Welcome a new series on the music of the great American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein! We’ll explore his greatest hits, his movie scores, his Broadway songs, and some of his more obscure works that (I believe) deserve more attention than they get.
Leonard Bernstein is one of the most important figures in American music. He was a composer, conductor, educator, and humanitarian. After training with the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s legendary conductor Serge Koussevitsky, Bernstein embarked on an incredible career at the helm of the world-renowned New York Philharmonic.
While Bernstein is probably most famous for his score to West Side Story, he wrote many other compositions that were just as spectacular. One of these is the 1949 film On the Town (adapted from the 1944 Broadway play by the same name), which starred Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, and Jules Munshin on a 24-hour exploration of New York City. The lyrics tell us that New York is “a wonderful town” and “if you can make it there you can make it anywhere.” While the lyrics and the upbeat tune are the deserving focus, the music itself is not as basic as it may seem. Bernstein actually composed the entire film score for On the Town based on a single theme. In other words, every song is a variation on the same set of tonalities. Even within this tune, Bernstein creates a variation on the opening theme by adding sixteenth (faster) notes to the last iteration of the theme.