Leonard Bernstein
Born August 26, 1918, in Lawrence, Massachusetts
Died October 14, 1990, in New York, New York
4 flutes, 3 oboes, 4 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, keyboard, strings
Performance time
15 minutes
September 25, 1980
Last Performed by the TSO
TSO Premiere: January 19, 2024

A Harvard graduate, Tanglewood regular, and Koussevitzky protégé, Leonard Bernstein loved Boston. So when the Boston Symphony Orchestra invited him to write a piece in honor of their centennial, he simply couldn’t refuse. The tiny opening movement was originally slated to be the entire work, but Bernstein was simply too inspired to stop there. Titled “Sennets and Tuckets” (A Shakespearian stage direction to denote fanfares), the lively movement introduces a B–C motif, a sly abbreviation of “Boston Centennial,” which reoccurs throughout the movements. Up next is the “Waltz” for strings, which is set in an off-kilter meter of 7/8 rather than a 3/4 waltz time. Bernstein was allegedly referencing the offbeat waltz of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony, a favorite of his mentor and BSO conductor Koussevitzky. We are then whisked from Vienna to Poland, where Bernstein offers his take on the national dance of the “Mazurka.” Scored for woodwinds and harp, the oboist jokingly quotes the oboe cadenza to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The “Samba” offers a Latin flavor familiar to Bernstein fans from his On the Town, Candide, and of course West Side Story. The drunkenly limping “Turkey Trot” was recycled from the composer’s score for an abandoned Francis Ford Coppola film. Clocking in at a miniscule 11 measures, the curious “Sphinxes” is based on an unsettling 12-tone row. It shares a title with the similarly experimental movement of Schumann’s Carnaval. Bernstein is on familiar ground again with the brassy “Blues,” which contains references to his own Prelude, Fugue and Riffs. He requests the percussionist to largely ad lib. the drum kit part, while the brass are encouraged to play with “spontaneous invention.” The concluding movement, “In Memoriam; March: ‘The BSO Forever,’” is cast in two sections. The first, a solemn flute canon, is in remembrance of BSO members past. The second section is a giddy march, and musical references come thick and fast. The Radetzky March, a Boston Pops favorite, makes a brief appearance, and the brass are asked to stand as in Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever and Mahler’s Third Symphony.

Benjamin P. Skoronski