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Leonard Bernstein (1918 - 1990)


Overture to "Candide"

Leonard Bernstein wrote his musical Candide in 1956, loosely based on a story by Voltaire. Voltaire's novel is a biting satire, fast paced and punchy, the action moving from country to country and from one disaster to another with comic-strip brevity. It ends with the famous phrase “one must cultivate one's garden” – but this is ultimately quite cynical, because Voltaire means that there is nothing else in life worth while. Bernstein makes the ending much more positive and hopeful, even though his stated aim in writing the musical was to take a swipe at the smug complacency of post-war America.

Candide is problematic to stage, because the cartoon-like nature of the story line and huge number of different locations make for a fragmented, not integrated, work of musical art. But musically it displays Bernstein's huge intelligence and skill, and includes sly references to other styles of opera and operetta. Dance forms like the waltz, polka, gavotte and mazurka crop up frequently, and overall the music is superb.

The overture is very short and fast paced, and even in this short span he manages to imitate a Rossini overture!

Overture to "West Side Story"

Leonard Bernstein was one of the great individualists of twentieth century music: whether working as conductor, composer, teacher or performer he brought a personal view, colossal energy and a real love of music to everything he did.

As a composer his output was wide and varied and, inevitably, uneven in parts. But the musical West Side Story is brilliant from start to finish, with a breadth of invention and wealth of memorable tunes which would have provided a lesser composer with material for a dozen shows. The overture includes two of the most famous numbers, "Tonight" and "Somewhere" and the dance number "Mambo", in a brilliant and exciting fusion. The overture was arranged for symphony orchestra by Maurice Peress.

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