Michael McCooe: Composer – Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein (August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990) was an American composer and pianist who received international acclaim for his work throughout the 20th Century.


He is most famous for being a musical director of the New York Philharmonic, as well as various other musicals such as West Side Story, Peter Pan, Candide, Wonderful Town, On the Town, On the Waterfront, his Mass, and a range of other compositions, including three symphonies and many shorter chamber and solo works.

An established conductor, author and music lecturer, as well as a skilled pianist and keyboard player, Bernstein was one of the first people to give detailed interviews on TV about classical music, a regular occurrence between 1954 and his death in 1990. Many of his works are still performed regularly in countries around the world, though West Side Story is by far the most popular.

Career of Bernstein

leonard bernstein

Born in Massachusetts, Bernstein enrolled at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in 1939 before moving to New York to pursue a career in music. He begun working with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in November 1943, becoming famous for his work as a composer as well as a conductor.

In 1944 Bernstein conducted the premiere of his Jeremiah Symphony, as well as the ballet Fancy Free choreographed by Jerome Robbins which was later developed into the musical On the Town with lyrics by Comden and Green that opened on Broadway in December 1944.

Later life

Bernstein performed a wide repertoire from the baroque era to the 20th century, although perhaps from the 1970s onwards he tended to focus more on music from the romantic era. His performance of the works of Gustav Mahler proved particularly popular and he also recorded works from Beethoven, Liszt, Sibelius, Stravinsky, Shostakovich and various others.

He announced his retirement from conducting on October 9, 1990, just five days before his death from a heart attack, at the age of 72 and his music continues to be enjoyed decades after his passing.

You can listen to some of my favourite classical pieces on my Michael McCooe SoundCloud profile, which is updated regularly.