Leonard Bernstein: The Political Life of an American Musician by ProQuest


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									762                                                                       Notes, June 2010

challenges. A book like Linick’s simply isn’t      taste, and sometimes he plagiarized un-
going to make much money for either its            blushingly.’ Indeed, for decades, Mahler’s
author or its publisher. Unless it wins            music had only a small audience” (p. 145).
recognition somewhere, even research li-           In fact, Copland early on championed
braries are not likely to purchase it. These       Mahler, even writing a letter to the New
facts have nothing whatsoever directly to do       York Times in 1925 defending the Austrian
with quality, only with accessibility. And, of     composer from the aspersions of New
course, with acknowledgment—or the lack            York’s critics; and he absorbed a good deal
of it. In the future, perhaps, one or more         of Mahler in his own music—all this while
academic journals will decide to devote            Bernstein was a mere child. Moreover,
space precisely to studies like Linick’s—          Seldes (a footnote qualifier notwithstand-
studies that might otherwise remain un-            ing) ignores the fuller context of Copland’s
known or suspect—because some self-                quote, which reads, “Mahler’s faults as com-
published studies are very good indeed.            poser have been dwelt upon ad nauseam.
                          Michael Saffle           Admittedly, he is long-winded, trite, bom-
              Virginia Polytechnic Institute and   bastic; he lacks taste, and sometimes he
                                State University   plagiarzies unblushingly. . . . But when all
                                                   is said, there remains something extra-
                                                   ordinarily touching about the man’s work,
Leonard Bernstein: The Political Life              something that makes one willing to put up
of an American Musician. By Barry                  with the weaknesses,” later adding, “Mahler
Seldes. Berkeley: University of Cali-              would be an important figure even if his
fornia Press, 2009. [xiv, 276 p. ISBN              music were not so engrossing as I believe it
9780520257641. $24.95.] Illustrations,             to be” (Copland, Our New Music [New York:
index.                                             McGraw Hill, 1941], 33)—hardly the state-
                                                   ment of someone “not so certain of
   Leonard Bernstein: The Political Life of an     Mahler’s importance.” This would be a mi-
American Musician by Barry Seldes aims to          nor point had Copland not exerted so
situate Bernstein and his work in the con-         large an influence on Bernstein, or if
text of contemporary political develop-            Seldes had devoted less attention to the lat-
ments. Each of the book’s first six chapters        ter’s relationship to Mahler.
covers a particular decade, from the 1930s            This misreading seems symptomatic of
through the 1980s, with a concluding sev-          other lapses. Seldes charts European mod-
enth chapter, capped by an epilogue that           ernism as a conflict between “French-
puts forth the book’s main thesis. Within          Russian neoclassicists and the German
each of the first six chapters, the author          atonalists” (p. 11), by which he means the
outlines socio-political trends of the partic-     second Viennese school, who were not
ular decade under discussion; Bernstein’s          German (as were Hindemith and Weill)
“political life,” that is, his engagement with     and not necessarily “atonal,” especially in
such trends; and the composer’s work in re-        the case of Berg. He devotes two pages to
lation to these trends.                            Bernstein’s aesthetics professor at Harvard,
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