Brain Pickings

Leonard Bernstein and the Anatomy of Music


Deconstructing Bach, or what Noam Chomsky has to do with the history of jazz.

Back in 1973, American composer Leonard Bernstein offered a series of lectures at Harvard on music and the international grammar of music. Three years later, PBS televised the lectures, and they have since also been published in book format.

In 2007, the MIT linguist Noam Chomsky discussed the lecture series, saying:

I spent some time with Bernstein during the preparation and performance of the lectures. My feeling was that he was onto something, but I couldn’t really judge how significant it was.”

Bernstein was a master of breaking down music for lay audiences, and if you really want to watch him at work, we highly recommend revisiting his appearances on a 1950’s TV show called Omnibus. During his several visits to the program, a young Bernstein engagingly deconstructed Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (and also pieces by Bach) but then brought audiences into the world of jazz, opera, American musicals, and the conductor’s craft. Bernstein’s seven appearances, which anticipate his later Harvard lectures, have been collected in a newly released DVD collection available now on Amazon.

Dan Colman edits Open Culture, which brings you the best free educational media available on the web — free online courses, audio books, movies and more. By day, he directs the Continuing Studies Program at Stanford University. You can find Open Culture on Twitter and Facebook

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