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Lot 17: 16-Year-Old Leonard Bernstein Writes Beethoven and Debussy are demi-gods
Presidential Letters, Free Franks & Speeches: Washington to Bush + Important Autographs in History, Science & the Arts
26 October 2016
New York, NY, USALive Auction
Description: “Beethoven and Debussy are demi-gods for their originality” ********** BERNSTEIN, LEONARD. (1918-1990). American composer, conductor, teacher, and pianist. AMsS. (“Leonard Bernstein”). 4pp. 8vo. N.p., December 17, 1934. An essay about originality in art entitled “The Cyclist,” written by the precocious 16-year old high school student. ********** “Ever since the first prehistoric age, the laurels have rested on gone to the original mind. The authors of ideas that have caused revolutions in their particular fields are invariably men of brilliance. Beethoven and Debussy are demi-gods for their originality. In another way, Confucius and Moses were geniuses. Today we have such names as Edna St. Vincent Millay, and – to be taken with a grain of salt – Gertrude Stein. Unfortunately luminous figures usually attract parasites, who drink of their thought and pollute it. These are the ‘cyclists.’ I do not mean to say that there are no constructive cyclists. Ideas have been born which, without proper development, would no doubt have flickered and gone out. How many inventions would never have been brought to light without collaboration? And how many children would have died of impure milk, despite Pasteur’s discovery, had not the work of later scientists made that discovery practical? But there have arisen in all branches of the arts classes who lie in wait for a good idea, and snatch it up only to hack it to death. Only recently there were two excellent examples of this moral plagiarism in the songwriting field. ‘The Last Round-Up’ headed an innumerable list of similar songs, (‘Wagon Wheels’ was one), and a cycle of ‘mem’ry ballads’ followed at the heels of ‘The Old Spinning Wheel.’ The field of letters is crowded with cyclists. After Rolland ended the fourth book of his ‘Jean-Christophe’ with ‘Rain Fell, Night fell’, scores of dime-a-dozen authors undertook with dazzling productivity, to make a sorry mess of the short, brusque, sentence. The newest fad, I believe, is entitling novels in the past tense. ‘Stars Fell on Alabama’ and similar titles are supposed to be quite effective. Perhaps they were – until the cyclists god heed of the idea. Perhaps the movies offer the best illustration. Gangster films and cowboy pictures have had their day. We have likewise seen the rise and fall of the glamour and contrasted poverty pictures. At present we are beholding a great back-to-the-classics movement; and the classics shriek for the blood of their murderers. I had thought that there was but one Stephen Leacock until I picked up a little volume entitled ‘Fables Faibles.’ Good-night, the French have got it too!” ********** A talented conductor and composer, Bernstein is remembered both for the music he created and the music he shared with the world through his leadership of the New York Philharmonic. Bernstein grew up in Massachusetts where his musical instruction began at the age of 10. After attending the famous Boston Latin School, where he wrote the above essay, he graduated from Harvard University and then studied under conductors Fritz Reiner and Serge Koussevitzky. His talent led him to posts with several prominent metropolitan orchestras including the New York Philharmonic where he introduced his popular “Young People’s Concerts.” But Bernstein was also a successful composer, working in the disparate areas of classical, liturgical, jazz, and contemporary music. His works include West Side Story, the oratorio Kaddish and music for the film On the Waterfront. ********** Our youthful essay mentions German composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), considered one of the greatest musical geniuses of all time; French composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918), the creator of La Mer, Pelléas et Mélisande, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and other masterpieces; the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551 BCE -479 BCE); Biblical prophet Moses (c. 1400 BCE - c. 1201 BCE); American author Gertrude Stein (1874 1946) whose Parisian salon drew the avant garde elite; Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950); and French author and poet Romain Rolland (1904-1912) whose 10-volume novel Jean-Christophe is cited. Bernstein criticizes popular songs, book titles and movies for their lack of originality and concludes with a citation of the famous and influential English-Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock (1869-1944), who was admired by such humorists as Robert Benchley, Groucho Marx and Jack Benny. ********** Written on lined paper in blue ink and bearing the instructor’s corrections and comments (“You labor a point!”) in black ink. With two file holes in the left margin. Light wear and in very good condition; uncommon from this period.