The cover cartoon of Mike Venezia's look at Leonard Bernstein for the Getting to Know the World's Greatest Composers has the subject playing the piano, composing, conducting, writing a book, and putting on a TV series for kids. That last one is how most of my generation probably first encountered Bernstein, whose "Young People's Concerts" did more to promote classical music in this country than anything else in our lifetime. Eventually, once Bernstein explained to us what was happening in a Beethoven symphony we learned that this man could not only teach us about great music he could also write some as well. Eventually, if our lessons in music appreciation continued, we would understand why he was also a dynamic conductor. Of course Venezia provides an entertaining biography of Bernstein, which combines basic biographical information with career highlights and a half-dozen entertaining cartoons. Venezia also names some of Bernstein's greatest compositions, such as the scores for "West Side Story" and "Candide," and urges his young readers to seek out this music as well as the videos of Bernstein's lecture-concerts for young people that are still available on videotape. Reading about Bernstein or any other composer without being exposed to the music is just flat out wrong. There are several excellent "hits" collections of Bernstein's work as well as Broadway cast albums and film soundtracks that can bring his music alive for young students. I have also believed for a long time that nobody did a better job of conducting Beethoven's symphonies than Bernstein. Other volumes in the Getting to Know the World's Greatest Composers series look at the likes of not only Mozart and Tchaikovsky, but also Gershwin and the Beatles. However, this is the best volume I have read in this series to date.
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