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on 18 January 1999
Humphrey Burton engages in his subject well in this book, possibly the largest piece of literature chronicling the life of this genius of Twentieth Century music. The book does include a large amount of biographical information relating to the life of Bernstein, which is neccessary for any study into a musicians life. However, on the down side of this Burton does have a tendency to become very "chummy" with his subject, relating incidences from the past in which he and "Lenny" had a good laugh.
This aside, the book tackles a number of weighty issues, and although the author was given exclusive access to the Bernstein family archives he never takes a purely adulatory stance, but rather gives an accurate portrayal of the complex life of this complex man.
Bernstein, although priveleged, did not have an altogether happy existence. His marriage being secondary to his homosexuality, his addiction to alcohol and tobacco, and his strained relationship with his government during his middle age all combined to create some truly wonderful works of music that would out shine the memory of those bad times for years to come.
Bernstein's search for acolade as a "serious" composer and musician shall surely be aided by the publication of this book.
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Leonard Bernstein by Humphrey Burton, Faber and Faber, 1994, 606 ff

This is an easily readable but comprehensive biography of one of the 20th century's greatest musicians - composer, conductor, performer and raconteur Leonard Bernstein. The book was published only four years after Bernstein's death. The author read music at Cambridge University and worked as a music critic and commentator most of his professional life for the BBC. He was a friend of Bernstein's and he created the BBC TV series Young Musician of the Year, which has given the chance of world-wide recognition to so many talented youngsters. He has written an equally fascinating biography of violinist Yehudi Menuhin. This biography captures Bernstein's restless energy as he devoted himself intensely to one project after another in different media. Here is a man who, with West Side Story, could write a popular opera whose music is still more often heard than that from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, and a Broadway musical in On The Town. Yet he could also write a Mass that combined reverence with exuberance, and which embraced several modern popular musical idioms. As conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Bernstein introduced American audiences to many new works by European composers as well as championing American composers. I would recommend this book highly for any reader who wants to get an insight into the work of this great musician.
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on 21 September 2015
The author had access to family members, correspondence, and knew the man - - but all he can raise is information.
Good for reference, but what a damning indictment on Burton's writing ability that he can't put any life into his account of such a dynamic figure.
Nothing is vivid; nothing radical; nothing poetic; nothing descriptive; nothing witty; no life.
Stilted inhibition seems to be a particularly British literary tradition. WJ Weatherby's lame book on Mailer Vs Baldwin was another old still-born book I read this week. British writers can't seem to get near their American subjects. There's a reason why New Journalism took off in America and not Britain.
I think British writers should not be allowed to publish anything until they have first undertaken a thorough medical to verify that they are, in fact, alive. Humphrey Burton, even in 1994 when he wrote this book, would have had trouble with that test.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 25 August 2011
Burton and Bernstein were close friends, collaborators in many recording and film projects, lovers of music and very much aware of how each could help the other as their careers developed; to be expected, despite his great skills as film-maker, producer, critic and writer, it is always Burton looking up to Bernstein.
This is not the place to rewrite the biography's facts but Bernstein was a flamboyant musical genius who bestrode the musical world with panache; as much at home in the classical world as composer, conductor or in the film and theatre world or in the political or educational sphere, he commanded audiences and respect world-wide. A self-confessed "gay who married", he was a man of sharp contrast, generous to a fault and enthusiastic in all he did. His increasingly embarrassing public behaviour raised many eyebrows while his authoritative command of his subjects, not least of which was the podium, made him a concert favourite from his earliest surprise appearance on radio as the unrehearsed, indisposed Bruno Walter's substitute on November 14th, 1943 until his death in 1990.
Burton marshals a multitude of facts and, from this minutiae of information, he builds a fascinating page-turning biography of one of the twentieth century's greatest musical personalities.

Recommended
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on 16 May 2013
I met this wonderful man.He was in london for the performance of his musical/opera Candide with Patricia Routledge I was a fan and was invited to her dressing room and there was the great man.We chatted for a while.Fantastic!! The biography is so beautiful and not too researched,because the auther new him well.A book,if you are interested in pure genious, you will not put down.However the book I purchased through Amazon was printed by them,it is disgusting
.The photographs you can hardly see,and to me that was as important as the subject.I will be quite sure in future that I do not buy a book printed by a.n other
I shop on Amazon all the time, but do not put out this sort of bad merchandise unless you warn your clientele
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on 16 August 2011
This Faber and Faber book, written by Humphrey Burton, is a towering work of analysis and insight. Burton was clearly fascinated by his subject, as were most musicians. Bernstein was a strange man indeed, showing signs of seemingly-contradictory qualities amidst a life lived very much in the public arena.
Bernstein was, like Andre Previn, a man of huge talents in several fields. He was a composer, conductor, writer, pianist, teacher, television personality, amongst other things. All these facets are covered in the book.
Burton's book is somnething of a mangum opus, but it reads remarkably fluently and one finds it difficult to put down for long, so compelling is his style, and Bernstein's personality, of course.
Burton comes as an admirer, but as a cool-headed biographer. There is critical comment and appreciation in proper measure, nothing is glossed over.
If you haven't read this, you should, it is a masterpiece about one of the towering figures of 20th Century music-making.
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on 15 June 2016
An excellent book on this charismatic conductor and composer..
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