spontaneous intelligence, Leonard Bernstein’s letters display exactly this unforced intimacy, though there were moments when he no doubt knew that posterity was listening in.’
—Morris Dickstein, TLS (Morris Dickstein TLS 2014-07-18)

About the Author

Nigel Simeone is well known as a writer and speaker on music and is the author of several books including Leonard Bernstein: West Side Story. He lives in Northamptonshire, UK.

Customer Reviews

I recommend his book without hesitation.
As conductor for the New York Philharmonic, he conducted both his own original work as well as the works of other great composers.
Jill Meyer
A good insight into the life of this great and fascinating genius.
Michael Remenyi

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 41 people found the following review helpful By T. Fisher TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Leonard Bernstein was a prolific correspondent, and this book, apparently, only begins to scratch the surface of the sheer amount of letters available.

What we have here is truly fascinating and gives tremendous insight into the personality and character of Leonard Bernstein, as well as biographical details I had no idea about. All areas of his life are covered, including music, family, fame, sex and more. What emerges is a picture of a true wunderkind whom everybody loved, a people magnet who had many real and strong friendships.

I found the early letters, before he reached his intense fame, to be most satisfying. We are privy to long letters both to and from Bernstein which illustrate the kind of relationships he had and the kind of boy and young man he was. The picture that emerges is very appealing. I was surprised by the extent to which he was, from the start, in close contact with the musical greats of his day. For example, he appears to have struck up a fast friendship with Aaron Copland long before he achieved any notoriety whatsoever. And I was actually shocked to learn that he had an ongoing sexual relationship with conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos, 24 years his senior, while still in his very late teens or early twenties. Maybe I'm the last guy to find out about this, but I had no idea.

There was great enjoyment for me in many of the small details of this book as well. For example I was surprised to read how much he loved "Bolero" as a teenager, based on his letters raving about it. (Later, in one of his "Young People's Concerts", he said he wanted to play Bolero as an illustration of what orchestration is, because "it couldn't really illustrate anything else.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 31, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Leonard Bernstein was a man of many accomplishments. There are so many extant recordings of Leonard Bernstein still holding top positions in the ranking for fine performances to remind us what a brilliant conductor he was, as well as repeats of his inimitable Young People's Concerts for television (some would say he was proudest of his own achievements as a teacher), his writing of symphonies and other classical works, his brilliance as a composer of musicals (West Side Story, Candide, On the Town, Wonderful Town, Mass), and the introduction to American audiences of the works of Gustav Mahler and the works of fellow contemporary composers - so very many achievements that to truly pay homage to this man would take volumes - or the very personal letters contained in this excellent book edited and commentated by Nigel Simone.

This book contains the letters written over a span of 60 years and are delivered to us in chronological order - a wise decision on the part of Simone as they allow us to hear and watch and feel him mature form the hyperactive young gay man whose letters tells us more about his personal life than anyone would have expected, to his later years as a very happily married man (to Felicia Montealegre from1951 to her death in 1978 - a Costa Rica-born American stage and television actress who performed the spoken roles in Bernstein's works for orchestra) and family man. He hobnobbed with the famous people of his time and since his time (1918 - 1990) had none of the current Internet forms of communication or faxes, his communications are all in letter form.

Filled with history, eloquent writing, and more intimacy and insights than we have ever enjoyed, this rich treasure book has it all. Included are many photographs of important moments in his life.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Biographies can be written many different forms and by using different primary sources. A biographer may use interviews, if the subject is of recent vintage, as well as original source material such as letters and other documentation. Usually biographers use a combination of all these methods. In his biography of Leonard Bernstein, biographer Nigel Simeone uses mostly letters - he calls himself an "editor" - to and from Bernstein to form the basis of his book. Most of the letters are from Bernstein between the ages of 15 and mid-60's; his prime creative years.

A biographer using letters has to set certain parameters on what he will focus about his subject. In Bernstein's case, so much of his life was public - played out on stages and rehearsal halls all over the world. His private life was written about in his letters to friends and relatives - all except, seemingly, his sexuality. Bisexual from an early age, Bernstein married at the age of 33 to a Chilean actress and fathered three children. From his letters, he seemed to have led a happy life with Felicia and the children. "Seemed to" is the important phrase here because by other accounts, he struggled with his attraction to men all his life. In fact, in the 1970's, he left his wife for another man and returned to her as she was dying of cancer. These facts were never alluded to in the letters included in the text; Nigel Simeone writes a short general introduction to each period of this life and includes facts apart from what appeared in the letters.

Most of the letters show Leonard Bernstein as the brilliant showman and intellect he was. Curious about almost everything and everybody,he wrote prodigious amounts of music in all styles and forms.
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