Music Was It: Young Leonard Bernstein

Susan Gold­man Rubin
  • Review
August 30, 2011
Life with­out music is unthink­able.” With that Leonard Bern­stein quo­ta­tion, Susan Gold­man Rubin opens her remark­able biog­ra­phy of the leg­endary com­pos­er and con­duc­tor. For young read­ers wrestling with self-iden­ti­ty, Bernstein’s life pro­vides a near inspi­ra­tional mes­sage: what­ev­er your life’s pas­sion, pur­sue it to the best of your abil­i­ty. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt if you are nat­u­ral­ly gift­ed and dri­ven to suc­ceed.) As a child of Jew­ish immi­grants, whose busi­ness ori­ent­ed father didn’t always under­stand his son’s obses­sion with music, Bern­stein nonethe­less was the recip­i­ent of an out­stand­ing edu­ca­tion, first at Boston Latin School and then at Har­vard. Grow­ing up in a reli­gious Con­ser­v­a­tive home and tem­ple left an indeli­ble mark on the young musi­cian which lat­er influ­enced com­po­si­tions with bib­li­cal and Jew­ish themes. This is a well-researched and ele­gant­ly writ­ten biog­ra­phy with an indepth focus on Bernstein’s child­hood through fam­i­ly anec­dotes and mem­o­ries which enrich the book. The pho­tographs, par­tic­u­lar­ly of his child­hood and fam­i­ly, are espe­cial­ly poignant and well-select­ed. Also includ­ed are repro­duc­tions of musi­cal scores, announce­ments and notes. Ms. Rubin’s flu­id writ­ing makes Lenny and his achieve­ments come alive, espe­cial­ly with the inclu­sion of sup­port­ive quotes sprin­kled through­out the text. In addi­tion to a time­line, discog­ra­phy, bib­li­og­ra­phy and quo­ta­tion sources, the book con­tains help­ful short biogra­phies of indi­vid­u­als men­tioned in the book who would be unfa­mil­iar to young read­ers. For ages 9 – 12.

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