In his introduction to “The Joy of Music,” Leonard Bernstein’s book about his Young People’s Concert series on TV, the maestro says it is futile to try to “explain” music. (“If the ‘Eroica’ earns a grade of 3.2, what mark do you give ‘Tristan’?”)
And Mark Swed superbly explains why there is no explaining Lenny, the greatest conductor of them all.
Occasionally, a writer’s articles exceed the simple, clear, informative standards of good journalism. I believe insights on character are exceptional when they penetrate not only the way a person may have thought and acted, but also provide access to the language articulating some aspects of other people’s identities. Mark Swed did that for me: “ ‘Who is Bernstein?’ There is no answer, just a quest that can take you as deep as you are willing to go.”
DE mortius nil nisi bonum (Of the dead, say nothing but good) should apply to the great as well as the small. I had the privilege of taking a course from Bernstein when I was an undergraduate student at MIT in 1956.
When we asked if we should address him as “Doctor,” “Mister,” “Professor” or some other title, he replied, “Lenny.” This friendly association with students of engineering is, obviously, hard to forget.
At no time was he ever in possession of whiskey or apparently under its influence when he taught us, contrary to the assertion that he “nearly always had a glass of Scotch in hand.”