Bernstein in letters - gifted, gay and loved by his wife

Fri Apr 11, 2014 4:08am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - It may be one of the saddest but most loving letters written by a woman to a man - Chilean actress Felicia Montealegre telling her future husband, conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein, she knows he is homosexual but wants to marry him anyway.

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 day".   Continued...