Leonard Bernstein and Others

Leonard BernsteinYou know it is a good day when it is exactly 483 years since the birth of Ivan the Terrible. Was he really so terrible? Overall, he seems to have been good for Russia. Of course, in a fit of rage, he did kill his brilliant son (and heir apparent), leaving the throne to his mentally retarded son. So it’s a mixed bag, especially if you are (1) brilliant and (2) a son.

Dutch astronomer Philippe van Lansberge who just couldn’t accept that the planets moved in ellipses was born in 1561. The great English horse painter George Stubbs was born in 1724. Recently, one of this paintings sold for $36 million. I don’t think much of him generally and I really don’t think much of that particular painting. Pioneer writer Bret Harte was born in 1836. Mathematician Helmut Hasse was born in 1898.

Modern composer Stefan Wolpe was born in 1902. Oh, yes: I could provide you with an example of his work. But would you click? Would you perform even that small act of clicking the play button to hear the music? I’m sure you wouldn’t after I told you that his music is “difficult” and “ugly” and “something that makes twelve tone composition sound like Tchaikovsky.” So I won’t even try. Just go look him up yourself you ungrateful readers! (No, seriously: you won’t like his work. I guarantee it!)

Michael Rennie was there The Day the Earth Stood Still. Am I right?! Based upon that, it must have been after this day in 1909, because that was when he was born. I’m not a fan. But I do love this song:

Surrealist painter Dorothea Tanning was born in 1910 and only died last year. Actor Van Johnson was born in 1916. The great American racist George Wallace was born in 1919.

Game show host Monty Hall is 92 today. The Monty Hall Problem was one of the first things I wrote about on this site. Actor Sean Connery is 83. Regis Philbin is 82. The great jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter is 80. Here he is with his quartet doing “Footprints”:

Comedy writer Marshall Brickman is 72. Her is a clip from his funny (but troubled) film Simon:

Novelist Martin Amis is 64. So is one of the worst human beings in the world, Gene Simmons. Elvis Costello is 59. Here he is at the White House doing “Penny Lane”:

Film director Tim Burton is 55. Here is the entire original short Frankenweenie:

And actor Tom Hollander is 46.

The day, however, belongs to Leonard Bernstein who was born on this day in 1918. He makes me think of the line from Citizen Kane, “You know, Mr. Bernstein, if I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a really great man.” During a time where he couldn’t have been so famous, he might have been one of the greatest composers of the century. As it was, the next line from that bit of Citizen Kane comes to mind, “I think I did pretty well under the circumstances.” The music he wrote for West Side Story is probably the best for any musical ever. I’m not that fond of him as a conductor, but I think he is a lot better than most people say. But his greatest legacy will likely be as an educator. I remember a series of short films he made that were really important to me as a kid. I especially like this one about Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. I like that he takes the romance out of the composition process and shows that it is mostly just hard work. (This is doubtless true of Mozart as well, but he did all of that work in his head.)

Happy birthday Leonard Bernstein!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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