The letter, in which Montealegre says "you are a homosexual
and you may never change", is among hundreds in a recent volume
"The Letters of Leonard Bernstein" edited by English music
scholar Nigel Simeone, who previously wrote a book about
Bernstein's famed Broadway musical "West Side Story".
For the volume of letters, 650 of them in a book of almost that
many pages, Simeone said he had sifted through some 10,000 in
the U.S. Library of Congress written by the prolific Bernstein,
with missives dating from his youth until his death in October
1990, and from his correspondents.
"I made three piles and then went through the pile of 'must
haves' and cut it by about half," Simeone told Reuters. "I ended
up with what I thought had something to say about him, about his
music or his career or his family that were of interest."
The resulting volume contains letters to and from many of the
big names in music of the past century, including the composer
Aaron Copland, who was an early influence, conductor Serge
Koussevitsky, who helped give him a start as a conductor, and
the composer David Diamond, who was a close friend.
Other musical names range from soprano Maria Callas, who spotted
Bernstein early on as a huge talent and got him to conduct for
her at La Scala opera house in Milan, to Pierre Boulez, Nadia
Boulanger, Charles Munch and Dmitri Mitropolous.
A lot of these will be mostly of interest to the music world,
but some are particularly touching, like the ones from
Montealegre, or cast a new light on historical events.
Among the latter is one from U.S. President John F. Kennedy's
widow Jacqueline, writing in 1968 after Bernstein had arranged a
memorial concert for JFK's assassinated brother Robert. It
starts out: "It's 4:00 in the morning — after this long, long
It goes on to thank him for cutting through the church
bureaucracy to arrange to have Mahler and Verdi played at Robert
Kennedy's memorial Mass.
"I thought it the most beautiful music I had ever heard,"
Jacqueline Kennedy writes. "I am so glad I didn't know it — it
was this strange music of all the gods who were crying."
Simeone said he had been thrilled when Caroline Kennedy, the
daughter of JFK and Jackie, consented to let him use it.
"People said to me it's great but there's no chance in hell
you'll get to use it. I must have caught her on a good day
because I couldn't have had a nicer reply from Caroline saying,
'What a lovely letter, of course you can use it'."
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One of Bernstein's most revealing pieces of correspondence is with
Copland, the creator of the sound of the American west in his
ballets "Rodeo" and "Billy the Kid", to whom the younger man in 1940
aired his frustrations, asking: "Why practice Chopin mazurkas? Why
practice even the Copland variations?"
To which Copland sagely replied: "What terrifying letters you write:
fit for the flames is what they are. Just imagine how much you would
have to pay to retrieve such a letter 40 years from now when you are
conductor of the (New York) Philharmonic" — which Bernstein was to
become 18 years later.
The letter from Montealegre, written, the book says, either in late
1951 or early 1952, must rank though as one of the most thoughtful
and touching "prenuptial agreements" on record:
"First: We are not committed to a life sentence — nothing is really
irrevocable, not even marriage (though I used to think so),"
"Second: you are a homosexual and may never change — you don't admit
to the possibility of a double life, but if your peace of mind, your
health, your whole nervous system depend on a certain sexual
pattern, what can you do?
"Third: I am willing to accept you as you are, without being a
martyr or sacrificing myself on the L.B. altar. (I happen to love
you very much — this may be a disease and if it is what better
Despite her having gone with eyes wide open into a marriage that
produced two children and which later letters show was immensely
fulfilling and exciting, Montealegre could never have predicted the
terrible comeuppance she got when she developed cancer and Bernstein
abandoned her for a male lover.
Although the couple were reconciled shortly before Felicia's death
in 1978, Simeone sees it as a low point in Bernstein's otherwise
distinguished career and inspiring life.
"There's no getting around it, that is not an edifying episode in
Lenny's life," Simeone said.
"At least he had sense when people said, 'For Christ's sake, sort it
out', he had the sense to go crawling back to Felicia.
"It was absolutely the low point. It was horrible."
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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