Leonard Bernstein, by Barry Seldes
Leonard Bernstein wrote some of the best-loved music in American theater, and a few accessible but second-rate serious works. The critical consensus takes him for a talent who never had the gravitas to deliver the “great American opera” he once promised to compose. In his new book on Bernstein, Barry Seldes does not dispute the consensus judgment; rather, he wants to reclaim his subject as a left-wing cultural hero. Don’t blame Bernstein for failure to produce classical masterworks, Seldes insists in an account that devotes as much space to Wikipedia-style summaries of left-wing political history as it does to the maestro himself. Rather, blame McCarthyism and homophobia.
Restoring Bernstein’s political reputation is a Herculean task, for Tom Wolfe buried it as deeply as the Augean Stables. Wolfe’s famous “Radical Chic” profile of Bernstein’s 1970 fundraiser for the Black Panthers made the composer/conductor a self-parodying archetype of a fashionable political dilettante. Seldes, who teaches politics at Rider University in New Jersey, wants to make Bernstein into a tragic figure.
About the Author