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The Unanswered Question - Six Talks at Harvard by Leonard Bernstein

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6-Disc Version

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Frequently Bought Together

The Unanswered Question - Six Talks at Harvard by Leonard Bernstein + Leonard Bernstein - Young People's Concerts / New York Philharmonic + Leonard Bernstein: Omnibus - The Historic TV Broadcasts
Price for all three: $179.25

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Product Details

  • Actors: Leonard Bernstein, Michael Wager
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 6
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Kultur Video
  • DVD Release Date: November 20, 2001
  • Run Time: 793 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00005TPL8
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,086 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Unanswered Question - Six Talks at Harvard by Leonard Bernstein" on IMDb

Special Features

  • Includes six lectures: Musical Phonology, Musical Syntax, Musical Semantics, The Delights and Dangers of Ambiguity, The Twentieth Century Crisis, The Poetry of Earth

Editorial Reviews

Product Description

This amazing 6 volume DVD explores all types of music, including: folk music, pop songs, symphonies, tonal and atonal works; all taught by legendary master composer and conductor, Leonard Bernstein.


Always absorbing and frequently brilliant, Leonard Bernstein's The Unanswered Question is a very lucid and convincing discussion of music's history and forms, with particular emphasis on modern music. It addresses the average intelligent listener who is not musically trained but wants to know what makes music work--what is meant, for example, by "tonal" and "atonal." It requires some concentration, but Bernstein, a superb teacher, keeps technical jargon to a minimum, illustrates what he means with musical examples and graphics, and repeats key points.

Delivered in 1973, the talks were transcribed for a book, but in it Bernstein insists "The pages that follow were written not to be read, but listened to," really an endorsement of the video edition. The talks are, in fact, performances. Television was always kind to Bernstein; he had magnetism and knew how to use it. To illustrate various points in his analyses, he plays the piano frequently, sings occasionally, and conducts significant works of key composers: Mozart, Beethoven, Berlioz, Wagner, Ravel, Debussy, Ives, Mahler, and Stravinsky.

Bernstein traces the development of music from its origins to the 20th-century struggle between tonality (championed notably by Stravinsky) and atonalism (represented mainly by Schoenberg). The last two talks, devoted to these composers, are particularly enlightening, but all six are outstanding. He argues persuasively that humans are born with an ability to grasp musical forms, and that rules of musical syntax are rooted in nature--in mathematically measurable relations between tones and overtones.

These talks are a key document. They coincide chronologically, as cause and/or symptom, with the movement of America's leading composers back from Schoenbergian forms toward a tonal orientation. Bernstein predicts and promotes this movement, which is still in progress. He is clearly an advocate of tonality, but he discusses atonal music with sympathy and understanding. --Joe McLellan

Customer Reviews

Be aware that the quality of the video on these DVDs is limited.
Eric W. Volck
Bernstein's flawless and articulate lectures illustrated with wonderful performances of well known works is still wonderfully relevant and insightful today.
R. C. Higson Smith
Bernstein makes sure the listener is in no doubt that there is something way, way beyond necessity in our provision for the experience of music.
Mark Grindell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 64 people found the following review helpful By PuppyTalk on May 2, 2004
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
All technical and musical matters have been discussed by other reviewers, so I'm just going to say that this collection of lectures is a delight to watch and listen. Some of them run nearly 3 hours, but I never become bored of them. Bernstein, with his contageous energy, enthusiasm and excellent communication skills, shares his views and thoughts with such pleasant ways; it is just irresistible. Just to prove my point, my husband, who has no musical background and had no idea what the maestro was talking about when he watched the first lecture with me, gave a delightful cry of amazement each time Bernstein demonstrated on the piano. Needless to say, he was glued to the screen and watched it till the end without a hint of boredom.
The lectures are highly intellectual, and to understand what he's talking about, you need musical background, but even if you don't understand at all, it is still very enjoyable.
Humphrey Burton writes in his Bernstein's biography that Bernstein was having such good time being with young people at Harvard, he kept on delaying and delaying to complete these lectures. You can see that the maestro enjoys so much sharing what he knows with not only Harvard students but with all the world. His theme is universality of music and brotherhood of human kind through music. Some of his thoughts and ideas are so very unique and different; they amuse me at the same time make me think.
Even though the questions are not all answered (the more he talks, the more questions arise, I have to admit), his spirit is well delivered, and that alone makes this DVD a treasure worth having.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 6, 2002
Format: DVD
Leonard Bernstein's approach to explaining music, its
composition, its structure, its tonalities, its historical
context and influence is incredible in this series.
You will never think of Debussy in the same way
again after you hear Bernstein's discussion of him.
If you thought that Debussy was just some flowery
French aesthete writing gossamer chords and haunting
tonalities, then Bernstein will open your mind to
his true significance. In similar fashion, Bernstein
makes Wagner's profound genius and contribution to
the furtherance of music and its development into
later forms completely understandable.
Then Bernstein conducts the orchestra, the Boston
Symphony Orchestra in several of the pieces. His
interpretaion of the "Prelude and Liebestod" from
_Tristan und Isolde_ is incredible...perhaps the
slowest, but most intense, compelling, emotional
version I have ever heard.
If you wish to truly understand music, its
structural, tonal, chordal underpinnings and the
effects which can be produced by the artistic
genius of composition and insightful, empathetic
interpretation, this series is a required course
in artistic "grammar."
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 29, 1997
Format: VHS Tape
Flushed and slightly dissheveled from his passionate tryst with the writings of revolutionary linguist and critic Noam Chomsky, Leonard Bernstein offers an uncannily lucid, moving, and colorful series of "Six Talks At Harvard," charting the human biological foundations of our need for music and meaning. Musical examples throughout at the piano and podium. Transcribed with great loss of depth in a silent book of the same name. Profound. END
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79 of 95 people found the following review helpful By Mark Grindell on May 18, 2003
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Its quite interesting that in the late 20th century, there was a progresive tendency to look for a number of grand schemes, many of which would be familiar to you guys, perhaps some of which would not be. One obvious example is that tremendous effort to find an underlying theory of physics which would combine relativity and quantum mechanics - another are more obscure attempts to reconcile set theory with certain models within category theory which had been giving trouble to a certain set of number theoretians - etc, etc.
But the human dimension to this appeared, almost as one man in the form of Chomsky. His book, "Aspects of the theory of Syntax" was the tip of the iceberg of a huge number of papers published on the deep structure of language while he was working at MIT. This appeared to offer clues as to aspects of the structure of ANY human language, an utterly amazing claim. Some of his later works give clues to the possible existence of a universal paradigm for language which has massive implications for people in so many disciplines, I couldn't begin to enumerate.
This all started, by the way, on the route to attempting the final cataloguing of the North American indian languages, some of which had only one remaining speaker. The task was huge and unapproachable until Chomsky evolved a system for abbreviating certain grammatic structures, which, to his surprise, evolved into a powerful predictive theory.
Anyone exposed to this at the time would have been impressed, but what was to follow was even more amazing. Chomsky's ideas swiftly melded with other theories of semantics and syntax transformations in different fields, and became de-rigeour for many PhDs in computer science and anthropology, uniting what was up until that time two very, very different disciplines.
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